I open our bedroom door and walk down the hallway, dreams from the night before still rattling around in my head. I make my way through the living room. My wife is there, in her recliner, eating breakfast and reading the Bible. I kiss her forehead and offer a “Good morning,” and she replies in kind, equally sleep-deprived, equally tempted to crawl back into bed and tell life to go away until tomorrow.
Coming from the next room, I can hear the clinking of a spoon against a bowl. I step into the kitchen. My daughter, who recently turned twelve years old, looks up from her breakfast. “Daddy!” she says in soft excitement. Then she pushes her chair away from the table, glides over to me, and wraps her arms around my waist.
As I return her embrace, the Kingdom of God breaks through a crack in my reality and encircles the two of us in a swirl of wind and fire and earth-shaking glory. But the Spirit speaks only in a whisper. This is what I need from you… come closer to me… Let me hold you.
“Okay,” I finally say, looking at the kitchen clock. “You’ve gotta let go of me now. We’ve got to hurry. Finish your breakfast and get ready for school.”
So she smiles and goes back to what she was doing, and I get back to my morning routine.
James, the biological brother of Jesus and one of the first leaders of the church in Jerusalem, wrote a short letter and had it copied and passed around to as many homes and synagogues and church groups as possible. This letter would later end up in the Christian bible, and it is heavily seasoned with one-liners. Near the close of his letter, sandwiched between admonitions that we should resist the devil and that we should keep both our hearts and hands clean, he makes this statement:
Take a single step toward God, and he will rush toward you, wrap you in his arms, and flood your heart with love.
This is my paraphrase, of course, but it is the way I read it. I can’t help myself. The love I have experienced with my daughter has ruined a great deal of my systematic theology, and I can never thank God enough for that. But my father-daughter relationship has done more than simply spoil some of the unhealthy parts of my orthodoxy. It’s helped to heal my heart.
When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees. Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”
He replied, “I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”
—Genesis 3:8-10 (NLT)
For most of my life, I was afraid of God. And, like Adam, I chose to hide. Every time I felt guilt or shame or the pain of rejection or loss, I ran away from God and his anger and judgment—but especially his disappointment. I ran away in fear. I ran away from God because I was naked.
It wasn’t a lack of physical clothing that drove Adam and Eve into hiding. There’s nothing shameful about being nude. It was the nakedness of their souls, a lack of the covering of the Spirit of God that sent them scampering into the woods, covering up their bodies with leaves, in what they knew was a futile attempt to make that feeling go away, that feeling of something missing. Or someone.
But what if Adam and Eve would have ran toward God instead of away from him? What would have happened? What if they had run into the arms of their creator, their father? How would the story have ended differently?
Sometimes my daughter is obstinate, or she lies to us, or she procrastinates and forgets an important school assignment. When she does these things, I’m often angry and judgmental, and I tell her how disappointed I am. In short, I become what I fear about God, the things I’m still trying to believe are not true about my loving creator, my father.
Eventually, the emotions in the room lose their edge, and we end up in the same place we started that morning: in each other’s arms. And that same Spirit and those same whispered words rush back into the room and into my heart. This is what I need from you… come closer to me… Let me hold you. Forget your mistakes, your sin, your nakedness. I am your covering.
It’s all I really want with my daughter, a heart connection, a life that says, “Because we love each other, I want to guard and protect your heart. I want my words and my choices and especially the posture of my heart to protect the relationship we have.”
And she is always willing, my little girl. She has a grasp on unconditional love and acceptance that I can only pray to receive, and she believes that kindness should be the currency of the world. No matter what’s happened, or who’s hurt whom, her desire is a continually renewing connection between her heart and the hearts of those whom she loves.
I believe this same posture of love and commitment to the heart of God our father is all he wants from us—not compliance, not simple obedience, and most definitely not fear.
God planted a poor choice, a potentially catastrophic failure in the garden with Adam and Eve, on purpose, because he wanted them to choose to connect with his heart, and he understood that the only way to do that was to give them another choice, something else to choose besides him.
In order for them to be able to choose to eat from the tree of life, he gave them the tree of knowledge. In order for them to be able to choose to walk with him in the cool of the day, he gave them the liberty to live in cold nakedness. In order for them to be able to choose the acceptance and mercy of his infinite arms, he created a small place behind a tree where they would eventually run to and hide.
Everywhere we turn—at home, in the grocery store, at work, at school, when we are alone—we see a multitude of places where our Creator has planted the tree of knowledge. We will continue to eat the fruit, every day.
And so he waits to see where we will run.
Meditate on the story of the man with two sons that Jesus tells in Luke’s gospel, chapter 15. Ponder in your heart the love of the father in that story, the love of your father, the creator of the universe. This is what happens when we take a single step toward God.
While he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. (NLT)
Run and hide. Run into your father’s arms and hide in his love.