The Bible verse above is one of my favorites, and that's saying something. It just answers so many questions: Who made everything? Was this creation well-planned? Aesthetic? Orderly? How is man unique in creation? Why is man unique in creation? Where do our longings come from, for great things? For transcendent things? Why are these things often out of reach? Seriously, just read the verse.
That's not to say, of course, that these words do not beg other questions, like why are so many things NOT beautiful, why are some men (or women) so much more interested in great and transcendent things than others, and why oh why would God give mankind desires they could not figure out how to satisfy? These are big questions and worthy ones, for which the Bible has answers, but today I'm focusing on the Desire, the eternity in our hearts, and I double dare you to think deeply about it: I bet you have felt it.
I have most certainly felt it, but I felt it through another's eyes this last week, namely, Walt Disney's, as my family has just returned from The Happiest Place on Earth. We piled into our boat-of-a-car at 4 am CST, we sang, we counted license plates, we ate processed junk, we read, we watched movies, we rolled into our condo at 9:30 pm EST, we unpacked and planned and slept and rose and readied ourselves and drove and rode some more, and we were there. The Magic Kingdom.
I was born in Florida, and though my family moved away when I was young, we had grandparents, aunts and uncles to visit there each year (often with season passes), and so Disney was a part of my upbringing. It always seemed like a rite of passage, bringing our children there (although a super-expensive one and therefore rather low on the priority list). When Adam's summer work conference was scheduled for Miami Beach, however, and we realized we'd be driving right through Orlando to get there, and the kids were all now old enough to remember and appreciate and actually survive the experience, well, it happened.
What we found was amazing, an experience for all five senses and a few more besides. First you see the vastness and the beauty of the parks, the orderliness, the friendliness, and the colors. You hear people singing to you songs of welcome and cheer, and watch them dance (in the heat and humidity, this is some welcome!). You hear the bells and the rumbles of the rides and the chatter of the crowds, and so much music, everywhere. You smell food, and the clean smell of water in the air, and you smell your own sweaty self, but you ignore this. You feel the heat, the humidity, and then the blasts of air conditioning coming out of every building, and sprinkles of water coming from misters and water features, and you feel yourself flying, coasting, climbing, falling, and through it all being held by safe vehicles carefully tested by engineers. You taste delight--for my husband, one of those giant roasted turkey legs, and for me a double ice cream cone, so drippy and yet so glorious in the heat.
You see animatronic Everything, lifelike and wondrous; all around are marvels of human ingenuity. You watch light shows and electrical parades and then a magnificent fireworks display perfectly timed to music that makes your heart do things. (I kid you not, when the show was over we walked by a group of bawling teens in matching t-shirts, and I nudged my family...choir kids, I said.) You leave the park with teeming masses, but somehow in groups perfectly timed between the monorail and the parking shuttle and the parking lots so that no one crowds, bumps, or gets grumpy. How many plans have to work just so for all of this to happen? Above all the sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile experiences, the sense one gets, if one has any sense at all, is wonder.
We spent two days in this Magic Kingdom and one at Animal Kingdom, also mind-boggling and inspiring in its way. Living in this context, things started to come together: all the movies, the songs, the rides, the talks, the displays, all of it. Disney isn't just a big franchise--this isn't all JUST about merchandising and sales. This is about a perfect world and how to make it. The eternity in Walt Disney's heart told him that a perfect world was possible, and he could taste the glory. You can see it all around his parks.
"It's a Small World after All:" come together. Fantasyland; dream. Tomorrowland: create and innovate. Adventureland: take risks. Animal Kingdom: educate, protect, conserve. Cinderella: No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dream that you wish will come true. Walt Disney: All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them. I don't believe Walt Disney would like the term Utopia, because Utopia translates to "Noplace," and refers to an impossible dream, while in his mind, all these good things are possible, someday, with hard work, community, innovation, creativity, and a die-hard faith in those dreams.
Despite the glaring worldview differences between Walt and me, I got choked up on that old ride with that super-catchy song. Well, it IS a small world after all; don't judge. See, you float through room after room that represent the countries of the world, and in each room there are children--dolls--dressed in their national garb and singing in their own languages, "It's a world of laughter, a world of tears, it's a world of hopes, and a world of fears. There's so much that we share that it's time we're aware it's a small world after all." And you hear this tune until it has quite possibly bored a new synapse pathway in your brain, and then you float into the final room, quite large, filled with doll-children all in white. You look and listen more closely and see that they are still wearing distinctive clothing representing their countries, still singing in their own languages, but all are together and all are in white. It made me think of heaven, with saints from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation worshiping God in perfect unity, and even though I knew that wasn't the perfect world Disney had in mind, I worshiped, because I know that it IS the perfect world God has in mind.
Yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. This is the sad (read tragic) thing about secular humanism. It grasps for greatness but rejects the Ultimate Cause of all things Great. For those who love Christ, we know what that longing in our hearts is and who put it there, and we keep it before our eyes, in our minds, on our lips: eternity. It changes how we live. Come together, yes! For the sake of Christ, who gives genuine community forever and for eternally glorious purposes. Dream, yes! With a holy view of what is worth dreaming about. Create and innovate, yes! Recognizing that we bear the image of the infinitely Creative One, do this with gratitude and worship, and with a focus on His kingdom. Take risks, yes! Be willing to lose temporal comforts for eternal ones, but never the other way around. Educate because we want to use our minds to His glory, protect and conserve because He has made us stewards of His good creation, and keep on believing HIM, above all else, because He is the only one who can always bring about His desired outcome (and He has told us all about the outcome in His Word). Faith in anything, through anyone but Jesus Christ, He tells us, is a foundation of sand.
A few days in Disney World made me laugh, squeal, sigh, wonder, and generally enjoy myself with my family; it made me worship and (as you see) philosophize. But places like Disney must be taken in small doses, I think, to keep a healthy perspective as a believer. How easy it is to wish for the perfect world now and take this offering on its own humanistic and fleeting terms, trading in the delights of eternity for The Happiest Place on Earth.
Bloggers must be timely with their posts. That's another rule I break. I wish I had a response ready a week ago for the multiple tragedies in the news lately (I do grieve and want to respond well). A couple of weeks back I read an article about books vs. ebooks that I desperately want to answer, and, by the time I do, the lag time will be laughable. And ideally, these thoughts about fatherhood would have led up to Father's Day and not followed it, but here we are on Monday and, thankfully, fathers are still a big deal.
The Ideal Father
When you were a child, what was your idea of a perfect father? Have those ideas changed since, and, if so, what has changed them?
As I sat down to craft a Father's Day message for Adam on Saturday, and as I listened to more great preaching on Hebrews 12 Sunday morning, I realized that fatherhood is one of those subjects that keeps unfolding, layer after layer, the more one contemplates it. How little I have appreciated this role for many years of my life!
We may craft our idea of a perfect father from any number of sources. My ethic of fatherhood during my pre-teen and early teen years was informed by my own dad, a limited amount of theology, what my mom said (she knew everything), movies, TV, and, of course, my own wisdom. My perfect dad would: love God, love us, be awesome at his work, be "emotionally present," protect us, be hilarious, be proud of me, think I'm always right, and discipline my little sister. Most of these, my wonderful dad did on a daily basis. I admit that many of my frustrations growing up arose out of our differing expectations about the last two.
Not everyone has a father like mine: God-fearing, hard-working, loyal, loving, and undeniably FOR his family. Perhaps not many at all have/had that kind of father (or perhaps had him and lost him). But I'm willing to bet there is a common thread between most of us even so: as a child, I am willing to bet I'm not the only one who did not know or appreciate what God expected of my father, or of me.
Cue Heart-Warming Music
Notice that, while most of the items on my Ideal Father list were good, positive things, I was not particularly interested in being instructed, trained, or disciplined. It turns out that any cursory survey of Scripture reveals those pesky authoritative qualities as a really big part of a father's job. Authority with love, yes, and with compassion, definitely, but not without the pain of being confronted with my foolishness by another sinner.
Sadly for Little Meggie, there are even more verses commanding children to honor their fathers, receive their instruction, and not to reject their discipline than there are to fathers to give the instruction and discipline in the first place. But like that red-headed mermaid whose voice I apparently have, I dreamed of a land where daddies did not reprimand their [elder] daughters.
Or imagine a popular 90s sitcom where teachable moments (cue heart-warming music and Bob Saget on my bed) came after the daughter had already played out the scenario in her own way, often rejecting her father's instruction, then received some unpleasant external consequence, and was now feeling miserable. The consequence came from outside and not from dad, and that's how the warm fuzzies happened and how the daughters managed to apologize. Bob Saget had been right and they had been wrong, but his daughters had to learn this the hard way.
Fatherly Discipline Is a First Thing
It's telling, isn't it, that the first person of the Godhead is called Father? It's like we're supposed to make a connection or something. I linked above to Hebrews 12:7-11. This is one of several places where a Scripture writer assumes his readers understand something basic about fatherhood, and uses this to teach them something about God. Take another look:
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:7-11
To the writer of Hebrews, it is assumed his readers know that fathers discipline their (legitimate) children, and, at the moment, it hurts. It is assumed they know that, despite the pain of discipline, true sons (and daughters) respect their fathers in this role. So what happens to our ability to understand God the Father if we demand our fathers be benign and supportive, there to comfort us when we are hurting but not there to hurt our bottoms (proverbial or actual) when we are rushing headlong into foolishness?
Real Live Consequences
He has no right to talk to me about this when HE is SO.... I could have written that song and it would have been the soundtrack for several years of my adolescence. We chafe at being corrected by our earthly fathers (and other authorities too) because they are sinners. I'll just take my direction from God, thank you very much.
The giant problem with just taking direction from God I've outlined already. God commanded me, while in my dad's household, to take direction from my dad. Obeying God meant obeying Dad. And it doesn't stop with dads and childhood; all kinds of sinners get to direct, correct, and reprove me now. My husband, church elders, my boss, my government...all exercise authority over me because God put them in a position to do so, and they do it imperfectly. If my god is okay with me rejecting authority, he is a god of my own imagining. He thinks like I do. He is me. The convenience of this plan is that it avoids uncomfortable situations like admitting my sin to some other sinner, and it also fairly does away with the need to confess anything to god. He agrees with me, after all.
This is the crux of the problem with expecting fathers, earthly and heavenly, to be benign: humanity is infected with something malignant, and salvation involves a painful death, that of self and pride. Our fathers are, or ought to be, on the front lines for their children. I didn't want to confess my sins to my earthly father because I'd deceived myself into believing my sins were minor, misunderstood, or appropriate responses to injustice on his part. When it came time to confess my sins to my heavenly Father, I really had to strain to come up with more than one or two. I had no way of interacting with how treasonous every sin is in the eyes of a holy God, what a gracious gift each day was that I did not get sent to eternal damnation, and the fact God calls us to safety through the instrumentation of sinful men and women who are clinging to His Word.
Coming to Terms
When we celebrated Adam's first Father's Day 10 years ago, I still hadn't begun to realize the magnitude of fatherhood. I, the Mom, knew everything about what the kids needed. I read all the books and made all the charts and worked all the routines. Everything our children would experience day-to-day would be under my purview, and these day-to-day things seemed all-important. I wanted Adam's help executing my plans, as if he were a clone of myself (and also a pack mule, because all that baby gear was really heavy). I wanted the kids to have Daddy time, but this was at least half just so I could have a break. Yes, I realize how much negative exposure I am getting today.
Over the years watching Adam be Daddy to our three kids, seeing him grow progressively into that role with persistence and strength, I both admired many things about him and chafed when his parenting priorities rubbed against mine. But my heavenly Father never stopped parenting and disciplining me through Scripture, the Church, and, absolutely, through my husband, and something mysterious happened: I began to learn honor for Adam as the head of our family. I learned, not only mentally (because my mind had grasped these things long ago) but experientially, how embracing his distinct role as husband and father for Christ's sake frees us both to be who God calls us to be, and equips us to tell an amazing Gospel story with our everyday lives.
Moms have so much influence over how children view their dads. When I chafe and believe my husband should function as an extension of myself, my kids think so too. When I rejoice in Adam's distinctness and leadership as father, my children do too, and, thank God, more and more, this is our story. They love him, and by God's grace my goal is that they would honor him and learn from their relationship with him how to be children of God, who offers them Life, but only through death to pride and self.
I am a planner and always will be, but now, rather than expecting my husband to come alongside and work toward my goals for the family, I consider him when I make these plans, and then I bring them to him for feedback. I also want to know whether he has any goals for our family I can help plan and execute. I find myself watching Adam to see what he prioritizes, things that are often uncomfortable for me, and trying to grow in those areas. I also forget to do these things sometimes, just to be honest. But less.
I look back on my childhood and wonder how many things could have been different if I had been different--more submissive, more sanctified. My dad loved God, loved us, was/is awesome at his work, was "emotionally present," protected us, was hilarious, and he was proud of me. Most of the time, we were happy, but when I knew he was displeased with me, I pitted my will against his. I didn't allow him to be for me in fatherly training, because that meant he was against my cherished, prideful view of myself. I wish I could change it all. If I'd started earlier with this humility stuff, I'd be, like, super-holy now.
God doesn't let us go backwards and change things like that, though, and I believe this is partly so that we can tell stories of His grace--big stinkers turned less stinky, little by little, as we, in faith, get scrubbed fresh in God's big bathtub. Happy belated Father's Day to all of you important guys out there.
If you're scratching your head over the title of this entry, you may be scratching harder in a minute. "Nitpicking: a carping, petty criticism," is not the definition I have in mind today. "Lousy: wretchedly bad; miserable," is not the definition I have in mind today. When one can experience etymology in action, that is a true educational experience. The origin of these two words is the same. Have you guessed it? This week our family discovered we had [pause for emphasis, if you please] lice. Now that everyone we know is scratching in earnest, let me assure you of two things: we are clean now, but you may not be, and also, the lice are only walk-ons in this production. I'd like to focus on the Star.
"God works in mysterious ways" is often used tritely and carelessly, though it's as true and as important and, to me, as piquant as ever. If you've read my "Author" blurb and chuckled over the words "struggling cleaner," for example, you can imagine how those struggles simply melted away in the face of creepy crawlies in our hair, our clothes, our brushes and combs, our linens, on our furniture, in our car. I became a force to be reckoned with. See what God did there? Pretty suave.
However unappreciative we fallen humans tend to be of discipline (either the correction or the training kind) there truly can be joy in it. When I wrote that phrase, "struggling cleaner," I was thinking of the Dread Pile of Everything. It has been growing in our bedroom through our home renovation and contains so many varieties of things requiring so many varieties of action on my part, and I felt so terrified of it, that I had decided to hold this blog hostage and not post again until I'd tackled it. Now observe that, through the lice, I saw myself (and even Adam and the kids) mobilized like Merry Maids, not only confronting louse-related projects but also, while we were at it, spiriting away chunk after chunk of that Dread Pile. Besides that, I got the subject of my next blog post out of the experience. Through this gentle discipline I saw my Father's kindness, care, and pithy sense of irony, and it made me love Him and praise Him more.
Hebrews 12, the subject of many wonderful sermons lately and also of personal study for me, repeats this mantra: Endure. Endure. Keep the faith. The chapter is rich with truth and with arguments for the believer's holding fast to faith no matter what. Jesus endured--look to him; God disciplines you because you are sons whom he loves; This will make you peaceful and righteous. But the end of the chapter sums up what the business of faith, endurance, and submission to God's discipline are all about: hope. God is building an unshakeable kingdom.
What a perspective for all trials great and small. Are you lint-rolling a houseful of furniture in search of lice? Endure; God is building an unshakeable kingdom. Are you combing through your family's hair with the Nit-Free Terminator comb and flicking little corpses into a tub of water? Endure; God is building an unshakeable kingdom. Are you announcing to your friends and family that your family has been unwittingly exposing them for several weeks to contagious blood-sucking parasites? Endure; God is building an unshakeable kingdom.
There was a time in my life when I had no concept of submissively receiving something unpleasant from God's hand as grace. Little by little, I am learning to accept these gifts. As horrifying as lice may seem to some, this experience is definitely on the Nerfy side of the trial scale. The believers I've been reading about in Hebrews were called to endure difficult discipline and severe trials through long pain and struggle, as many believers are still. And though sometimes, as in the Nerfy nit-picking, God allows there to be a feeling of safety and closeness during a time of training, righteous people do not always feel close to God. I myself have other stories, and I know others with stories lived in the trenches of long, unremitting struggle, like this Son of Korah whose anguished cries I read today. I am so thankful that there is no reproof, no discipline, no training so minor nor so excruciating that Christ's example and God's command do not apply: Look to Jesus; Endure; God is building an unshakeable kingdom.
Nit-picking is lousy in a lot of ways, but this week I learned it's also a way to grow closer to God and to experience His love for me. I call that grace. My family and I do have a question for God, though. In this unshakeable kingdom, will there be perfect lice? And what will they eat, and where will they live, and what will they look like, and...we can wait...just curious.
Megan Larson, disciple of Christ, wife, mom, teacher, reader, writer, musician, cook, organizer, philosopher. Struggling cleaner.
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