I’m standing on my GO train this morning. Sometimes I get a seat, but not today. I’m on the upper level of a double decker train car – the “quiet zone” where nobody talks on their phone or to each other. We just read or doze or text or blog, and I’m watching rows and rows of people do their thing, and I’m thinking about how much God loves us.
It always boggles my mind when I see Torre in a group of kids, when I arrive for daycare pick up and the classroom is busy with children playing, or when I lose sight of him at a playground and then catch the flash of his bright orange shirt, because at the moment when I see him in the crowd my heart cracks open a little bit with love. I could (and I have) watch that boy sleep and not be bored, just soak in every cell of him alive and mine and at peace. What boggles my mind when I feel the heart-crack of mother love is that in the sea of children where I see my son, every child has a mother whose heart will do the same thing (or should) at the sight of them.
I’m preparing a sermon, and I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s love, and as I stand on this train, I can’t help but imagine these 72 people as kids on a bus, each with a parent waiting to catch their eye except that God is the parent and he lights up for each one of us. He smiles fondly at his children – the open mouth sleepers, the slumped over nappers, the middle-aged suit whose head keeps rolling back then crashing forward like we’re all on a roller coaster; and the awake children too – the makeup fixers and eBook readers and email checkers, and one guy who had to bite his fist to stop from breaking the quiet zone with a laugh at something on his phone.
I think of weird stuff sometimes on the GO train. I try to guess how much it would cost to replace the clothing and technology of a car’s worth of commuters, or I wonder how much car debt is represented by the full parking lot at the train station, or I try to imagine each person as they were at age 5. Picturing the children that people used to be helps me imagine some of the tenderness that God feels toward them, although I also know that the love of God for his people is deeper and wider and fiercer than I can ever imagine. We are so loved, you and I, them and us. We are so loved.
We just had communion Sunday at our church, and after church were on a family drive when Torre piped up in the back, “Daddy, you know that Jesus died for us?”
Matt told him yes, he knew that, and I turned around to ask Torre if he knew why Jesus died for us. Torre nodded solemnly. “Because we eat the bread.”
It was a classic adorable kid moment, and I’ve been turning it over in my mind. I’m not in a panic because Torre doesn’t understand what death means yet, so he won’t comprehend the miracle of the resurrection, and he doesn’t need to grasp the burden of sin before he is able to also grasp its solution. But it reminded me how much I don’t want my kid to get messed up spiritually by growing up in church (nobody wants that, right?). I realize it’s an ongoing process and not something I can just teach once or put some safeguards and pat myself on the back, but parenting is one of the most challenging forms of discipleship I’ve experienced, and it forces me to evaluate my own perspective all the time. How can I teach my three year old truth that can grow up with him, not baby him or stifle him?
We were given a Jesus Storybook Bible when Torre was baptised, and we have just recently started reading it together. This Bible frames all its different stories in terms of God’s great rescue and points toward Jesus, and it incorporates a lot of interpretation to make sense of the stories themselves. In the story of the Fall, this Bible says that Adam andEve’s disobedience caused a terrible lie to come into the world that whispered in the hearts of everyone “God doesn’t love me.”
This is such a sturdier building block for me to talk about sin and forgiveness from than “disobeying God means we are bad, and Jesus had to die to make us good.” So in the car Sunday afternoon I said to Torre,
“Remember when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and that terrible lie came into the world that God doesn’t love us? Jesus died for us so that we will always know God loves us. Even when we do the wrong thing, God still loves us, and he wants to help us do the right thing. In church we eat that bread to help us remember about Jesus.”
It’s scary teaching kids about God! I don’t want to say anything Satan could ever use as a foothold to accuse or shame my son or any other little ones who I get to teach. I hope that these moments will be instructive for me as well – that as I think through the implications of my explanations I find shards of untruth to pick out like splinters from my own soul.
I’ve been reflecting on this portrayal of sin as the lie God doesn’t love us, and I see how much of the pain we see and feel and cause is rooted in a worldview where God doesn’t see or care for us. It is much easier to be loving and generous and forgiving and hopeful when our identity is drenched in God’s acceptance and love. It is easier to show grace when we view other’s sin as growing out of that lie that God doesn’t love them.
Of course sin is not just a lie we believe; it is an action or attitude with repercussions that ripple outward and corrupt and infect and destroy. The wages of sin are death, and Jesus’s death was not just a declaration of love for us, but also a ransom payment, the purchase of redemption so that we can live for him instead of dying.
I know I will not teach Torre perfectly about God – how could I? I can only teach him what I know, and that is far from perfect. But I do hope that through the words I say (about God and about others) and in the way I live that God will be gracious enough to plant a seed that can take deep roots in Torre’s heart, from which the rest of his faith can grow, and that seed will be “I am always, deeply, loved by God.”
In Christian culture, it is so often glorified to live “sold-out for God” – trusting him for everything and not being ensnared by worldly things. John the Baptist and almost all the other Biblical prophets are good examples. Modern examples abound as well, and they can inspire and challenge us. But I wonder if focusing only on the most dramatic examples of faithfulness sets us up to feel like failures if we end up having an ordinary life.
What about those of us who don’t get a radical prophetic call? Can we be sold out for Jesus and still take a mortgage? Can we make friends without evangelising them or indulge our kids in ice cream truck treats without guilt over the panhandlers we passed by? I think the answer is sometimes yes. Does that sound like a middle class cop out? Maybe it is – I’m trying to figure out where to draw the line!
I don’t believe God gave us life simply for us to suffer (not that a life of sacrifice is necessarily a life of suffering). His promise is for abundant life to all who believe in him, and abundant life can take many different forms I think. At the centre of all those different forms is obedience to Christ and I think that’s where it gets tricky.
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