Mommy, a few weeks ago at church, all the kids were saying that God sets us on fire to clean us out. And I said He didn’t. I was the only who said that.
Her sweet face looked up at me, those wide eyes seeking to understand. I hear more than curiosity in her voice. I hear the bewilderment of being the only one with a differing opinion, the sense of being too little to know how to speak up. And just ever so slightly, the tinge of fear. Could this be true? Would God do this?
I look at this precious one, so like me that it absolutely terrifies me some days, and I begin to explain, slowly, pausing so she can ask more questions if she needs to. I explain that, no, God is not going to light a match and literally set her on fire. (Lots of relief in her eyes here.) And I explain that it is a picture to help us understand. We talk about gold and how it has to be cleaned up and how they use heat to bring the impurities to the surface. And I tell her how the Bible says God is a consuming fire – a picture for us to understand how He shapes our hearts. (I do realize there is more to that imagery, but she’s 4, so one thing at a time.) When we come to Him, He helps us remove meanness and selfishness and other “icky things” from our hearts.
I see the understanding set in, and I am about to leave the conversation there when I feel that familiar nudge in my spirit. What is the one thing above all you want your daughter to carry in her heart all the days of her life?
In a split second, I remember all the years of striving – trying to be pure enough, right enough, worthy enough, good enough. Somehow the messages of needing to be better outnumbered or at least out-shouted all the messages of being perfectly loved just as I am. It has only been very recently that my heart has been able to truly understand grace, and even then, it is an uncomfortable process at times to let the wonder and simplicity of it fully consume me.
So I look at my treasure and say, “Do you know the most important thing you can ever know about God?” I see the longing spring into her eyes.
“He is love. [Referring to a previous conversation we’d had] Do you remember how the devil wanted to be powerful? He wanted to be God? [She nods.] The devil doesn’t understand that love is most powerful of all. And even when you mess up, God loves you so much. You can’t do anything to change that.”
The smile that breaks across her face is like the sunrise. And she says, “Let’s sing about love.” So we do. And she runs off to play with her brother.
This exchange with my daughter (which her brother also sat there absorbing) has left me thinking a lot about the language we use to speak about God. How much have I said over the years that has actually made people afraid to know Him? How much have I said that made people feel Christians must have a secret language, one that is bizarre and difficult to decode?
Not that everything Jesus said was always perfectly clear to every listener, but He most certainly was not out of reach to anyone except those ignorantly certain of their own rightness – something I absolutely do not want to be.
So I am seeking a new language, first so I can be a healthy part of the spiritual process for my children, and then so I communicate about Him to the world around me in a way that represents Him as He truly is, a way that brings them nearer to His heart, His “fire” and not farther.