I. The Missionary’s Daughter
I recently received an e-mail from a cousin who is serving as a missionary in Africa. His e-mails always include descriptions of his young daughter’s exploits and development alongside the normal reports you read in missionary updates. In this most recent e-mail, he mentioned that he and his wife are teaching her to say “Jesus” but she’s having some difficulty with the word. My cousin concluded (emphasis mine):
…she has given it several good shots, none of which sound right, but her Papa and Mama know what she is trying to say, and I believe our Lord Jesus does too.
That last bit jumped out at me, or perhaps more accurately, slapped me across the face. My tendency is to think of God in the abstract, to approach Him as this God of the philosophers for Whom only terms like “aseity” suffice when talking about Him. And yet here’s this beautiful and true picture of a little girl struggling to say “Jesus” and Jesus, “very God of very God” Himself, being perfectly satisfied with whatever sounds actually end up coming out of her mouth.
God meets us where we’re at and remembers our mortality and feebleness, whatever our stage in life may be.
Both of my sons were born under less-than-desirable circumstances, and both had to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) because they were too small and underdeveloped to come home right away. This was especially true of my firstborn, who was delivered six weeks early via Caesarean section. The NICU was in a Catholic hospital, so there were crucifixes hanging everywhere, even the NICU’s baby rooms. And as I leaned over my sons, trying to wrap my head around the enormity of just how tiny and frail they were, I prayed one particular prayer over and over again: “Please Jesus, don’t forget what it was like to be a little boy.”
Christianity teaches that Jesus was born a human being, with all of the weaknesses and frailties that implies. In the liner notes for Songs for Christmas, Sufjan Stevens writes about this messy side of humanity that Jesus embraced when He came as a helpless baby, that He did plenty of “trembling and suckling and cooing and burping and crying and laughing and giggling and spitting up breast milk all over the place.” As such, Jesus — though He is “very God of very God” — knows very well the whole range of the human experience, including its various struggles and sufferings.
That was the thought behind my prayer, an earnest plea that Jesus would remember His time on earth, especially His childhood, and therefore look upon my own children with favor and compassion.
III. The Second Stone
I was a faithful attendee of my college group, but I must confess that I only remember a handful of moments from its loud, raucous Sunday morning worship services. The one that stands out most in my mind was when Pastor Dan was reading through Psalm 103. He came to verse 14, which states “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” and he stopped. He then said, as an aside to what he was really preaching about (which I, of course, don’t remember), that those are some of the most encouraging words in the Bible. I believe he was right.
As someone who is prone to brooding self-doubt and self-criticism, these are words that I need to continually internalize and make my own. The Lord knows my weaknesses and frailties. He is well aware of my passing, ephemeral nature — indeed, He even shared it via Jesus’ incarnation. And even so, He still shows compassion, and ultimately, regards me as something much more than just mere dust. The Hasidic Rabbi Simcha Bunim once said:
A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, “I am but dust and ashes.” On the other, “For my sake was the world created.” And he should use each stone as he needs it.
I am very good at looking at the first stone, which is a very great truth. I need to become better at reaching for the second stone, which is an equally great truth.