Some mornings my eyes flutter open at the usual time, and I’m ready. Other mornings the eyes feel glued shut and body immovable. Yesterday was one of those…when Kellie walked into the bedroom (yes, she was already up) and said, Ashley has a flat tire and can’t get to work and Jeromy is already at work. Can you go help her? Ah, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak…
Last night Kellie and I had our usual Daily Examen where we sit down with a glass of wine and look back over the course of the day for the movements of God. In all the ups and downs of the day, how was God showing up…and how were we showing up? The unexamined life is not worth living was Socrates’ famous quote. I’d put it this way: Paying attention to your life IS life. Not paying attention is to sleep through your life.
After I got Ashley’s tire changed—which involved a cinder block and a sledge hammer by the way—she was trying to buckle our grandson Briar into the car seat in my Jeep. And Briar was having none of it! Usually all smiles and delight, he turned into a wriggling fuss monster. (After all, he is almost two.) As I watched, I felt my back stiffen. Ashley was an hour late to work and didn’t have time for this nonsense. I wanted to—gently but firmly—force his little arms into the straps and let him know who was boss. Heartwarming, isn’t it. I’m usually a better grandfather than that, but those were my honest thoughts at the moment.
Instead, I watched Ashley in awe. She was amazing.
Cooing gently, she was fully present. If she was anxious about work, I couldn’t tell. Started with the usual: Don’t you want to go with Poppy and play with the ball? (No.) Poppy has your toy car keys that you love. (Not interested.) When the resistance didn’t abate, she lifted him out of the car seat and hugged him close. His distress was real, and she soothed him with unhurried kindness.
In a moment, she tried again. Not exactly pacified, he nevertheless allowed himself to be distracted with the little puffy stars he likes to eat. Do you want to put some of these in your pocket? (Yes.) Do you want to hold the can? (Yes.) Finally he softened and submitted to straps and buckles; five minutes later he was asleep as we drove up the bumpy dirt road toward my house.
That was my God-moment of the day, I told Kellie in Examen. I’m not sure I can explain it, but I felt like I was standing on holy ground watching that exchange. Something there showcased the Father’s heart and the way he works with us. Never forced, always patient. Kind. I Corinthians 13 kind of stuff!
I think it impacted me so strongly because I’m not always very gentle with myself. I tend to force myself into the straps and say, in effect, Toughen up kid. Stop being such a whiner! Even greater damage is my tendency to project that harshness onto God, which is bolstered by a lot of bad theology out there.
At the heart of Jesus’ mission was helping us understand and relate to God in a healthy way, and I am constantly amazed at the narrative he used to describe God: the endlessly enduring, lavishly affectionate, passionately tender Father to the prodigal. What was required of the prodigal to receive such love? Confession, a full accounting of his sins? Nope, the Father cut short his self-incrimination. What then—proof of his determination to be a good son in the future? Not in this story! Repayment? Not hardly. What Jesus showcased here was a boundless forgiveness that required nothing of the son except to turn his feet toward home.
Jesus showed us that God has a name, and that name is love. Surely God is at least as gentle and patient as what I saw in Ashley yesterday. It was a glimpse past the veil of my earthbound judgmentalism—my tendency to demand recompense and sacrifice—and I’m still savoring the memory. It’s a taste of heaven, and I’d like to hang out there more. How about you?
So how awake are you to your own life? How do you pay attention to the echoes of grace that call you back into the Father’s embrace? The simplest way I know is some version of the Daily Examen. Take a look at this model, and then make it your own! When you notice the movements of God as a daily practice, you will be amazed at how it changes you.
Follow the Father’s example and try being gentle with yourself.