Kingdom Values – Class Is in Session

To say I have had more opportunities to spend time with my children during our shelter in place order would be a bit of an understatement. My wife, Jess, and I feel like a bowl that is holding one of those old school giant ice cream sundaes…our kids are constantly on top of us and while they are sweet, they are also messy and constantly on the brink of a melt down! The joys of this additional time with my children have been too numerous to count, but as to be expected, the relentless nature of three children ages three years and under has yielded some moments that are…let’s say…interesting. The girls have a propensity to get into “stuff.” A few unsupervised minutes typically leads to a silence that has become the equivalent of a confession of guilt. More than one minute of quiet equals unspooled toilet paper and lotion bottles emptied, markers on the wall and mommy’s makeup opened and applied (this one was funny). There are days where it seems every five minutes I am correcting, rebuking, diverting and explaining. The instruction is repeated and endless.

And then Jesus reminds me that in the midst of all the messiness, mischief and mayhem my children have a thing or two to teach me.

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:2-4)

It seems evident that in “Kingdom Values 101” I am the student and must receive instruction from toddler professors. So, what are the lessons to be learned? For most of my Jesus-following days I have read this passage and taken it to indicate that I must develop childlike dependence and trust. I must realize that all provision in life comes from my heavenly Father and therefore I must learn to rely upon God for everything. I have to take him at his word and truly believe that he knows more than I do and wants what is best for me. These things are certainly true, and my toddlers can most assuredly "take me to school" in innocent trust and dependence. After all, daily they model for me what it is like to fully rely upon their father for everything, from help putting on clothes to getting snacks out of the pantry. When they see something new or strange and they are confused, they go straight to daddy and mommy for answers. In one sincere moment of loving trust after another, they show me these sweet, childlike qualities that I am certain Jesus implied when he told his disciples to become like children.

And in the midst of her childish outrage, class was in session. As I not so calmly observed her, the realization began to settle heavily upon me…this is me!

But these “shelter in place” days of endless class time have offered new lessons which are just as needed. It was during a very passionate temper tantrum from one of my daughters involving screaming, throwing and slamming a door when a thought occurred to me that has taken me to new classes of deeper instruction with my little professors. During her fit of rage my child was behaving very…childish! Not childlike…we reserve that term for those innocent qualities mentioned above. And in the midst of her childish outrage, class was in session. As I not so calmly observed her, the realization began to settle heavily upon me…this is me! This is my restless, angry, frustrated, tired heart! And if I am brutally honest, this is often my heart towards my heavenly father. With this new realization beginning to overwhelm me, I calmly approached my daughter but was met with a louder, angrier scream “I don’t want my daddy!”. Instead of lashing out at her, I appreciated her honesty. Again, my heart on display. There are certainly times when my plans are thwarted or some “severe injustice” occurs and I just want to be mad and I too reject the comfort and kindness offered by my heavenly father. I stood in the doorway of her room and waited for her to settle down. From time to time, I noticed something. Through her sobbing and even flare up scream sessions, she would check to see if I was still there as if some amount of bad behavior could push me past the tipping point and I would abandon her. While her mouth cried “I don’t want my daddy” these little glances betrayed her and exposed her true heart. She knew her guilt. She was aware of the depravity of her behavior and yet she still wanted my nearness. In her ugliest moment she wanted to know that her daddy loved her. As she rejected me and pushed me away, she longed to believe I still had my eyes on her and stood ready to fling my arms open and receive her in my embrace.

But in my internal temper tantrums where I try with all my might to push my heavenly father away, I too find that he is faithful…he is still there.

My studies of late are teaching me that I am more childish than I ever dared to believe. I behave selfishly and my heart, and even my outward behavior, scream that I still have a lot of growing up to do. But in my internal temper tantrums where I try with all my might to push my heavenly father away, I too find that he is faithful…he is still there. It seems that when I’m at my ugliest, he is at his best. We see this theme throughout the Bible. Jesus tells a story of a young man who severely wrongs his father. He pushes his father away and functionally tells his father that he wishes he was dead. But the moment he comes to his senses and returns home, his father sees him while he was still a long way off. His father was looking and waiting for him to return. Recklessly, the father risks propriety and reputation and runs through the town to embrace his son and throw him the party of all parties. When we act out and we are at our worst God doesn’t require forty days of fasting and lament to restore our relationship. He doesn’t withhold love until we get our act together. He simply throws open his arms and meets us with his heavenly embrace. That’s gospel.

A few minutes passed, and the sobbing had reduced to a whimper. The look of shame on my little girl’s face was painful to see. And knowing she had acted poorly, that she had wronged me personally, she looked up once again, tears streaking her sweet little face. I gently said her name and slowly walked over to her. She threw her limp body at me and as I hugged her she rested her head on my shoulder, perhaps more certain of my love for her than ever before. 

Jesus became ugly, marred, beaten and ultimately covered in the shameful sins of the world so that in our ugliest moments we still get the father’s embrace. Stop pushing him away. Throw yourself in his loving arms and rest, more certain of his love for you than ever before.

I called it a lesson learned.