Help. I write the word in plum today, and in the curve of the e, the marker squeaks against the whiteboard. Help really isn’t the right word. It’s as inadequate as the word serve for describing what we do for God. Learn would be the better verb if this schedule were truly about accuracy, but from my son’s perspective, help will do. I’m training a soul first, a body second, and attitude supercedes activity.
Help Mom clean the kitchen
I smile, thinking back to brassy pictures of me as a child, standing on a stool at the sink with dish towel in hand, little-girl sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Back then, I had the theory that my parents asked me to help so that they would have less work to do. Because of my forced labor, their lives were easier. They got to relax (—ummm, when?). I often lived as a selfish, resentful servant: Why can’t they just do their own work? I sulked, especially when I had to go back and do again some task I had only half-heartedly completed the first time. I clinched the bathroom brush in my Comet-smelling fingers and scrubbed out angst. Why don’t I get to do what I want to do?—scrub, scrub, scrub– Don’t they care (pause here for a dramatic sob) that I need some free time? I’d let the brush thud against the pasty surface for punctuation. And how many times, now, have I given thanks that my parents did the hard thing and taught me—not just the skills but so many other soul-deep things with them—against my will? Of course, a child never appreciates the free time she actually does have whilst she is in the throws of unwanted helping. Talk about perspective and attitude: While I was helping, mine often reeked of I don’t want to. I’m so thankful that they persisted right through my bad attitudes and ungratefulness, that they didn’t just placate my immaturity and give me what I thought I wanted.
But let’s be honest: In truth, this problem isn’t unique to childhood. Sometimes I am still a selfish, resentful servant. And I still very often get all mixed up on the facts. Sometimes I still lose my sense of gratitude, and sometimes my attitude still stinks. And yet, God’s mercy and grace-filled persistance with me never fails. He does the hard thing. Always.
Of course, it took being a parent myself to realize that from the parental perspective Help Mom really means everything takes longer and Mom feels bone-tired at the end of the day from all the repetitive teaching, because it really means Mom will teach you how and Mom will insist that you don’t just do but do well, and God will teach Mom–again–that attitude supercedes activity, that grace forgives imperfection, that building and loving and touching a child means more than just about clearly everything on a “to do” list. Mom trains a child and God trains a Mom.
Help Mom with the laundry.
The words sound so mundane, but they make me smile wide as the marker squeaks through the sweeping curves of the letters. Confession: my purposes aren’t all functionality. When Adam “helps” me around the house, I get to spend precious time with him. His participation in my work makes me happy. I write those ordinary words, and I hear the way Adam giggles when we sort the laundry, when I roll in some speech lessons and ask him to identify each piece before we toss it in the appropriate hamper. Sometimes he adds in a description I haven’t even requested, like “oohgggg, purple shiiRT,” and his words soar up and explode in a chirp of laughter. He’s giddy over my notice and congratulations—delighted with his own accomplishment–and meanwhile, I realize that I’m standing in front of a basket of dirty clothes thinking thoughts far flung from stale drudgery. I love being with my son.
So maybe God’s purposes are similar in asking us to join Him in His work: one part growing, stretching, sculpting the vessel and another just the joy of spending time with us held securely and purposefully in His hands. Listen soul, it’s true that He delights in us. I don’t know about you, but I’m always getting that confused, losing track of the most joyful priorities. Like my son, I suppose I still have quite a lot to learn.
This week, Adam has learned to dry the dishes carefully when he unloads the dishwasher and to rinse the dirty ones well when he loads them. I have watched him discover value in his own strength for observing the finest gradient of detail while slowly sweeping the towel across the shiny surfaces of coffee mugs, gathering water droplets from thin spaces where porcelain handles join cups in hairline seams. Visual acuity is not a light ability, and that’s a truth familiar to me, but beautifully new to my son. When we vacuum the living room together, Adam lays flat on the floor, carefully guiding the unclamped hose underneath the sofa. His upper torso disappears beneath as he chases every crumb, scrutinizing the carpet from an inch above. I watch the vacuum cleaner jerk and skid behind him as he drags his long body behind a fluff of down driven out of dark-hiding by his movements. This effort he makes naturally, drawn by the blend of his own compulsions and personal strengths. So, after a few moments delighting, I have to remind him to stand and move the machine itself back and forth in motions that cover the larger area more quickly. He excels at the details but loses track of the bigger picture. Soul first, then body. As we uncover strengths, we also find new ways to grow.
“Adam, have you done your morning chores yet?” I ask, standing back from the white board to consider the order of the day. It’s my job to take the largest view, to think of all of the details Adam might not appreciate, to make sure he’s ready to do the right things at the right time. At this point, he’s not ready for that responsibility, and if I gave him control of the schedule, he would write in activities that feed obsessions and steal his words, isolating him further from the rest of us. Sometimes, when I resist the sovereignty of God, it’s because I fail to trust that His control–His careful providence, leadership, training, and guidance–His larger view—actually protects me from falling into immature patterns of activity that would only feed my weaknesses and insecurity and make me vulnerable to choices that would alienate me from Him.
Adam looks up from Riley’s notebook of stories. For the last half hour, he has been reading what she has written and sauntering into the kitchen to mention certain details, just a word or two with no context for interpretation. Still, it’s clear that the time we’ve spent working together has brought us closer and made this initiation more natural for him. He’s trying to talk to me, and that matters. This week, Adam has learned to say, “Now it’s time to sweep the floor,” instead of just “broom,” and after four days, he’s very nearly able to distinguish a fitted sheet from a flat. Very soon, Adam will not only be able to change his sheets without any help from me, he will also be able to ask someone else for what he needs or explain what he intends to do, and that matters. That matters more than nearly everything else on my “to do” list.
“Snowing,” Adam says, looking up, tapping Riley’s story with his finger. “Snowing.”
“Snowing? It’s snowing in Riley’s story?”
“Yes. Cooking hamburgers.”
“Someone’s cooking hamburgers?”
“While it’s snowing?” In Riley’s stories, such a thing is entirely within the realm of possibility.
“Who? Who’s cooking hamburgers?”
“That’s where. Adam, who? Who is cooking hamburgers?”
He looks back at the paper, tapping insistently with his finger. “Snowing. Hamburgers.” He’s trying. If not for our week, our working together, he would not be talking to me at all. He would be staring at a video screen with his headphones on, lost to me. Oh Mamas, Mom trains the child and God trains the Mom. We can’t give up, and we can’t let anyone tell us that the foundation-building, the rooting we’re doing—that spending time–is something mundane. We’re trying—dead tapping the Page with our fingers, and that matters.
“Adam, have you done your morning chores?”
He walks over to me, where I stand with the marker in my hand, and looks at the whiteboard. I’ve made it all the way to LUNCH, but not past.
“Schedule,” he says, even as he turns to begin his chores. From the stairwell, I hear him say, “yet,” and I want to sweep him up in my arms for the effort. But you haven’t finished my schedule yet, that’s what he means to say, and I understand, and I think, He’s still talking to me. And he doesn’t understand why right now, but he’s still obeying right away. And I realize that I don’t have to understand why right now to obey right away either, that I can start obeying while I’m still telling my God I don’t get His timing. I can join Him in His work and I can let Him set the course and choose the time, and I can learn to trust while I obey and while I talk to Him and while He teaches me.
I turn back to the whiteboard for Adam, determined to finish while my son blind-begins, and I realize God’s determined to finish too, that He knows the finish while we’re just blind-beginning to obey, while our awkward faith is just a seed. And I think maybe the schedule He’s writing for me looks something like this:
Spend Time with Me
Help me Build and Love and Touch the Souls I came to Save
And I think maybe I should get busy.