We were at a Mexican restaurant the other day, and lest you think we’re being profligate here, we pretty much eat out when we are invited to do so. The rest of the time, being amazing cooks (with the notable exception of the Norwegian Artist, who is an amazing Norwegian Artist, so nobody’s complaining), we eat, and invite others, in.
To my right was Small Person — demanding, determined, adorable, and four — and while she was prattling her way through the menu, the rest of us were ordering. When the waiter collected the menus, she hung on to hers.
The Son and Heir and I exchanged glances across the table, both thinking the same thought:
“Someone has the potential of being a brat here.”
I gently wrested the menu from her hands and gave it to the waiter. The next moment found me with a quietly weeping Small Person at my side. This was not a tantrum (after 25 years and four kids, I recognize these things) as opposed to a broken-hearted human being, tears rolling down her soft, perfect cheeks.
“What’s wrong?” I asked. The Son and Heir leaned forward, concerned.
“I don’t . . . get . . . to eat,” she sobbed.
Instant comprehension, and if I hadn’t been such a supercilious adult I would have recognized that this endearingly precocious little girl thought we had brought her to this special place, where we were having a special time, and deliberately ignored her.
“We’re all sharing with you,” the Son and Heir instantly reassured.
“You’ll have a special plate with something from all of us,” I added.
Thank God. The tears stopped. She smiled as we described that she would get part of a tamale, part of an enchilada, chile relleno, taco, tostado, chimichanga, even fried ice cream. The kid was getting it all, and she didn’t have to deal with the greasy refried beans.
That incident stayed with me throughout the week and beyond, having instantly pierced my soul with its pathos, and my major thought was this:
“I would never tease and mislead an innocent child — one I love deeply, incidentally — in that way.”
You wouldn’t either, would you? I mean, what kind of slimy, repulsive, arrogant lizard would play games like that?
How about . . . God?
Not really — He isn’t that way — but too many of us mistakenly think of Him as if He were — a Master Puppeteer pulling our strings from some place way out of our reach, teasing us, “testing” us, “bringing us out of our comfort zone,” “being intentional” — whatever that means — frustrating us to the point that when we pray to Him, we feel as if we have to be ultra specific, or He will pointedly and perversely misunderstand what we really mean.
Or, if we momentarily think an uncharitable thought — which we all do, all the time — He’ll turn His back and walk away.
But are these actions of Someone who loves us, and loves us deeply?
Does He bring us to the restaurant, promising joy, and then snatch the menu from our hands, laughing at our hurt?
I don’t think so.
In case you haven’t noticed, I love Small Person. Deeply. Unreservedly. And not for anything that she has done or accomplished (and although she’s amazing — simply amazing — there’s a limit to the significant accomplishments a four-year-old can put on her resume) but for no other reason that she Is.
Extrapolate that into your own life.
God loves you. Deeply. Unreservedly. Not for anything that you have done, but solely because of who you Are. He delights in you, marvels at the soft perfection of your skin (even if it’s wrinkled), wants to hear you talk, never leaves you alone to battle problems you are too young to conquer.
When you’re a brat, He doesn’t beat you, doesn’t throw His hands up and slam the door on the way out, doesn’t call you names, but gently directs you to a better way of acting.
That’s unconditional love. It’s something adult humans instinctively practice with young, helpless children.
It’s something God practices with us, all the time and perfectly.