Five letters, one syllable, infinite depth.
Grace, in its own unique way, demands that I not immediately interpret everything I see based on my own proclivities. It forces me to, usually later, take another look at what has happened in my life and make sure that I am not seeing things through the lens of my own sensibilities but through the lens of the Scriptures in general and the words and life of Jesus in particular.
I’d read from 1st John earlier this morning and the famous verse in the second chapter stood out as it always does.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
1 John 2:1 ESV
I paused and was thankful for this fact but I didn’t take too long to ponder the rich depths that it contained until just a few minutes ago. I’ve been praying this morning about some of the things in my own life that I would like to see changed. I’m not talking about income or health or vocation, but spiritual things. Without searching too hard I can find things in my life that are incongruous with who I want to be and who I believe I have been created to be as a follower of Jesus (or “recreated to be” for any doctrinal nitpicks out there). Sometimes I am merely aware of these things below the surface of my daily life, other times they are not so inconspicuous. The more tired, over-worked, or unintentional I become the less energy I have with which to “manage” these flaws (again, I know that management is not the goal, I am merely describing things not serving up a recipe for perfection here). I am aware of these things and I pray and fast and do my part to eradicate them and let the light of Jesus shine into those places in my soul. But, I say all of that to let you in on the facts of the matter…knowing that those short-comings are there, both passively or actively, creates a war in my mind. The bedrock assurance of God’s love for me and acceptance of me gets shelled by mortar rounds of guilt and accusation. It really can become a struggle at times.
But then grace.
So God, once again, brings things into my life to teach me truth via illustration. And I didn’t have to reach too far back into the archives of past experience to get this one. In fact, I just had to rewind to about 5:15 this morning.
We are attempting to work through the process of getting our 5-year-old daughter, Karsten, out of pull-ups at night. She is still unable to either make it through the night dry or wake up to go the bathroom. Last night just before bedtime we realized we were out of pull-ups. As I was about to go back out into the night my wife suggested we just use a swim-diaper that we had for my 18 month old son (that’s how small my little girl is). I was willing to agree to just about anything if kept me from going back out to the store so I quickly found a great deal of merit in her suggestion. And everything went great…until a little after 5:00am. Apparently the statute of limitations has reached its high-water point and things got damp. If you are a parent you know that swim-diapers are not designed to absorb very much, they are really just a line of defense to keep solid material from exiting a child and entering a pool. So the swim-diaper my daughter had on quickly overflowed its banks and she came into our bedroom crying and wet.
So, what was our next move? Obviously to berate her, tell her what a failure she was, and then make her go sleep in the tub naked and ashamed. That ‘s what any loving parent would do, right? She was a failure. We had asked her to do ONE thing, not everything, just that one thing and she couldn’t even get that done. Instead, we all wind up awake, with a mess on our hands, and with one less bed available for her to lay down in.
What I just described is not how I reacted to Karsten at 5:00am, but it is the reaction that I assumed God had toward me at 9:00am. As irrational as the last paragraph sounds, as hateful and cruel as all of that would be, that is all the credit I gave God Himself, the inventor of love, mercy, and grace.
What did we do actually this morning? Probably something similar to what God did. We spoke with Karsten in a way that reassured her we were not angry, we knew it wasn’t done on purpose, and accidents always get different treatment in our house than intentional acts of rebellion. We removed the wet clothing that was making her uncomfortable, and that was reminding her of her failure, and we cleaned her and put fresh, dry clothes on her. And of all the things that we did, the last is most audacious. We let her, with no diaper or pull-up, climb into our bed to lay with us. No scorn, no distancing, no accusation. And we did all of this without even thinking about it. We did these things because we love her and no mistake she will ever make can trump the intense and unconditional love that we have for our daughter.
Later, this same morning, I walked into God’s presence feeling the exact same way. And now I find myself struggling to believe that He is a more loving Father than I am. How ridiculous.
The biggest difference between me and my daughter is not the mistakes, or the weaknesses, or the need for help. No, the most profound difference between us is that when she heard the invitation, she rushed to jump into our bed; to the contrary I tend to creep and slither like a beaten animal as I try to make sure that there are no traps awaiting me when God offers His open-armed embrace. The Gospel is not, and will never be, about how I can stay dry all night and make God love me…that is no good news at all. The Gospel is rooted in the fact that Jesus looked at me while I was soiled and still invited me in. Of course we grow and learn and eventually my daughter will stop wetting the bed, but there will be other mistakes, other failures, other weaknesses. In fact, isn’t it true that the older we get the more messy our messes become? And even in those complicated and life-altering messes, when human parents might struggle to show adequate same love and forgiveness, our Father in heaven does not sway with the winds of change and time, but He is consistently good and loving to His children no matter what. That friends is the Gospel. You have never been so dirty that God would not let you climb into bed with Him for the rest of the night.
I must, and we all must, be careful to see life through God’s counter-intuitive lens lest we impose characteristics onto Him that are inaccurate and harmful. In the middle of whatever night we find ourselves God is there to speak peace into our violence, clean our dirtiness, give us new clothes of His own, and then invite us to rest in His safety till the night is done.