Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
(Ephesians 5:1 ESV)
Yesterday (read here) there was talk of a mystery, the mystery of imitation. This idea of child-like imitation, expressed by Paul in Ephesians 5:1, is really a mystery that the imitator must explore, investigate, and then attempt to emulate. Today I think it wise to end this thread with a brief look at two very powerful ways we can find our attempts at imitation stunted and thwarted.
1. Exhaustion will cause imitation to become sloppy and tedious.
The more tired a child is, the less crisp their movements are, and the less efficient their imitation is. We’ve likely all seen a child at the point of sleep, their eyes droop heavily, their heads, disproportionately sized for their neck, flop and fall and fling back and forth. These drunken symptoms are humorous to watch, but horrible if we are trying to bring any kind of productivity to the moment. Exhaustion will effectively destroy any attempt at emulation or imitation.
In the American culture that we live in, there is a perpetual exhaustion that overcomes us. I see it in myself, and I see it (and hear about it) from others. The problem is, in my observation, that it isn’t work that is wearing most of us out, it is the mirage of recreation. The majority of us will not work our way into the grave, we will play our way there. We stay out later, get up earlier, demand our coffee stronger, and then agree to repeat all of it over again the next night. We have more entertainment options with less entertainment value. We are inundated with time wasting devices that are marketed as “must-haves” and “time saving convenience items”. It is this advertising which we wholly buy into until six months after the purchase when we have lost another four hours per week to a thing that was supposed to order our entire world into one 10 inch screen.
The more exhausted we find ourselves, the less likely we will be to do things in the way that God does them. And the less likely we will be to accurately imitate Him. Why? If for no other reason, because even God takes a day off every week. When was the last time that we took a day off? Not a day in front of a television or computer, but a day away from the trappings of the world we know, in a life-giving, sanity-restoring environment?
2. Loss of focus will cause imitation to become inaccurate and unimportant.
This may be the most crucial aspect of imitation. If my son never watches what the rest of the family does, then he has no idea what he is supposed to do. He will imitate what he sees, and he will learn from what he focuses on. As my wife and I have taught both of our children to eat solid food, I have seen a pattern of behavior that is telling. When they have placed their undivided attention on whoever is feeding them, they don’t seem to have very much trouble opening their mouths, closing their mouths, or swallowing the mushed up peas, carrots, squash, or whatever other disgusting puree they will soon turn into diaper filling. But, if a television is on in the room, or if another member of the family is doing anything besides impersonating a gargoyle, then the issues begin. The child will swing their head around to see what’s happening, leaving a spoonful of moosh on the side of their head. They will forget that after a bite comes the swallowing as they stare at the television, and so the mash will come sliding back out of their mouth. Without watching us open our own mouth, and then close at the appropriate time, the child forgets the process.
When we stop looking at God, we stop looking like God.
There is no replacement for time spent in the Scriptures (even if you claim not to be a “reader”), time spent in prayer (even if you are busy), and time spent in silent contemplation (even if your world is loud). It is in these very practical, very disciplined activities that we begin to formulate an accurate picture of who God is and what He does, two very important clues in the investigation of imitation. It is an arrogant fool that believes he/she can act like God without taking the time to see how He acts.
Imitation is a command that Paul offers here, but it is a command with an implied understanding. He knows that we are far more like little children than weathered adults. And truly, according to Jesus, the kingdom of God is far more pure when we are acting like children instead of curmudgeons. But we must make the effort to live childlike lives and not childish lives. The difference comes in our efforts to imitate the Lord of our lives. We strive to look like Jesus by looking at Him. As Peter walking on the water found out, imitation requires concentration on God.