Last Saturday morning, my youngest daughter and I went out to run some errands together. It was only 11:10, and we were driving by an ice cream shop. She took a chance and asked if we could get some ice cream. She knew the answer would be “no,” but decided to give it a shot. I was in a mood to be unpredictable, so I told her “great idea!”
We both sampled some interesting flavors with those fun, little sampling spoons. The most interesting being the Red Hot Cinnamon, which actually was close to red hot. We both made our choices, got our ice cream and went to sit down. As we sat, I noticed that Isabel had a subtle disappointed look on her face that she tried to hide. Being a pretty happy and contented child all around, I knew something was bothering her.
I asked her what the deal was. She told me she didn’t want me to have thrown her little sample spoon away; she wanted to eat her ice cream with it. I told her not to worry; I would be delighted to get her another one. When I got back, I told her I wanted to tell her something important. I explained, “You are my daughter. If you want something special that I can easily do for you, you don’t have to be afraid to ask, even if you think I might find it silly. I love nothing more than giving and sharing special times with you. It’s my pleasure.” As Izzie is my fifth child, I was struck by how much my father’s heart still felt so strongly toward her in this way. And I am struck by how naturally it comes to me as a father.
I then wondered if this fathering experience might be similar to the delight that God takes in us. The seriousness of my theological perspective echoed sarcastically in my mind: “Yes, the God of the universe likes nothing more than making sure I get to eat my ice cream with the cute, little sample spoon.”
Is it disrespectful to consider God in such common ways? How different or similar is my fathering heart?
Then I recalled the seemingly silly, superficial prayer request of mine that God answered just two months ago.
I was visiting some friends who live deep in the swamps of Louisiana. I grew up in that part of the country and was very familiar with the wildlife found in the swamps. But I had never seen nutria, a relatively recent addition to those swamp environs. Mr. Nutria is a sort of huge swamp rat that was accidentally introduced into the southern swamps from South America. They have spread like fire throughout the swamps, and the state of Louisiana has declared open season on the critters in hopes of having some impact on their reproductive wonderment. So, during my week there, I asked God if He might allow me to see nutria in its natural habitat while I was there. I knew it was a silly, superficial request — not the kind of thing we typically take before the God of the universe — but I wanted to see one, and I asked God about it.
On my next-to-the-last day there, I was canoeing through one of the bayous and noticed in the reeds the movement of a relatively large bit of wildlife. It was making quite a ruckus, but I couldn’t see anything. I paddled on and came back later to see if I could get a glimpse of what I heard. Sure enough, sitting right there, sunning on a large tuft of batted-down reeds was what looked like a huge beaver, sans a big paddle tail or two buck teeth. It was my nutria, right there in its own environment. It was as if I could hear God saying, “Here you go, Glenn. I am most happy to give you a special experience!”
Did God really care if I saw nutria on my trip? Seriously?
I wondered if I was over-spiritualizing the whole experience. It was just nutria. But seeing it did thrill me. My request to see the nutria was just like Isabel’s request for the little sample spoon. She thought it was too petty to ask me about.
And then it hit me. If I thought the nutria request was really too petty to ask God for, but I delighted so genuinely in meeting Isabel’s request, what does that say about my view of God as Father? Is He too serious to be concerned about such minor requests? What if Isabel thought that about me? Is it silly or superficial to think that God gets as much pleasure and delight from giving us, His children, small gifts and surprises now and then?
God is other but not completely other. As much as I love making my daughter happy — seeing a sparkle of delight in her eyes — God’s Father heart is endlessly deeper than mine. He delights in doing special little things for His children. And we honor God when we recognize and delight in these little gifts of love, just as Isabel honored me by glorying in my little gift to her.