I wonder why we think God is not as good of a father as we are?
This weekend Dustin Smith, our Senior High ministry worship leader, led worship in the big room. Charlie Hines (who, along with Jim Zartman, leads worship at VCC) had planned this weekend to introduce Dustin to the wider church. A few weeks ago, my youngest daughter Katie (it’s hard to believe she’s going to be twenty-two shortly) asked to do a worship internship with the Student Union. After her five-month stint with YWAM in Australia, Thailand and Indonesia, she came back with a different slant on her music. Prior to that, her two years in Nashville had kind of cooled down her music aspirations. She went there primarily to connect with other singer/songwriters and, I think, to get out of Cincinnati and individuate. Finding your own voice is part of growing up…and when your dad has an amplified one, it’s probably a bit tougher. But even more, she discovered her own faith…and her own brokenness before God.
It’s not that Katie didn’t enjoy worship. Katie and her sister Rachel have always loved to worship. Some of my fondest memories were hanging over the balcony rail watching the two of them dance during a jam-packed SOS worship jam through their junior and senior high years. Or seeing them lift their hands to God during intimate worship songs. I remember being at a national Vineyard conference in Anaheim in 2001 that had a separate youth conference simultaneously in a huge tent on the parking lot. During one of the evening sessions in the main auditorium, Matt Redman was leading worship and on the first song, all the students were released from outside and came running into the front of the stage singing and dancing. I spontaneously started crying once I spotted Rachel and Katie in the crowd, worshiping with all their hearts. I thought, “Does it get any better than this?” Now as a 23-year old married woman, Rachel sings with the worship band at the Chattanooga Vineyard and helps lead the outreach ministry.
As a former worship leader for many years, I would sometimes look out at a crowd of people and see someone standing there with arms crossed, boredly staring straight ahead, and know they were more than likely dealing with intimacy issues. Not just with God, but with other relationships. Call me crazy, but I think it’s interconnected. I don’t believe it’s a style issue or whether someone likes to sing or not. But to be a believer and in a crowd of people who are actively worshiping God and not give any body language or zero indication of a desire to express love to God strikes me as oddly self-absorbed or at worst, voyeuristic.
Katie never saw herself leading worship, even point-blank telling me years ago, “I’d never want to be a worship leader!” As she learned guitar in high school, she enjoyed writing her own songs about her emotional highs and lows, relationships…and God. But while on her third world mission trip, once the leaders discovered she played guitar, they told her she had to lead worship…they needed her. That’s when Katie’s proverbial paradigm shifted.
Dustin has taken her under his wing and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons are spent at the Student Union along with Saturday nights and Sunday mornings in the senior high celebrations. As an aside, it’s a freebie…internships are unpaid. And one of the things I’m totally weird about is anything that smells like favoritism. Many years ago I remember telling our then-current student ministry pastor, “Never ever show any partiality to my kids. Ever. I’m not kidding.” And I always thought it was weird when pastors turned the leading of their churches over to their kid. Anything that smells nepotistic creeps me out. It’s a heartbeat away from fostering an entitlement-mentality.
Anyway, watching Katie singing and playing her heart out to God was a bit overwhelming to me. I’m not sure how to describe what I felt…or even why I felt the way I did. Saturday night during the ending of the last song, I stood in the wings backstage and watched. When Katie finished, she put her guitar down, walked over and just hugged me. No words needed to be said, but just in case she didn’t know, I told her how proud I was…and then told myself to not lose it. What is it about your kids that so affects you when you see them making attempts to please God? I don’t think there’s anything like it. It’s oddly moving.
And it’s the moment. Whether she ever leads another worship song or decides to go in some completely different direction, it is this moment that I’ll remember twenty years from now. And doing my best to keep it together in the wings.
Which gets me back to the opening question: Do I really believe I’m a better dad than God?
At the risk of sounding irreverent, I wonder how many times He has stood in the wings with His chest puffed and thrilled to the core because one of His kids has made an attempt, however small, to honor Him in some way? I wonder if His flaming eyes have ever been quenched by tears of pride while watching one of His children do something in the moment that reflected the simplest desire to please Him? Do I truly think that God is devoid of emotion and only responds stoically to expected demands? Have I ever meditated on what it means to be made in His image?
If I did it would force me to answer this question: in times of anxiety and sleepless nights, do I really think I’m a better dad than God?
If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better? Matthew 7:9–11 (The Message)