We just borrowed a book from the library (how good is the library?), Me and My Nan by Amana Rainger and Simone Abel. I’ve written the entire book below as a poem:
Nan came to meet me to take her to her flat.
I ran on to the bus stop. Nan said, “Don’t do that!”
We went to the shops, and Nan stopped for a chat.
I hid round the corner. Nan said, “Don’t do that!”
We walked by the river and I shouted, “There’s a rat!”
I thought it was funny. Nan said, “Don’t do that!”
I knocked on the front door with a rat-a-tat-tat!
Nan dropped all the shopping. She said, “Don’t do that!”
We had ham for tea, but I don’t like the fat.
So I hid it in the plant pot. Nan said, “Don’t do that!”
I dropped the ketchup. It landed, ker-splat!
Nan spilt her tea. She said, “Don’t do that!”
Nan watched the TV. I played with the cat.
He ran up the curtains. Nan said, “Don’t do that!”
I went to the bedroom, and tried on Nan’s hat.
It made me giggle. Nan said, “Don’t do that!”
I went into the garden, with my ball and my bat,
But I stood on the flowers. Nan said, “Don’t do that!”
So I got out my book, and I sat on the mat.
I tried to be good. Nan said, “Yes! Do that!”
Sorry it’s a bit long but I think that emphasises the point more. Do you wish that this Nan were your Nan? I know I don’t. But also as I read this book over and over again to my repetition-loving son, I wonder if I’m a bit like this. Do you ever get to the end of the day and feel like all you’ve said to your children is, ‘No!’ or ‘Don’t!’?
Even worse than being a mum like this Nan, is the uncomfortable notion that I actually think God is like this. I feel like the rest of the world is having a lot of fun, and I’m only allowed to do a few things, which are the grown up equivalent of ‘getting out my book, sitting on the mat and trying to be good.’ Just keep your head down and don’t do anything bad! If this is how I live, is it any wonder that my friends don’t find Christianity attractive? They don’t want to give up all the fun they’re having in order to worship a God who restricts their freedom. Of course, it’s not entirely my fault that they think that, but it’s good to wonder whether I’m reinforcing that idea by my attitude.
So is God like Nan? Not according to Genesis 2:
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
God made all kinds of trees – an abundance – that were pleasing to the eye and good for food (I underlined that in case you missed it). Beautiful and delicious and abundant. But there was a dangerous tree in the garden, and God warned Adam not to eat from it. So God is not a restrictive parent, but one who lavishes us with wonderful gifts, for our enjoyment and for his glory. The abundance of beauty we can enjoy gives us a glimpse of His generous, beautiful character.
But just like when the serpent uttered to Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”, so Satan still lies to us now. I need to keep remembering that God is the opposite of this. He gives me freedom, and life in all its fullness. I am free to enjoy the life he’s given me:
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance. (Psalm 16:6)
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)
If my view of God is right, then I will pass this on to my children, both in my attitude towards God and in the way I interact with them. So often I find my default answer is ‘no’, and then afterwards I think, ‘Well, I suppose we could…’ I’m not saying we should give in to our children all the time or let them set the agenda, but I hope you can be encouraged to think about how to show our children that they are free to do anything but sin. Some children are forever trying to do things that will harm them (drink bleach/run into the road/chew electrical wires), and some children are like fountains of messy and energetic ideas (‘Let’s paint our bodies! Let’s make a chocolate castle!’ ‘Let’s do something with charcoal!’). So you have my sympathies. It’s a tricky business, this parenting. But I know that if I genuinely enjoy the freedom I have in Christ, then that’s an excellent start to teaching my kids about it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must go and stop my baby eating stones again…