Some reflections I offered at Caitlin’s baptism yesterday…
I was having a conversation with someone the other day about her local parent and toddler group. Don’t worry – it wasn’t a group that runs in this parish or anywhere nearby! But this person, who is much older and wiser than me, was reflecting on her observation of parents and children at the painting table. She noticed that often, we parents will sit down with our children, hand them a brush, hand them the red paint, and say:
Right – paint me a rose. No, not blue. You need red for a rose. That’s right; do a nice circle. Some petals. And now the stem. No, not yellow. You need green for a stem. Don’t mix the paints!! Green – no, not a circle, it needs to be a straight stem. Careful – you’ll get it on your clothes. And some leaves, do some leaves.
There – what a beautiful flower you’ve painted.
As a parent, I do this sort of thing all the time without realising. I ask my kids to perform for me, without giving them the freedom to do and act and create and be, just as they are. Building the wooden train set is a particular challenge in our house. Does it have to loop round in a complex figure of 8 with branch lines and bridges and level crossings? Or can it simply form a long line across the lounge, with some random curves and splits in the track? Jim, Ben and I have very different views on this!
And this conversation made me think a little about what I think God is like, as a parent. Is God the sort of parent who sits with us at the painting table, hands us the red paint, and gives us very specific instructions about how to draw a rose? Is God the sort of parent who gets out the wooden train set, and creates some wonderful feat of civil engineering while we watch, desperate to be involved but waiting for him to sit back so we can play? I’m not so sure…
There’s a book in the Old Testament written by a prophet called Isaiah. His job was to remind the people of Israel of the identity God had given them as his chosen people. Again and again Isaiah has to try and convince the people of Israel that God loves them, and that he has special plans for them. Part of his message to God’s people were these words:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.
I have called you by name.
You are mine.
When you pass through waters, I will be with you.
Rivers will not overwhelm you.
When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.
I am the Lord your God.
The language is just beautiful. It reveals to us the nature of God as the one who is deeply, desperately involved with his people. But other parts of Isaiah also reveal a God who will rarely interfere or intervene in any way that takes the gift of freewill away from human beings.
What if, rather than being the one who tells us what to paint and how to paint it, God is the one who simply holds the paint pot? He provides the paint, we colour the picture.
Painting can be messy, just as life is messy. Artwork may be spoiled by a careless mistake. Paint can be spilt in a moment of clumsiness. A vivid picture could become nothing more than a dirty brown smudge of mixed up colours.
But when Ben presents me with a dirty brown smudge of mixed up paint on a page, I don’t see the ugliness. I see the beauty of something that he has created. It may not be aesthetically pleasing, but to me as a mum it is beautiful because he painted it. And he painted it without my controlling hand directing him.
Is that how God views the artistic masterpieces that we make of our lives? Does he see beyond the dirty brown smudges, to look on something much more beautiful, and much more precious?
- What if God is deeply, intimately involved in our lives, without controlling us or taking over?
- What if God gives us time and space to paint what we want to paint, how we want to paint it?
- What if God rejoices in the creativity of whatever we offer to him, and wipes up the mess we leave behind?
- What do we think of that God?
Today, we have baptised Caitlin into the Christian faith. There are many more of us who have been baptised in the last few weeks, months and years, or who are being baptised in the near future.
Baptism is about handing our children and ourselves over to God, and allowing him to work in us throughout the whole of our lives. As the church, our job is to watch for this relationship in Caitlin, to nurture it and pray for it and help it to grow. But never to snatch away her paintbrush and paint the picture for her.
For Caitlin and for each of us, God holds a paint pot, and invites us to paint something really special with our lives. He will deal with the mess, if we let him. So what picture will you paint for God?