Special photo: Susan Bennett
Years ago, I watched while a talkative and determined 6-year-old boy tried to convince his mother to let him do something she had no intention of letting him do. He argued, questioned, defended, and insisted, while his mother patiently answered each point he raised, and listened very respectfully to all his complaints.
But when he finally said, one last time, “WHY CAN’T I?” his mom did something different. She leaned down, took his little face gently into her hands, and said, in the kindest, most loving voice imaginable, “Because I don’t allow you, honey.”
And he stopped arguing.
Now, you can’t make a rule out of this. Folks could go home and try this same tactic and it wouldn’t make a dent in their child’s argument. But on this particular day, this mother’s son heard the love, and the caring, and the authority, and he calmed down and let it go. I guess parents or other authority figures can sometimes explain and reason till they’re blue in the face, and it finally comes down to, “Because I said so.” And we are asked to trust.
In the gospels, Jesus tells us to call God “Father,” or even “Abba,” which means “Daddy.” That’s what Jesus called God –– “Father,” or “the Father.” And for us to call God “Father” is a very big thing. It can be hard sometimes, as many of our earthly fathers weren’t as loving or present or tolerant as they should have been; but the term “Father” implies a relationship of truth and trust and obedience.
In Psalm 25, David tells us this relationship is founded on God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. We don’t EARN God’s love: His nature is to love and show mercy.
It’s Lent, the season when we are especially focused on looking deep inside and confessing whatever sin we find there to God, openly and honestly. In the first chapter of Mark, Jesus gives us a beautiful example of how to resist temptation and keep from sinning. Although Jesus was seriously tempted, he had an inner conviction, an inner faith and strength, that can only come from a relationship with God that’s based on trust and love.
Jesus knew the Word, he knew his Father, and he knew his purpose. When those things are in place, temptation doesn’t stand a chance.
And then we have David … the Old Testament bad boy, who sinned spectacularly, got it wrong a hundred times, but never lost his heart for God. Reading Psalm 25, we find a David who had learned enough to know that, while we may want our own way, God’s way is better. David knew that he had failed more than once, and had to come back to God, humbled, as a child, and ask for forgiveness and instruction.
He knew enough to throw himself completely on God’s mercy and grace, trusting God to forgive and forget his sin, and remember him only according to God’s steadfast love. He knew that God’s ways are steadfast love and faithfulness, and that the person who is obedient, who loves and follows God with all their heart, who is willing to be humble and honest … will know peace, and will rest in God’s safety and protection.
So why do we, like rebellious 6-year-olds, keep arguing? At least part of the answer lies, again, in the way Jesus resisted temptation. He KNEW his Father: God’s will, his compassion, his love; and this same knowledge is available to us right here and now.
God WANTS us to know him. If you’re not already reading scripture daily, Lent is a very good time to start. Read the Psalms, read Genesis, read the gospel of Luke … you can see God’s nature and character, his very heart, in the stories, in the people, and most of all, in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. Do you want to know God? Look at Jesus.
God and David had a relationship. David humbled himself, was honest with God, and was wide open to God’s grace, love, and forgiveness. He had a passionate desire to know God and be close to him. The Psalms are David’s recorded conversations with God. It’s called prayer. You can do it on the run, in the car, or walking through the store. And then, sometimes, you need to sit down and stop the world and focus completely on God.
Do you want to know your Father? Spend time with him. Be open and honest. Pray!
Really knowing God helps us to believe the thing we still often have trouble believing: that God knows us completely, inside and out, every dark place, every secret, every thought … and LOVES us passionately, compassionately, and eternally. Not only that, God LIKES us. There’s a thought! God knows us, and he likes us anyway! If we could only find a way to fully believe that, our whole relationship with God would change in a heartbeat.
Knowing you’re loved makes obedience a much simpler thing.
What are YOU arguing with God about? Is there a possibility that, maybe, he loves you and knows what you need most in the world, even though you’re sure YOU know best? Can we reach deep into our hearts and find enough trust in God’s love for us to simply “trust and obey,” as the hymn says? I pray that we can do that, not just during Lent, but always.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.