A couple of weeks ago, Greta Van Susteran posted a picture on her Facebook page. It was a picture of Yemeni children, happily playing amid the bombed-out rubble that used to be their town. Greta remarked that she found it amazing that children can be so resilient, and able to find some measure of joy in the midst of absolute destruction.
The picture is here:
I was moved as well. I instantly thought about some of my favorite quotes from Brennan Manning, one of my favorite Christian authors, and a man who was well aware of the necessity of childlike faith. In Brennan’s book Ruthless Trust, He teaches about what it means to be childlike in our faith. I believe the photo above illustrates this perfectly. Brennan wrote:
“Childlike surrender and trust, I believe, is the defining spirit ofauthentic discipleship. The supreme need in mostof our livesis often the most overlooked: anunfaltering trust in the love ofGod no matter what goes down.I think this is what Paul taughtwhen he wrote in Philippians 4:13, "There is nothing I cannotmaster with the help of the one that gives me strength."
These are hard words to live by, and a difficult standard to bear. It’s hard to trust. It’s even harder to trust like a child trusts. Think about that. My daughter is seventeen now and well aware –too aware in my opinion- of the brittle, dangerous state of the world she is growing up in. She stresses over the news as I do. But when she was little, she didn’t have a care in the world. She had a dad who loved her immeasurably, who provided for her every need and almost every desire. She had a wonderful home in the country, two dogs she raised from puppies, a cat, a pony, a garden, sunshine, peace, contentment. Her life was never something she needed to give thought to. She could focus on just being a little girl, enjoying the love of her mom and dad (albeit in separate homes) and finding wonder and amazement in the everyday happenings of the world around her.
But she is an adult now. She has seen her daddy’s life implode because of the economy, she has watched her mom’s bad choice in remarriage explode in violence and terror until she finally escaped it by moving with me to Virginia. She has seen me rebuild on far less than I made in my heyday as a mortgage lender. She worries about the prices in the grocery store. She almost never asks me for clothes or shoes or basic necessities without the look of concern on her face, worried that I won’t have enough, or that I will have to go without so that she can have something.
Her childhood –and resulting child-likeness- ended prematurely in 2008 when my world collapsed. Around that same time, her mother’s husband began to reveal what kind of monster he really was and fear replaced her innocence.
My daughter has not been a child in five or six years now. That is heartbreaking for me in ways I cannot describe to you. I long for the days when only my word was needed to calm what few fears she held in her heart. When she never gave a thought to “'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?” (Matthew 6:31) When she fell to sleep at night, exhausted from a day of happiness, play, learning, excitement, safety, and deep abiding joy.
Now she is often restless at night. She worries, She frets. She has retreated into the safety of introversion and she has built walls around her to prevent anyone else from letting her down and hurting her.
As a dad it breaks my heart into tiny fragments. She is missing so much of the world around her simply because she is so afraid to drop her guard and see the joy that still remains in this world.
Morgan and I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. On any given clear day, the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding this region is stunning. Most evenings are ushered in with the most breathtaking sunsets I have seen in my fifty-two years. I work at the largest, most dynamic Christian University in the world. She has opportunity beyond anything she could have imagined and could have ever had back in Nashville.
Yet she only sees the risk. She only notices how she is going unnoticed. She worries and frets and has scant few people to talk about it with. She is lonely by choice, because in loneliness and isolation there is, at least, safety. Nobody can hurt you if you never give them the chance to. And so she is torn between wanting to make friends and have relationships and open up about her life, and the dread of being wounded and hurt again. She just wants to be a kid again.
Like all of us.
I am the same as my daughter. Five years of brokenness and homelessness, and rejection and isolation left me hardened in ways I never was before. I was always a gregarious people-person, who enjoyed just being around other people. I excelled in my former career, not simply because I was a great mortgage man, but because I loved helping folks and seeing their dreams come true. I love solving problems for people and bringing happiness if I can.
But five years of failure and disappointment and rejection –especially the rejection- hardened a side of me. It drained my optimism and emptied me of my joy. And sadly…it all but exasperated my trust.
Just as my daughter began to have problems trusting that her dad would always have answers, and always be able to do what he had done, so I have those same problems.
I seldom pray for myself. I pour my heart out for my daughter, for my co-workers, my friends, my family. But almost never for me. I never sit back in the arms of a loving, doting Father and give Him my worries and my fears and the troubles of my soul.
Jesus said “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe God, believe in me too” (John 14:1)
He also warned about “People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” (Luke 21:26) People losing heart because of the world disintegrating around them. I know I am. I am ashamed to admit it, but I lost my childlike trust years ago. I stopped “casting all my cares upon Him, because he cares about me” (I Peter 5:7)
I stopped asking Him for the answers first, and then trusting Him enough to not try fixing it myself.
First I stopped trusting, then I stopped asking altogether. I started seeing the devastation around me, and not the power of the Father who is above all this. I saw the rubble of my life and I only lamented the destruction.
And yet, little Yemeni children can make a playground in their rubble…
And so must I. I was talking with a co-worker about this over the last few weeks. The stress and concern and worry of just being a dad, and trying to be a provider and a protector, and a wise man and a good employee, and a friend, and in his case, a husband. We talked about how demanding this is and how hard it is for men to say “I don’t know the answer…will have to trust God.” For me, that is almost weakness. I am supposed to know. I am supposed to have the answer. I am supposed to be the rock in the storm. I can’t seem to do that when I am admitting I am (sometimes) none of those things and that I can only “pray about it.”
It’s not that I don’t trust God. It’s that I was born and raised to feel that I am still supposed to do something. Prayer and trust are great, but rolling up my sleeves and doing something…That’s what a man does. That’s what a dad does.
If my daughter applied that logic to me I would be hurt. If she refused to trust me to provide, if she refused to see my protection or my provision, I would feel like a failure. Yet I do that to God daily.
Fourteen years ago, I raced across town on the morning of September eleventh, to pick her up from her pre-school. Just like all the other parents that morning, I was scared. I was worried. I was wondering where we would really be safe.
I walked into the daycare center and there she was…playing happily with all the other kids who were as unaware of the world’s condition as she was in that moment. She had no idea that her whole life had just changed. She had no reason to. There was rubble in New York and Washington DC and in a field in Pennsylvania, but all she and her friends did was play.
I have to learn that. I have to get to that point again. I have to drop my self-consuming demands that I “fix this right now” and just let Him work. I need to do what I can and then let Him do what He is going to do. I need to start enjoying this life. I need to more frequently stare at the sunset on the mountains. I need to spend more time hearing the sound of birds, enjoying the job I have and the friends I have here. More time listening to that amazing voice God has gifted my little girl with.
I need to give Him the time to work these things out. I need to remind myself that He is always in control. Always. I need to remember that the problem comes not because He is not in control, but because I don’t let Him control it. Jesus said He came to give us joy. I need return to where I spend more time with Him.
…and let Him make a playground in my rubble.