My son, Asher, is a little more than seven months old. I can say, after having given him more than half a year, he doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of help around the house. He is a financial drain. He has no concept of independence. He is rude. He is needy. He doesn’t care about the comfort or condition of anyone in the house besides himself. He is largely indifferent to whether the rest of us get a good night of sleep or not. He is messy. He is, at times, loud.
That being said, he is wonderful. And if that doesn’t seem to track with what I just finished saying then allow me to explain:
He has started to say “da da”, and he has started to clap. Add to that the mere fact that he was born and all of the above negatives are not just overcome, they are obliterated.
I can’t tell you, with any amount of accuracy, just how low I’ve set the bar for my son when it comes to approval. But, I also can’t tell you how high I’ve set the bar for him with regard to expectation. And it is my fervent desire to always maintain this paradox. I will never, by God’s grace, require something as trivial as behavior to supersede something as important as acceptance. But I will likewise never let something as real and necessary as behavior to ever be ignored or become irrelevant.
I say these things not so much because I’ve come up with a new and brilliant strategy for parenting, but because I’ve found this to be true about God as the model Father. He seems to exist in His parental role with one foot planted squarely in the realm of unconditional love and the other firmly settled in the realm of expected exceptionalism. He has never raised His acceptance of my belonging higher than my humble acceptance of Jesus’ work on the cross. And He has never lowered his expectation of my actions beneath the perfect life of that same Jesus.
Paul told the Ephesian church this:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
(Ephesians 5:1 ESV)
Notice that the call for imitation comes AFTER the adoption. Imitation of holiness is always preceded by the revelation of new identity. And I must say this: imitation is an inherently imperfect act. Imitation is carried out with the understanding that at it’s best it will never become the thing being imitated, it cannot.
God bases all of His expectations for us on His acceptance of us. And this is why our greatest motivation to live lives of righteousness and holiness, or what the prophet called “clean hands and a pure heart”, is not a fear of something but the fact of something. Fear of being kicked out of the house is a motivation, and it can be a powerful one, but it is a short term source of energy. The fact of our pre-deserving acceptance taps into energy sources that run far deeper than fear: love and joy.
There is a scene in the Pixar movie, “Monsters Inc.” that deftly illustrates this point. In the movie, the monster’s world is powered by the screams of little children. So the power company is made up of a warehouse of closet doors from children’s rooms from around the world and the monsters use those doors to enter their bedrooms, frighten the children, and then bottle their screams. As it happens a human child infiltrates the monster’s world. She is unafraid of the creature’s appearance and the main characters spend their time trying to conceal her from the monster authorities because they’ve begun to grow fond of her.
At one point the entire paradigm that the monsters have based their existing on, that fear equals power, is challenged as a monster inadvertently makes the little girl laugh. Just a few chuckles from the girls mouth overloads the entire neighborhood’s power grid, blowing bulbs and tripping breakers like lightning had hit a sub-station.
By the end of the story the monsters are using the same doors to go in to the same bedrooms, but now they are doing their best to make the children laugh. And it is their laughter that saves the city from the looming energy crisis they were previously facing.
We, as Christians, will find, I believe, that joy and gladness are ALWAYS far more effective and far more powerful motivators for holiness and “right living” than any fear ever could be.
Tomorrow I will deal more with the inherit imperfection that is intrinsic in imitation, but today it’s enough to meditate and dwell on the fact that without God’s love and acceptance pre-existing our deservedness , we can’t effectively imitate anything. John sums this up as he says:
We love because he first loved us.
(1 John 4:19 ESV)