When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13: 11-12
For preschool and early elementary school, both of my children attended the local Montessori school, a wonderful place of curiosity, learning and exploration. One of the highlights of the year was the annual Mothers Day Tea. The children, dressed up in their best outfits, served their mothers tea and breakfast breads, while the smiling mothers perched precariously upon kid-sized chairs.
During the tea, each mother received a lovely gift made by her child and a card. The card, decorated by the child, contained a piece of paper with easily readable, computer-generated text that offered information about the mother that the teacher had gleaned from a recent interview.
The cards were almost always hilarious. They commonly included a physical description of the woman in question, which often did not line up well with reality. There usually was a comment or two about where the mother worked, or what she liked to do in her spare time, etc. These descriptive pieces, almost without question, had something to do with what had happened at home the day before the interview. The memory of small children just doesn’t go back all that far. But, still, the sense remained of something long-standing, if not permanent.
Like the time that my son’s card stated, “She likes to watch TV all day, that’s her favorite thing to do.” About a week before that particular Mothers Day, and conveniently just about at the time of the annual Mothers Day card interview, I had thrown my back out and had spent a couple of days lying on the coach in our living room, watching a lot of television. I was miserable. My son, though, had processed my predicament in a very different way. While he welcomed the idea of watching TV all day, I can honestly say that about halfway through my first day, I knew for sure that watching TV was not my “favorite thing to do.”
For John, it was what was most recently on his mind, reflected through his own wishes and dreams, and then cast as normative for my life, the life of his mother.
I sometimes wonder if this is something along the lines of how good church people deal with their relationship with God.
In my experience as pastor, the memories of good church people include a string of memory that somehow keeps God trapped in notions formed in childhood. The sense of God is also heavily influenced by one’s own needs and desires. Complicating the whole thing is often a troublesome lack of self-awareness of that prism through which God is perceived.
Even for long-time church-goers, the question remains: to what extent do we understand and approach God as child, rather than adult? I realize that it doesn’t help that we use a lot of “father” language to talk to and about God. Sure, Jesus spoke to and prayed to God using parental language, with the use of the word “Abba.” But, it’s not clear that Jesus used that word to define God as ultimate “Father.” Instead, “Abba”/Daddy may have been used to convey an intimate and close relationship.
On a number of occasions lately, at Old South and in other venues where I encounter people of faith, I’ve noticed a sort of desire for a certain kind of God—one that is quite like an ultimate parental figure, ready to love unconditionally but also sometimes the seemingly watchful punisher when we go astray. I suppose that when the world feels especially uncertain, it’s a comfort to seek God as caring parent, as protector and guardian, who will sort things out and make things right.
It seems to me that we are called to enter into a more complex understanding and relationship with God as we grow into the faith, over our entire lives. To perceive God in our adulthood is to appreciate that there are things that we can know about God, while there are other aspects of God that remain a mystery to us. To be among God’s people is to allow a significant level of self-awareness that God is not solely our Parent, whose only “job” is to protect and love us, and help us against our “enemies” (as we define “enemy”). We may have a picture in our head about who and what God is, but we ought also understand deeply that that picture is a limited one.
In order to, one day, be able to see fully, as we ourselves are fully known, we are invited to acknowledge the dimness of our ability to see and understand. But, still, we are on a path that offers an opportunity to grow in mind and spirit, as our bodies have grown from child to adult. For our faith to sustain us—and for our faith to be worth passing along—we must accept the grace and blessing of God which helps us recognize the beauty and assurance, as well as the wonder and mystery of faith.