Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Power of Parental Presence

" your presence there is fullness of joy" --Psalm 16:11

Last Sunday my daughter did not want to do her homework. She is usually a very diligent student who generally makes good grades, but on Sunday she was just one big whiny mess. Her brother had finished his homework in twenty minutes. But she refused to buckle down and get hers done.

My daughter learns in Hungarian. That basically means I can be of little help to her when it comes to homework -- a situation she is always all to eager to point out. But on Sunday she just kept whining: "It's hard. I can't do it... wah, wah, wah." I am sure all parents know the schpeel.

Finally, I just sat down on the couch next to her. I had her read the assignment aloud to me. I could not understand but a couple words in the reading comprehension exercise. I just sat there and listened. I directed her to the first question. And she readily answered it. And then the next and the next.

Before we knew it we were done and on to Hungarian grammar. Here I could be of even less help. But I sat beside her as she worked. Within fifteen minutes it was all done.

And then she hugged me.

As I thought back on the day's events I pondered what had happened. My daughter did not need me to give her the answers. She really did not even need much direction. All she needed was a parent's presence. And that simple presence was enough. That made me wonder if there wasn't something uniquely powerful in a parent's presence.

Perhaps I disregard the value in just sitting next to my kids while they do what they need to do and I don't really realize the importance of it.

And perhaps it's not so different with our Heavenly Father's presence too. Just as my daughter thought she could not do what was placed before her, we often whine and complain to God. We want Him to waltz in and give us the answers. We want Him to change things. But what we want and what we need are two different things.

He has prepared us for today's homework. He has equipped us for the task. And what we really need is quite simply to sit in His presence as we get the job done that He's called us to do.

Unlike me, He fully understands the power of His parental presence. The problem is I too often disregard the value of His presence or deny the fact that He is present at all if He fails the act in the way I think He should.  But His presence is not proven by His miraculous intervention or His succinct answers. It is proven by what He did and where He has chosen to dwell. Christian recording artist Michael Card put it well in his song Could It Be?:

Could it be, You make Your presence known so often by Your absence?
Could it be that questions tell us more than answers ever do?
Could it be you'd really rather die than live without us?
Could it be the only answer that means anything is You?

Maybe it's time to stop whining about the answers and start realizing His lack of action is not really an indication of His absence at all. It is an opportunity for us to experience His presence for what it really is: to simply enjoy a good hug from Him after doing exactly what He's equipped us to do. And there is great power in experiencing His presence in that simple way.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Fallacy of the "Love God"

Valentine's Day, the day of LOVE recently passed once again.

To tell you the truth, I largely missed it this year. My husband, being the amazing man he is, remembered it in all its glory.  But I was so caught up in day-to-day challenges that until he whipped out the candy and cards, I forgot all about it.

I think Valentine's day is overrated. It plays into the tendency of our modern age to deify human attraction, romance, in a nutshell the secular idea of love. It is a god, that which we believe will make us complete, fulfilled, satisfied and happy. And unfortunately, it is a false god much like that which is discussed in the first of the ten commandments.

Wait a minute! Some may say. God is love, right? So what's wrong with deifying love.

The problem is that which we are de-ifying is not really love. It may be affection. It may be lust. It may be codependency. But love it is not.

So to be cliche, I must ask, "What is love?" I mean the way God sees it and puts it into human terms.

There is a famous biblical discussion about love between Jesus and Peter in John 21. In this interlude, the risen Christ keeps asking Peter "Do you love me?"  The first two times he uses the word "agape" which means to love something in a way that does not depend on reciprocation or innate worthiness. Peter answers that he does love Christ, but he does not use "agape" he uses "phileo" which is brotherly love or affection. Peter's denials of Christ on that fateful night of the crucifixion testify all too loudly in his conscience for him to use any other word for love.

Finally the third time, Christ simply asks Peter, "Do you love (phileo) me?" And Peter is grieved. Peter came face to face with his own inability to love properly -- to love well.  After all, if you cannot love Christ well, then who can you love?

But this is a moment of great significance -- a moment Christ has painstakingly engineered over the course of Peter's discipleship.  Christ brought Peter to this point that Peter might understand his own inadequacy in the area of love.

Because that's the very place where true love can begin.

We are all so willing label things "love" that are not love and then build our own alters to it, pretending that we worship God.

God is love, indeed. But He is real love, the kind of love that is ignited in us only when we first are brought to understand our own inability to accomplish it. For we, like Peter, will only ever learn to love well, to agape love, when we allow our hearts to be grieved by the reality of our own inadequacy and therefore rely on our Lord's ability love through us.