As I reflect on an accusation that our children will grow up to be resentful of all the deprivation, we, their parents, have put them through, I recognize that accusation as a fear which has haunted my own heart for many years. I don't think that this issue is exclusive to missionaries, however. It is an issue many parents dread. When a new baby comes, we fear our older children's reactions. When a new job requires us to move, we worry how the children will respond. If we find ourselves parenting in unhealthy ways we never intended, we despair. We remember the wounds we still carry from our own childhood, and so we worry about the wounds our children will suffer.
Lately, however, this fear has been fading from my heart. The more I grow in knowledge and relationship with God, the more experiences I have of His presence and provision and healing, the more this issue fades. 1 John talks about our hearts condemning us, but says that it is in God's presence that we are able to assure our hearts of the truth and bring our hearts into a place of confidence before God. I am amazed as I see this passage coming true in my own life. The voice of accusation in my own heart grows fainter and fainter as I gain confidence through my relationship with God. So, as I reflect on these stories, I want to share them with others, in hopes that they will awaken hope and inspire reflection upon their own stories.
One of these stories is about God meeting my oldest daughter in an area of inequality. One gift I have given to each of my children is a name song, with words of blessing and affirmation unique to them. Sometime after our family had grown to three daughters, I noticed that our oldest daughter's song was much shorter and less rich than that of her two sisters. I began to pray for God to give me more words for her song, but I couldn't seem to match any words to her tune.
I prayed for over a year regarding this. During that time, our son was born, and his song was also richer and fuller than his oldest sister's song. About three months after our son was born, I remember sitting on my daughters' bed singing their songs. I started with the youngest girl and ended with the oldest. As I was singing, I was praying. "Oh God, please give me more words to the song. I want her to have a richer song before she notices that her song is so short. I don't want her to feel hurt and unloved. Oh Father, she is six. She is going to notice soon. Please hurry."
Suddenly, I heard, "Maybe I want her to ask me for it." At that very moment, I finished my oldest daughter's song, and she started to cry, "My song is so short." I felt like I was dreaming. "Did she really notice tonight?" Then I thought, maybe I didn't actually sing her whole song; after all, I was praying at the same time. I sang her song again. She continued to cry and say it was short.
Still feeling as though I were dreaming, I told her what I had been praying and what I had just heard. I told her God wanted her to come to him for her song. We prayed together for the right words of blessing. Over the next few nights, my daughter would tell me, "These words came to mind, but I don't know whether they are from God." We would pray about them and work with them, shaping them to the tune. In two or three nights, we had two more verses.
With two more verses, I was satisfied with the song; however, my daughter wasn't done. She kept praying. Over the next year, she kept telling me she was still praying for more. She prayed until she had one more verse. Now her song is four verses long, and three of them came through her own experiences with God. I had thought her noticing the inequity in the songs would bring hurt and resentment. Instead, it built up her relationship with me and with God, and my relationship with God was strengthened at the same time.
God is the God who says, "Come away with me to a quiet place and rest." He is the God who told Martha that Mary had chosen the better way. He is the God who said, "Let the little children come to me." Jesus said, "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father." When Jesus said these things, the Father said these things. In the prophets, God cried out that He longs to hear us call Him Father. But even reading these things, I didn't understand.
One day, one of our daughters was asking why the word LORD is often in all caps in the Bible. My husband loves that kind of question, so he began to explain to our children how the Hebrew names of God are translated. Now two days before, a Kenyan friend had told me that her husband was having some time off work and had asked her to let their houseworker off so that they could have some family time. I understood. We do the same thing. Well my husband got to the name Lord GOD, and said that it could be translated Lord LORD.
In that moment, I heard God speak. He said, "You've always been afraid of the 'Lord, Lord' passage." Well, that was certainly true. He continued, "You have always thought that I was saying, 'You haven't worked hard enough; get away from me.' That is not true. I am saying, 'It is family time; let the slaves and servants go.' I knew that He was saying, 'If all you ever do with me is ask me for a list of things to do, then leave. This is family time, play time, I want the people who have gotten to know me.' He was also saying, "You've always tried to be my slave, but you're not a very good one. You aren't meant to be a slave. You are meant to be a child. Be my child."
It is hard to put into words exactly what God says. Sometimes, I hear words and other times, thoughts; sometimes, I see a picture or have a story come to mind. One thought that began to come to mind is that I try to earn my rest. After my work is done, I can rest. But I started to see that we have to work from rest. I had this thought, "You don't say to a car, earn your petrol (gas)." We can never earn our rest. It is a gift.
I also began to understand the Hebrew day, which begins at sundown. What happens in families at sundown? The evening meal, the family fun time, bedtime. All restful. In the Hebrew week, there are six days, each beginning with rest followed by work, which culminate in the seventh day, the weekly Sabbath, a day of complete rest and celebration.
One day, my friend Joyce told me a story. She had asked God, "Do you play?" and God told her to watch her husband. At that time, Joyce opened her front door to go out but saw something that made her shut it immediately. She said, "Don't open the door. The cat has a mouse and wants to hide it in the house." William, Joyce's husband, whispered to her, "Watch this." He opened the door and shut it quickly while tossing a small ball across the floor. He yelled, "A mouse!" Their daughters began to shriek. At that moment, God leaned over to Joyce and said, "I am a Father."
One of the hardest things I have done has been sitting on top of my children's toys to play, without saying anything about the room. The interesting thing to me has been that as I play with them, the children are much more willing to work with me. Also interesting is that I am more rested and able to work as well.
"Mommy, will you play with me?" I hear this frequently. "I'm busy." or "In a minute." My children hear these statements with equal frequency. You see, I tend to think that work is the priority; fun is for when the work is done. There are beds to be made, dishes to wash, laundry to do, ... I have a long list. And of course, just when I think I'm about done, I find that the children, who were left alone too long while I worked, have dumped out all their toys so you can't walk through their room. I sigh and think, "More work."
Right about then, I hear, "You said in a minute. Can you play with me now?" I suggest, "How about I help you clean your room?" While we, make that I, clean their room, complete with lots of prodding, some yelling, and some accusation, I point out that if they would help me more around the house, I would have time to play with them. Though I didn't put it into these words at the time, I was trying to motivate them by guilt. I thought if they just felt bad enough, they would help. It didn't work, of course.
In the sermon on the mount, Jesus asked a lot of questions to challenge our wrong thinking about God. One of the questions He asked was whether we parents would give our children a rock when they ask for bread, or a snake when they ask for fish. I think I have, many, many times, but I thought I was supposed to. I thought I was being like my Father.
I knew God has purposes He absolutely wants to accomplish -- the saving of the lost and the care of the needy. I thought He was single-minded in His pursuit of these purposes. I didn't think that He could be bothered about anything else until these purposes are accomplished. I saw Him as a parent who is so busy with work that He doesn't have time for His children.
In my mind, He had been concerned about me when I was "lost." It seemed to me that as soon as I came to Him, no longer needing to be "saved," I basically moved to His blind spot. His single-minded focus was on the lost and the needy. I was no longer lost, and need is relative. I might think I have needs, but not compared to others. I was one of the ninety-nine left in the sheep fold. Only, I wasn't just left there while He went looking for one sheep. He was out looking for many lost sheep, and consequently, He had no time for me, not even time to take me to the pasture.
I felt that the only way to get the Father's attention was to work hard, to help Him. I needed to be blind to need in myself and to focus all my attention on the needs of others. Anything else would be selfish.
I did not understand Isaiah 43:4, "For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life." I didn't understand that He was willing to pause on this work of seeking the lost, this most important task, just to spend time with me. These others, the lost ones, are valuable to God, but not so valuable that He forgets me for them. He will pause in the middle of His work just to spend time with me.
Sibling rivalry. Sharing. As soon as child number two is on the way, these are the issues parents begin to ponder. How will baby number one deal with baby number two? Mom and Dad work hard to make sure both children feel loved, to make sure baby number one doesn't feel pushed aside by baby number two. Then comes baby number three, four, five. Each family with a different number.
Two children is fairly simple in theory. One for each side of mom when reading a story. One for each parent when on an outing. After two, things are less simple. You have to be creative at storytime. Someone drapes along the top of the couch, someone sits on your lap, and you have to peer around a head to read the book. You change seats in the middle of storytime. On outings the youngest children hold your hands, the older children walk in front where you can see them. Family dynamics shift with each new member. Big families seem overwhelming. How do they do it?
You also have the issue of sibling friendships. Who favors whom? Who plays with whom, and who doesn't get along with whom? The dynamics can shift from day to day, but they can also be fairly consistent. My husband and I enjoy watching the interplay of siblings as the context shifts.
Peter and Andrew and John and James loved their big brother Jesus. They wanted to be his favorites. Say you love me best. Say I can sit next to you in Heaven. Of course, Jesus gets to sit next to God in Heaven, so he really only has one side left, but the two sets of brothers are thinking of Jesus' two sides and wanting those seats for themselves. They quarrel over this issue frequently. And as frequently, Jesus reprimands them.
I, being a younger sibling, got to watch this from afar, from Scripture reading. And I learned from it. Don't want to be close to God. That is selfish. Be happy to be far away from Him. Be happy because at least you are part of the family. So you're not someone special! If you were close to God, someone else would have to be far away. Know your place. It's to be nothing special, but at least you're still family.
It wasn't just the disciples with Jesus. I saw it in the Israelites. Judah gets to be near the temple. Reuben and the others across the Jordan chose to be far away, so maybe that's okay. But what about the others, like Ephraim? And the new Israel prophesied seemed worse. It's not going to be a patchwork anymore. It's going to be nice and equitable, except for proximity to Jerusalem and the temple. Two are close. The rest get farther and farther away. I saw the priests with their special closeness to God, then the Levites, then the rest of the Israelites, then us.
To be honest with you, I wanted to be close to God. I was selfish. I felt resentful of my place of distance from Him. But, desiring to be good, I wrestled with those feelings. I tried to reason with myself and get rid of my selfish feelings. For years, I wrestled. But it didn't work. I still felt resentful, and I still wished I could be one of the ones close to God.
One day, three years ago, as I was sitting on my bed wrestling again with my selfishness, God leaned over me, and with a smile, He whispered something in my ear, "I am not two-sided." I knew instantly what He meant. He has a side just for me. I am one of those chosen to be close to Him. I remembered Paul saying that God's wisdom is many sided, like a diamond, and I understood.
I understood something else. I understood that I might be wrong in my definitions of right and wrong. I heard God again, "If you are trying to remove something from your heart, and it won't move, it may just be because I put it there. You can't remove what I put in your heart." I needed to reconsider my definitions of righteousness. I needed to ask God for His definition. There might be other areas where I am wrong. That is surprisingly very freeing.