Some time back, when buckling Martha Jane into her car seat, her finger got slightly pinched. So, being a good mother, I kissed it and all was well. Since then, when I buckle her in, she will touch her buckle and then hold her finger up to be kissed. It is a sweet ritual that I don’t mind repeating. Similarly, when Ellie or Chad fall and scrape their legs or otherwise find creative ways to hit their heads on furniture or walls or whatever comes along, their instinct is to come to me, in tears, for sympathy and affection. This is of course the blessing of childhood, or at least should be: when an injury or insult is incurred, a loving adult is there to sympathize both with the injustice of the wound and the sadness of the pain it has inflicted.
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame! In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me! Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. Psalm 71:1-3
There was a moment last week, I think it was in the midst of being sick, when I was sitting with my children and got hit in the face with a sippy cup about two or three times in a row (not out of malice but out of the lack of total body awareness and coordination of a 1 year old) and then kneed in the leg for similar reasons by my growing 6 year old son. Those injuries, though understandable and unintentional, really hurt. But as a “grown up”, we know its just part of life and we need to get over it. The same goes for the injustice of washing another crib dirtied by a diaper’s unfortunate inability to contain all its contents, and the necessary bathing of the child afterward. I realized in the midst of all this that I too just want somebody to sit with me and acknowledge, “That is really awful that you were hit in the face with that sippy cup and how very cruel that you are having to clean all that poop!” I just want to be parented as really isn’t realistic for adults to expect and honestly, would be kind of awkward if my parents walked in and kissed my face where the cup hit me. Yet, my heart wants this kind of personal and tender care even so.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord hows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. Psalm 103:8-14
Upon entering adulthood, the messages to toughen up, suck it up and get over it replace the nurturing sentiments that disappointments warrant a grieving period, broken toys or torn pictures are very sad things and that sometimes spilled milk does make us cry. So, much like an orphan, I learn to take those earlier responses and either shove them inward where I can’t feel them or feel shame for such self-centered and immature self-pity. From this orphan response then often comes an eruption an anger toward the one responsible for the insult or injury because where I don’t feel permission to grieve, I replace those hurt feelings with anger. Rather than just an orphan, I become like a stray dog, willing to attack someone who threatens to take away my old chew bone, even if it is nasty and past its prime.
But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; you consider their grief and take it in hand. The victims commit themselves to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Psalm 10:14
What it means that God is my Father isn’t merely to make up whatever difference remained between my earthly dad and all the needs I still have. He isn’t just filling in some gap but is my Father from first to last, womb to tomb, caring deeply about what makes me sad or scared in the middle of the night or proud at the end of the school day. I don’t have to stuff or feel shame or burst out in anger because I still, even as an adult, have a Father who allows me to cry about a splinter and goes even further to say to me, “That is horrible that the piece of wood attacked your skin and it is so very sad that you are experiencing this pain.”
There are two significant aspects of God’s nurturing Fathering. For one, it is a benefit of belonging rather than being left to survive independently. Even grown-ups are not abandoned or required to become calloused and unfeeling in the face of wounds, disappointments or physical or emotional frailty. This tender care offers me permission to acknowledge my sadness, even over small things like being smacked in the face with a sippy cup, because God sees, sympathizes and meets that need to be healed, loved and not disregarded. The second aspect of this Fathering which builds upon the first is that when my deepest and often unrealized need to be cared for as a small child gets cared for is met by my Father, I no longer have to demand it from others or resent them for not providing it. When I experience His deep regard for all aspects of my being, not because I am strong and innocent, but even in my sinful responses and self-centered pity parties, I am not so easily emptied by the disregard I may feel from others. I can then love others with greater patience, compassion and even sacrifice because I am no longer entering the relationship as an orphan looking out for myself first but as a well loved child full of His life to then offer others. My need to be cared for is being met by my Father so I am not left feeling forsaken like an orphan or cornered like a stray dog by the daily insults and injuries of life, both large and trivial.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Psalm. 73:24-26