A few days ago, my sister-in-law was planning to come by and see us. My son asked me to remind her to bring his belated birthday present, something she had told him she had forgotten to put in the mail. I did what any mom would do and said, “No, that would be rude. We don’t ask for presents.” I made a mental note to work on gift etiquette.
Well, the next day, my nephew was over at his grandma’s house and asked if he could have a certain toy to take home with him. This was after he had been instructed earlier by his mom not to ask to keep other people’s things, in addition to being reminded that he has the exact same one at home. (It was a stuffed donut. Yes, they make stuffed donuts. And yes, for some reason our family owns several.) It reminded me of how whenever I pay for something in cash and get change back, one of my kids usually asks if they can keep the change. In fact, one of them did this yesterday, at the gift shop in the museum we went to with their cousin (the donut-loving one). No, kids. This is not your money. Where do you get the audacity to think you can have it for nothing?
Rather than jump to the conclusion that we simply just need to teach better manners around here, I began to pause and contemplate this pattern I was seeing emerge. Later that day, my littlest daughter began eating fries off my plate, despite having some of her own on her plate. She also has been clambering up onto my lap whenever she gets the whim to, with seemingly no regard for my pregnant belly, personal space, or the fact that I might be holding a hot beverage or trying to accomplish something that isn’t helped by having a squirmy toddler on my lap. But she will just wiggle on back and make herself comfortable, assuming she has the right to be there and demonstrating her persistence if I suggest otherwise. Kind of like my niece, who, with little awareness that her mom might be in the middle of a conversation with someone else, proceeded to call, “Mom? Mom? Mom? Mom?” no less than a dozen times in a row today. I didn’t sense any irritated impatience on my niece’s part, just persistence and the expectation of being heard.
What is it with these kids and their expectation that they will be heard, that they will be welcomed, that they will receive? Sure, there’s plenty of room to keep on working on their social graces. But these kids are not terribly spoiled or entitled in the broader sense of the word. They just live expectantly because they know they are loved, they know their parents have a lot of good stuff, and if they might get something awesome just by asking (because, come on, who doesn’t want a stuffed donut?), why not ask?
“But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” -Luke 18:15-17
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” -Hebrews 11:6
Well, why don’t we, as we get older, display this same sense of expectancy? Perhaps because by this stage of the game, we’ve experienced some disappointment deep enough to be painful, and we’re afraid of feeling that again. And perhaps because of those times of disappointment, we’ve begun to question whether God really loves us after all, whether he truly is good. If we were to boldly ask him for the desires of our heart, it would sting so much deeper if the answer left us feeling rejected by him than if we had never asked. But who says a seemingly negative answer equates to a lack of love and good intent? Somewhere along the way, we decided to equate his immediate responses to our desires with his love for us. Yet when a child expects to get what they want right away, we’re tempted to call them spoiled, and we know a parent who indulges their child’s every whim isn’t doing them any favors. A little patience can be a useful thing, and God sometimes has some better timing in mind than what we’ve mapped out on our own.
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” -1 John 4:18-19
My daughter has been asking to go to Disney World for a few months now, and I’ve been telling her, “Probably not, at least not for a while. We would need to save up a lot of money first, and that would mean there’d be some other things we wouldn’t be able to do.” Little does she know there’s been a surprise trip to Disney World planned for almost a year! But it was something that took time. My aim was not to withhold something good or to trick her or to make her prove herself worthy first, but simply to prepare a special gift for her, and, my hope was, to keep her from the frustration of obsessing over an upcoming trip for months when it would be really hard and possibly anticlimactic to wait. I acted and responded according to my own wisdom and love for her. As does God, whose wisdom and love are infinitely greater than my own.
“For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” -Isaiah 55:9
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” -1 Corinthians 2:9
And yet, wouldn’t I still be a good parent if in my wisdom and love I had decided that such a trip wasn’t affordable or the best investment for our family, or for some reason unknown to her could be detrimental? What if going to Florida would have put her unborn brother or sister at risk for Zika virus? Or the money spent would have prevented us from paying our rent or being able to visit our family for Thanksgiving? What if she was too short for all the rides and wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy it yet, or had a health condition that made it unsafe for her to be there? There could have been any number of good and reasons not to grant her wish, reasons rooted in discretion and love. Millions of loving parents have never taken their children to a theme park. Just because there are some kids who have gone, that wouldn’t mean she is unloved or slighted if she hasn’t, nor does it mean that one child deserves it more than another.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” -Matthew 7:9-11
And my little girl who doesn’t yet know she is going to Disney World in a week, she has accepted my answer with trust (even if she keeps asking on occasion). She is not resentful of my “probably not” or “maybe someday” answer, nor is she jealous of her friends who have gone. She is going to be so excited when her gift finally arrives, unexpectedly. And like Charlie Bucket was able to enjoy the wonder of the Chocolate Factory much more than Veruca Salt, I think she’ll enjoy it a lot more than a child who thought they were automatically entitled to a trip to Disney World would.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” -Jeremiah 29:11
So the yesses and the no’s have their reasons, and God knows what he is doing. And we are to wait patiently, without demand. And yet he tells us he wants us to ask big, and ask boldly. Why?
“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” -Hebrews 4:16
Why does God want us to come to him and ask him for what we long for? I can’t say for sure, but I can identify who it is who climbs up on my lap, or asks me to stop at McDonalds, or tells me what they want for Christmas, or asks if we could go to Disney World someday. Generally, it is only my own children who ask me for things, sometimes even audaciously claiming them. Although we typically sleep in our own beds at our house, the other day I found my son had tucked himself in to my bed, hoping I would let him stay there for the night. And I did. Children who aren’t my own usually don’t have the guts to ask for such things (and if they do, they’ve got some bold childlike faith). My kids probably aren’t going to take food off a stranger’s plate, or ask our neighbor to get them Legos for Christmas. And, like most kids, they actually aren’t eager to climb up onto Santa’s lap (though some might be lured in by the prospect of gifts, because of their bold, childlike expectancy). They don’t know him. But they know me. And that’s the key. This audacity, it’s about relationship. I would ask my parents to borrow their car for a week, but probably not my boss. There are acquaintances I’m still on a polite, non-imposing basis with, and then there are friends whose house I’ve invited myself into, whose refrigerators I’ve rummaged through, and even borrowed or lent underwear to. The closer we are to someone, the easier it is to ask them for something without feeling uncomfortable about it.
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” -James 1:16-17
I think that’s why God wants us to ask. If we hesitate to bring him our needs and requests, we are relating to him as though we were strangers or estranged, when his deepest desire is for us to be close to him, to recognize that he is our Dad (a better one than even the best of our earthly fathers) and that he loves us. Our willingness to be audacious in our requests to God just might be a good barometer of the level of relationship we have with him, and that relationship is the one thing that matters most in our life, whether or not we recognize it. We are to be respectful, yes, and to trust the wisdom of his answer, even if we don’t understand why, just as I’d like my own children to do. But I don’t want my own children to hide the desires of their hearts from me, because it might be in my power and plan to grant them, and even when it’s not, I want to know my children intimately and to know that they are known. I might not be getting those dinosaur eggs or marble maze they told me they want from the Christmas catalog (I already have a pile of specially-chosen gifts for them in my closet). But it was still pretty sweet to flip through the catalog together and ask and dream and wonder and get to know each other just a little bit better.
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” -1 John 3:1
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” -Psalm 37:1
What if we owned our status as children of God and drew near to him, sharing with him our hopes and dreams like we would with our closest confidant, not because he doesn’t already know but because of a mutual desire to share it all with him and go the journey together? What if we trusted him, the Father powerful enough to bring it about and wise enough to know if it’s best for us, with the outcome, being confident enough in his goodness and love to know that whether it happens soon, or later, or never, our hearts can rest in the peace of knowing our future is in the best possible hands? This is the inheritance of those who belong to Him, His children, and so whatever we may be holding or not holding in our own hands right now, it is well with our souls.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” -1 John 1:12
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” – Romans 8:16-17
“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” -1 John 5:14-15
“ ” -Matthew 7:7-8