Vintage Saints and Sinners by Karen Wright Marsh, Free for CAPC Members
In Vintage Saints and Sinners, Karen Wright Marsh manages to emphasize the vast goodness of spiritual giants while also humanizing them.
Yesterday, my family spent the late afternoon playing at the park. After a long winter hiatus, it was great to be out in the early spring air climbing and swinging and running. My nearly-three-year-old boldly made her way up an apparatus that had been easy for to climb in the autumn. But this time, she got to the top and felt stuck. It’s a rule in our family that if you can’t climb up and down yourself, you’re not allowed to climb it—a practice we enforce as a way of helping our children know their own bodies and boundaries. It also avoids the situation of yesterday, where my daughter was over my head literally, and felt over hers figuratively. If I look back at my history, the mistakes and sins that still try to shame me, often my choice was to ignore God.
I wasn’t scared for her, but I could see her getting panicky. So I stood right beneath her and talked her through it—reminding her to take a deep breath and hold on tight and move that foot to the platform. If she had been in any real danger, I of course would have rescued her, but it stood out to me how much she recognized the kind of voice I was using with her. There’s a tone that signals immediate danger and another that inspires confidence. I told her I trusted her, because I did, and I knew she could be brave and make the step.
She did—and she didn’t climb that high again yesterday, which was probably enough limit-testing for all our nerves for one day. It paralleled an incident I had with my older daughter, years ago, at a swimming pool. She was frightened to move toward me even though I was only an arm’s length away. I knew she was safe, but she was scared, and, to intensify matters, we were surrounded by busy bodies (however well-intentioned) offering their own advice. I held her gaze and told her to listen to my voice, to ignore the others, and focus on me and my words.
It’s a strategy that works only because of the relationship that I have with my daughters, a relationship built on thousands of moments of trust and care. When I tell them I believe they are capable of doing something, I’m usually right, because I know them. And when I ask them to trust me, they usually do, because time and time again I have proven myself trustworthy. It’s not the kind of relationship that I want them to have with just anyone, but it’s precisely the kind of wisdom I want them to have from God.
Indeed, their positions of fear and anxiety are spiritually familiar territory for me. And I have to admit that it’s much harder for me to trust God with that unknown next step than it seems to be for my daughters. Clearly this is not because I am more wise or more trustworthy than God, but I think it might be a result of the kinds of voices we attend to. In each of these circumstances with my daughters, I asked them very specifically to tune out everything but me. Listen to my voice. How often does God request the same of me? How often do I obey?
I have to wonder if the problem is a lack of clarity in God’s voice or my own failure to listen, and that nudging feeling tells me it’s mostly the latter. If I look back at my history, the mistakes and sins that still try to shame me, often my choice was to ignore God. Even the idea that my past still has any power to shame me is a result of listening to voices other than God’s, since God tells me that when I repent, I am separate from my sins. And when I look through my days, I see a lot of voices that clamor for my attention, many of them well-meaning, but few of them holy.
What I don’t want is for me or for my daughters to end up in a spiritually-dangerous place without any understanding of how to listen to God’s voice. It’s not enough to ask in the moment of crisis, though help might still come, but to hear and to obey requires a relationship with God. My girls trust me with their safety because every moment of our relationship affirms my love for them. But just as it’s my job to teach them to learn their own boundaries, their own wisdom, it’s my job to show them how to test the voices that will always compete for their attention. And that only comes from relationship with God, from being the sheep, from hearing and obeying the Christ who is both shepherd and lamb.
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