When I was thirty, for about two years, I lived with friends and their four kids (under the age of seven) and their two dogs in their four story brownstone home in Philadelphia. Another single gal lived there too and daily life was not unlike an episode of Full House. As a single adult, I was privileged to be part of this interdependent existence. Daily routines of cooking dinner, cleaning up, even finding one’s shoes and making sure the bathrooms had toilet paper required a collective organized effort among all or chaos would surely occur. It did at times and we would have to agreeably regroup to get the show going again in a manner that brought smiles rather than tears. Everyone in that house needed one another’s help to ensure a home that was worth coming home to. Some of the best moments of my life happened while living in that house. One of my favorite memories was an unexpected conversation I had with their then four year old son, Caedmon. He saw me struggling to read something one afternoon. As I pressed my nose and magnifying glass close to the text, he walked over and watched. I paused and asked if he wanted something. He simply asked, “Why can’t you see good?”
I answered with the over-simplistic response, “that’s how God made me”.
He looked intently at me and replied, “I know why God did that.”
His seriousness caught my curiosity and so I asked him “Why?”
He answered so decidedly “so I can help you”.
Tears filled my eyes at his sincere statement and I asked what he meant. He informed me that we all need help. He explained how God gave him his mom to help him feel better when he was sick, keeping him company by his bed or in the bathroom when he really got sick. He went on to say that he was so happy when she did this and it was a way to show how much she loved him. He added that his eyes worked fine and that meant he could help me see and make me feel better and show me that he loves me. I scooped him up into my arms and hugged him and told him how much that meant to me and I’m glad he could help me.
These days, I’m forty and Caedmon is a teenager, but his efforts still persist. After I moved out, his family and I began the tradition of venturing to the apple orchard together each fall to pick apples. Caedmon scouts out the trees with ample apples. I feel my way around the branches but there are times his eyes still help me locate fruit tucked away amid the branches and leaves that my hands can’t detect. It has become such a gift to be humble enough to accept the help and insights from children, whether in an apple orchard or in my therapy office. Children, in my opinion, can make some of the best philosophers and theologians. Children possess no pretense except to interpret life interdependently. Even the children I meet with in a therapeutic context who have experienced extreme distress and disconnection possess an innate sense that this is not how it was meant to be. They grieve their history of disconnect and long for ways to reconnect.
I am aware enough to know that there is so much I don’t know. That is why I am so thankful Jesus declared Himself to be “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11). Jesus, as always, sums up reality so simply, describing His relationship with us and the relationship He wants us to have with Him. A few words prior to Jesus summing up our sacred social reality, He emphasized how keenly sheep know their Shepherd in an intimate relational sense – not in an intellectual sense (sheep are not known for their smarts). Jesus personalized how “My sheep know My voice” (John 10:3). I would venture to say that even for the greatest of minds throughout history have found comfort in hearing a beloved familiar voice call to them, call for them to interact in a manner that is not merely intellectual. After all, behind every great mind existed a child – whether or not they directly experienced the benevolent embrace of their mother, they longed for it just the same.
My mom tells the story of how, when I was about three years old, she was deeply moved by how Jesus’ sentiment of His sheep knowing His voice reenacted itself between herself and me. One Sunday, my family visited a new church. After the morning service ended, my mom made her way to the church nursery to pick me up. She recalls the room was crowded and a bit chaotic with all the parents and kids coming and going, chatting and playing. My mom spotted me across the room, though I was not facing her direction. She simply and in a normal tone called my name, “Jamie”. I immediately turned around, saw her and came to meet her where she was standing on the other side of the room. My mom was stunned at such display of connection and has never forgotten it. Amid all the noise and distraction, I clearly heard my mom’s gentle voice and responded with eager recognition to join her. I have been absolutely blessed with one of the kindest mothers earth could ever render and I know this is not the case for all children. But once again, Jesus declares God’s pre-eminence that the best parental efforts pale in comparison to God’s perfect support. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus pointed out how God sees every sparrow that falls and makes sure they are fed, so “how much more” does He do that for us who are created in His image. Jesus emphasized “how much more does your Father in heaven love you” (Matthew 6:25). Jesus repeats such comparison in various ways throughout his sermon recorded in Matthew, which reinforces that God’s relationship with us is real and really good. There is a ubiquitous presence God employs in supporting us throughout life. How much? It’s a rhetorical question, of course, but we still need to verbalize the answer to keep such focus in the forefront. Whether likened to sheep or sparrows, the theme is God sees and cares for us.
Throughout Scripture, the Bible often uses aspects of all five senses to provide us a context for understanding how God’s caregiving operates. Living is more than a mental exercise; it is as much a physical experience. God instills value in seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling. And when one or more of our own sense capacities fail us, God offers His perfect capacities for us to rely on. This is beautifully exemplified in the Old Testament book of Chronicles. King Jehoshaphat, a descendent of King David, became aware that multiple enemies were coming to conquer Israel (2 Chronicles 20). Jehoshaphat humbly admitted his need for help and cried out to God. He added up the odds and made the noble decision to surrender to the fact that God knows best. He prayed, “I don’t know what to do but my eyes are on You” (2 Chronicles 20:12). God sent a prophet named Jahaziel to instruct Jehoshaphat how to respond to the problem. In Hebrew, the prophet’s name literally means “God is my vision”. Hmmm, it’s as if God is beckoning us to see through His eyes. Of course, God sees way beyond obstacles to the other side. Too often, my limited vision makes me cower in seeing past problems with hope that I can prevail; yet, when I can see as God sees life, I comprehend how much more God can see than I can. No doubt, King Jehoshaphat knew well the psalm his great great grandfather wrote that included the line “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5). God held true to these words – Jehoshaphat was prompted by the prophet to rally all the people to party and praise God together for how He always provides and protects. As it turned out, the enemies that surrounded Jehoshaphat’s kingdom heard the celebration and were confused and turned on each other.
God sometimes takes the long way in proving His protection and provision but always does in the end nonetheless. Years after Jehoshaphat ruled, Israel was taken captive by a foreign enemy. When confronting the problem of pain, God does not deserve to bear all the blame. Israel’s being carried off as captives to Babylon came by their own defiance not to rely on God; thus natural consequences ensued. However, God stops at nothing to preserve His legacy of being a Good Shepherd. God guided His people back from Babylon to rebuild Israel. Ezra was one of the appointed prophets to see that this effort was fulfilled. In the book of Ezra, Ezra reiterates more than a few times throughout his telling of the people’s return that “the hand of the Lord was on me”. Such a gracious gesture illustrates how God uses touch to tangibly direct us. The connection that touch offers is one of the most intimate sensations – some may say the most intimate. Touch is first readily experienced in the womb. I like to think that when God formed Adam out of earth, God used His immortal hands to mold Man, as any master potter would to create a piece of art. As the story goes, God likewise touched Adam to remove a rib that would form his helpmate – holding the rib in His grasp as He fashioned woman from the form to stand next to man. Even while Adam and Eve hid from God as they recognized their disobedience, God “made garments of skin” (Genesis 3:21), as an effort of redemptive touch to wrap grace around them and keep them from feeling ashamed. There is meaningful purpose in how God guides and provides. I don’t always get why it takes longer than I’d like but I at least know God’s got me in His hands, in His sight the whole time. He is calling for me to follow and inviting me to dine at His table and enjoy all the sweet and savory aspects of life, even if my enemies are nearby or drag me off to a seemingly God forsaken land. I’m not forsaken. Isn’t that what God has been trying to show us throughout history, showing me throughout my life? I choose to believe the optimistic perspective that He is.
The Eye of God, ; painting by Lisa Hoy