My dear children,
If ever there was a time to make a major move, it was then, while you were all still so freshly here. We saw a chance and took it, moved westward to wide-open spaces in which to raise you, a big sky landscape, a place where John Denver sings, “The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullaby.” Plus, we were young then too, with a fair bit of wanderlust in our veins. So we took off to Colorado to see what we could be. As we drove away from all—and I mean ALL—our family, we also drove away from a frame that shaped our faith. That frame included Sunday night church services and Wednesday evening prayer meetings and Sunday school classes and sword drills and Vacation Bible School, just to name a few. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of those (in fact there’s a great deal right and good in all of them), we had grown weary of that structure. At its best, that frame was strong and supportive. Yet on occasion, it had become mere façade rather than the real McCoy, leading to an insistence on using the right words and phrases and observing the do’s and don’ts—all in order to stay on God’s “good side.” We found that experience exhausting, a prime example of getting the course before the heart, so to speak. And if you were to get anything, we so wanted you to get the heart.
Illustration by Hokyoung Kim
And so, dear children, you grew in wisdom and favor with God and man—and Colorado’s Front Range—into some of the kindest, most compassionate people we know. We couldn’t be more proud, and we wouldn’t change a thing about those wonder years of watching you grow. And yet, because more than one thing can be true at the same time, we also have moments of pause now and then because you’re not familiar with the tale of David and Mephibosheth, and the tune to “the books of the Bible” song is not lodged in your brain. And while you know the sound of the Lord’s Prayer, you may not know all the lines. I realize most of that is about me, your aging father, and the worries any parent carries that in ways large and small, they may have failed their children. Yet a little of that is also about you, for while I hope you witnessed the living faith of your father, I’m uncertain if you could articulate the specifics behind it, that you could put into words what I really believe about God, Jesus, and us—why we’re all here in the first place. And while yes, I do want you to know, it’s more now, at my age and yours, that I need you to know.
My dear children, because I believe this world (and that includes you) to be a jaw-dropping work of art, I believe there is an artist, a creator behind it all. It’s not random. And in the same way that your mother and I gave you as works of art a specific name, the artist behind everything has a name, too—G-O-D. Am I willing to concede that belief was something imprinted on me as the firstborn son of a Southern Baptist preacher? Hands down, yes. And yet it is also something I’ve felt in my bones for as long as I can recall—Someone watching over us, Someone who cares, that we are not alone, although many days it feels as if we are. Now, I’m not talking about “the Universe,” as some are fond of nodding to these days. The universe is the canvas but not the artist, for the universe is not personal. As my friend Kenneth Tanner writes, “The universe cannot love you,” and I believe God so loves you and me and the whole wide world. I’m putting my money on the personal, on love, on God. The Austrian poet Rilke wrote of “the wonderful, wide fabric in which every thread is guided by an infinitely tender hand.” Yes, God’s hand.
My children, I can hear even now your voices rise: But Dad, we live a world ribboned with darkness like the Uvalde school shooting and the never-ending war in Ukraine and the majestic Sumatran elephants on the brink of extinction. How can your belief in a tender God jive with those examples of savagery and injustice and heartache? I hear you. Yet I still believe there is a tenderness that holds everything together, without which we would have completely unraveled long ago. This tenderness is seen as the great and powerful God shows us His more approachable, human face. And the face is Jesus.
If you want to know what God is like, look at the man well acquainted with grief—look at Jesus, whose name means “the one who saves.” Saves us from what, Dad? After 50-something years of living, I believe God in Jesus saves us mainly from ourselves, and by that, I’m not belittling humanity’s intelligence or progress. It’s just that after all this time we still don’t know how to love very well. As Mary Oliver writes, “We are not wise, and not very often kind.” But Jesus absorbed all the world’s evil into His infinitely tender heart like a sponge, and yet endured. While you may not know “the books of the Bible” song, I do know you remember C. S. Lewis’s Aslan—the lion’s willing sacrifice for Edmund on the stone table, and the deeper magic from before the dawn of time. The magic that caused the table to crack and death to be reversed. While Aslan’s death was for Edmund, the one represents the many—us.
Us, my dear children. You and me and we. God in Jesus loves us. My good friend Robert Benson writes that “God dreamed us into being,” which leads me to believe that in addition to God loving us, God also enjoys having us around. One of the “false gods” propped up by some still today is a deity who tolerates humanity at best, is most days disappointed in us, and sighs most nights, wishing we could for once just get our act together.
No, my dear children, in addition to God loving us, I believe God likes us. Believing that to be something more profound than a positive-thinking refrigerator magnet takes faith and work and time. For some of us, maybe even a lifetime. The voices telling us the contrary are often loud. But never mind them. I believe that’s why we’re here, and we’re here only for a minute—to live wide awake to the indescribable gift of our lives, riddled as they are with praise, grief, fury, and laughter. To look at, listen to, taste, touch, and smell the relentless tenderness of God.
There’s so much more I could say, but that’s enough for now. Here’s what I want: To live as if God loves us—because He does—and in such a way that those who don’t know love will find us to be generous friends.