Sometimes lessons about our relationship in God pop up in unexpected places, at unexpected times. I had one of those recently with my 5-year-old son, Henry.
It happened in the car on the way home from the mall. That evening, my wife had been at church, and I’d been watching all three of our children. After supper, I suggested that we go to the mall (imaginative, I know) because my kids love looking at the animals and fish in the pet store there. (They call it “the puppy mall.”)
We had a reasonably good time at the mall (until the inevitable meltdown when it was time to go home), and once things calmed down in the car, my kids began rapid-fire brainstorming everything else they could think of to do with what remained of the evening.
Henry suggested that we get the van washed, which would have been a fine idea two hours before. But it was getting late, and I felt we needed to get home and get started on the bedtime routine.
“I think that’s a great idea,” I said, “but we’re out of time tonight. What if we did that tomorrow night?”
I was expecting disappointed pushback, and Henry offered some. What I wasn’t expecting was the accusatory manner in which it came.
“Well,” Henry said, “You’ll probably just go out tomorrow morning and wash the van yourself without us so that we don’t have to do it tomorrow night.”
I was stunned. Henry wasn’t just angry because I’d said no. Layered on top of that was a harsh accusation about my character as his father, that I would promise him something, then go out of my way to make sure that he didn’t receive it.
Frankly, it took me a moment to catch my breath. I was used to Henry pushing back against the boundaries of my “no.” But to hear him suggest that I was intentionally engineering disappointment was a deeply hurtful suggestion. Henry was upset not only with my negative answer, he was also distrustful of my father’s heart toward him as well.
Like all dads, I’m hardly perfect. Several days later I’m still thinking about how I may be inadvertently sowing seeds of distrust in Henry’s heart. Obviously, those are seeds I don’t want to take root. Perhaps I’ve made promises that I haven’t followed through on, and Henry’s helping me, albeit unintentionally, to recognize those inconsistencies.
But the incident has also caused me to think about my relationship with God. Specifically, how I’ve sometimes related to my heavenly Father just as Henry had related to me, responding to His “no” by hurling distrust-fueled accusations at His character.
I remember doing this repeatedly during my single years. I begged and begged God for a wife, and for more than a decade, that repeated petition went unanswered. I know I had moments during those years when I crossed over from honestly communicating my desire and disappointment to voicing accusations such as, “You probably don’t care if I ever get married, and You’re going to just keep teasing me with relational possibilities that go nowhere.”
God has promised that His intent toward us is good, that His fatherly love for us is so much better than anything even the best earthly father could offer. In Matthew 7:9-11, Jesus says, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
But sometimes, just as happened in my conversation with Henry, disappointment invites us to embrace a stance of suspicion and doubt when it comes to the Father’s promises and His heart toward His children.
So what do we do in those moments? How should we respond? I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer to those questions, but I do believe it’s important to keep talking to God honestly about how we feel toward Him — even if what we feel doesn’t feel very good.
For me, that would sometimes go something like this: “Lord, I’m really angry at You right now. I’m having a hard time trusting that Your heart toward me is as You’ve promised in Your Word because I’m just so disappointed right now. Please help me to yield my distrust and my hurt to You, to keep believing that Your fatherly love toward me is perfect and compassionate even if it doesn’t feel like it today.”
Prayers like those don’t guarantee that our hurts are healed instantly or that our lingering distrust of God’s character immediately evaporates. But they do keep lines of communication with our Father open and clear, which gives Him another chance to help us see that His heart toward us isn’t capricious or cruel, but open and generous and good.