When my daughter Kate was a few months old, she went through a phase where she would stick her hands so far into her mouth that she would gag. She would do this over and over, not realizing that it was her own action causing that uncomfortable response.
As a parent, you might think several things while watching your baby do this to herself: a little bit of amusement at how cute and silly your little one is, and how futile it is to try to get her to stop doing that. But this was also one of the many things I’ve experienced in my two years of motherhood that has taught me about God and the way God acts and feels toward us as a loving parent.
That particular lesson was how God hates to see us do things that are bad for us. He probably doesn’t look at us with amusement if we’re really putting ourselves or someone else in danger, but he does feel concern, trying to guide us away from the bad and toward the good, and sorrow when we insist on our own troubled paths.
I really don’t think God makes up arbitrary rules, but rather just doesn’t want to see us go through the emotional pain or physical risk that certain habits and situations can bring. We often respond with anger or rebelliousness, like a teenager thinking “you just don’t want me to have any fun!” But when we realize that God’s guidance is motivated completely by love and concern for our safety and well-being, it can change the way we live and the way we relate to God—as a caring parent and not a warden or slavedriver.
God loves it when we go to him for comfort. I hate to see my child upset, but when she’s wailing and scared, I feel honored to be the one to hold her and comfort her. I can’t always just make it better, but I can accompany her through the distress. There will always be questions about why God doesn’t swoop in and make things all better—tornados, earthquakes, cancer, depression, car accidents… I can’t answer those questions any more than you can, but I do know that surely God mourns with us in our despair.
Now that my daughter is a toddler, I love how when she's upset—even when she's upset with me—she runs to me for comfort. She's yanking on the refrigerator door handle, begging for me to open it so she can pull the carton of strawberries down or grab a string cheese and try to eat it through the wrapper. I say "no, you've had enough of a snack already." Her face crumples and she lets out a pathetic wail. I crouch down, and she runs to me and throws her arms around my neck, burying her tear-stained face in my shoulder. She's mad at me—but she still knows where the comfort is.
I love the thought that even when we are upset, angry at life—at God—we can take it straight to him. Being mad at God doesn't mean we have to run away. We can be angry—cry and scream and rage—and seek comfort at the same time.
God loves when we delight in his presence. Nothing makes me happier than when Kate is giddy at just the sight of me, when I walk in the door and she gives an enthusiastic, “Hi Mommy!” God must love it when we stop and smile, basking in the moment of recognizing that he is here with us, when we worship wholeheartedly and celebrate who God is and all that he has done.
What’s especially great is that God delights in us as well. Sometimes we focus so much on the ways we fall short, the ways we screw up, we assume that God must be angry or at the very least disappointed in us. But we are God’s children. For better or for worse, he loves us. I think of the way I think of my daughter during the workday, and glance at one of the many framed pictures of her on my desk. I'll stop, pick up the frame, and just stare at her, delighting in her sweet face. It’s hard to believe, but God just might look at us the same way.
I love this divine sort of SAT equation. God : Me :: Me : Kate
(If you're rusty on your standardized test jargon, that's "God is to me as I am to Kate.")
On a test question, one of those items would be blank. "A is to B as B is to ____." It's strange to say, but it seems that God is the blank here. God is beyond our comprehension, and while we read and hear about the magnitude of God's love for us, it is hard to grasp. But I know how much I love Kate, and I cherish the glimpse that relationship gives of how much God loves me. It's not a perfect equation, of course, because even I will fail.
Isaiah 49:15 says,
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
Earthly mothers, who in so many ways provide a beautiful example of God’s parental love toward us, will still fail. We are human and we will mess up. Even the mother who bears a child can "forget," abandon, or even harm her offspring.
But God will not.
As we celebrate the mother-child relationship this weekend, let it offer some small glimpse, some way of comprehending what an infinite, ever-loving God feels for us.