A moment one morning last week in the Holz household. Screenplay style.
The scene: Daddy’s up and getting ready for the day (making coffee, getting everyone’s lunches ready, etc.)
Henry, 6, trundles down the stairs: “Hey, Dad.”
Dad: “Morning, Henry.”
Henry, sitting down on the couch: “Hey, Dad, could you get me a glass of milk?”
Dad, heading to refrigerator: “Sure, Henry, just a second.”
Henry: “And could you get me a graham cracker?”
Dad: “Yes, Henry, but I’m still getting your milk.” Finishes getting milk, takes it out to Henry.
Henry: “Dad, could you get me a graham cracker?”
Dad: “Yes, Henry, I told you I’m working on it,” trying to pry a new graham cracker box open, but wondering if he’s going to need a Swiss Army Knife to do so.
Henry, as if two other requests hadn’t been made: “Dad, I’m hungry. Could you get me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for breakfast?”
Dad, increasingly not quite as cheerfully helpful: “YES, Henry. Just a minute. I’m still getting your cracker.”
Henry: “Oh yeah. And when you’re done with that, I need some more milk.”
Dad: “Arrgghh!! When you’re done making your requests, do you think you could remember to say thank you?”
Henry: “Oh, yeah. Thank you.”
Annabeth, 4, comes down the stairs: “Hi, Dad. Could you get me some milk … ?”
That scene, in various iterations, plays itself out regularly in our household. I don’t mind serving my three kiddos at all. In fact, I enjoy meeting their needs and trying to make sure they have what they absolutely need as well as satisfying quite a few of their more optional wants as well.
But sometimes when their requests pile up faster than I can meet them, combined with their tendency (at times) to forget to say thank you, I can get frustrated. I’m moving as fast as I can, I might think … or even holler out loud in my more frazzled moments. The latter outcome is especially likely when two or three of them start lobbing in their requests, blitzkrieg-style, simultaneously.
That particular moment last week, I literally thought, Why can’t my kids understand that I’ve heard them and I’m working on their request before hitting me with something else? And why can’t they just say “thank you” every now and then?
You can probably guess where this is going, right?
In that moment, I had an epiphany of sorts. And not a particularly pleasant one, I might add. In a flash, I was convicted that I was often no different from my kids in my relationship with God. I offer up request after request, sometimes in even more rapid-fire manner than my children. And do I always remember to say thank you? Do I always notice when God answers prayers that, in my self-centeredness, I’d forgotten that I even asked?
Clearly the answer to these rhetorical questions is no.
Before I get too critical or cranky about my kids’ at times frustrating demands, then, it’s helpful for me to remember that I’m cut out of the same demanding, at times narcissistic cloth. But my heavenly Father still loves me and meets my needs, just as I love my children and strive to serve and meet their needs, too.
I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:9-10, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” And a bit earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, He instructed His listeners not to “heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do,” but to remember instead that “your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8).
What was important for me in that moment was a deeper realization and remembrance that the Father hears us, that He knows our needs. Whether we can see how He’s working on our behalf or not — and when answers to prayers drag out over years, we can be tempted to wonder if He’s heard our hearts’ deepest cries — Scripture repeatedly calls us to trust that He knows us intimately and is even more aware of and concerned with our situation than we are.
I can’t know for sure, but I suspect God might sometimes get frustrated with our stubborn self-centeredness, too. Thankfully, He doesn’t just growl “arrgghh!” and yell at us to stop with all the requests already, as this decidedly imperfect human father might do from time to time. Instead, He’s always at work, always drawing us back — sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes in subtle ones — to a right understanding and experience of His perfect fatherly heart and love toward us, a love captured with poetic beauty by the prophet Zephaniah: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.”