I’m at the sink doing dishes when my three year-old pleads, “Play with me, mama.” I know it sounds horrible, and I feel like a horrible mother just for saying it, but truth be told, right at that instant, I don’t want to play. I want to muscle through my to-do list. I want the sink tidied up and the food put away. I want to see my face reflecting in the clean counter-top. And I want to be able to step without my feet sticking in the residue of the apple juice my toddler joyously sprinkled from his sippy-cup all over my wood floors. The truth is: I don’t feel like playing.
Later that morning, I’m trying to get the mound of clothes I’ve just dumped on the bed from the dryer folded and put away, when the three year-old comes to ask for my hand in play again. I know there are four more loads to wash, and dry, and fold before the day is done. I know how my pregnant back is already aching. And once again, I find myself shooing him away. I’ll get my work done and play later, I think to myself.
The next time the request comes I’m in the middle of a Bible story. I’m reading to him and the toddler about how God passed over all the bigger, stronger, better looking sons of Jesse. Instead, God chose tiny little David to be the king of Israel. I’m telling him how this king would be the great, great, great…. Grandfather of the King who would come one day to be with us, the One who would be our Emmanuel, moving among us, living among us, in our midst, and at our level–when He interrupts again. “Mama, play with me!”
Finally, I realize it’s not my three year-old interrupting me. It’s God interrupting me through my three year-old. How can I expect this little one to listen, to obey, or even want to hear my instructions unless I’ve first gotten down on his level and entered into his world? He wants my presence amidst blocks, trains, and construction trucks. He wants me hiding in his fort, building a tunnel, busting out the finger-paints and getting my own hands into the glorious mess with him. He doesn’t want a mom who cares for his needs and stands far off (at the kitchen sink or washer). He wants a mom who draws near to him, who finds herself on all fours, lion-growling and staring eye-to-eye in the cave made of blankets.
And the funny thing is, that’s what I want in my God too. I need a God who stoops low. I need a God-with-me. I need a God who crawls into the tight places of my tiny world and makes his home with me.
And when I stop to think about why that God has my heart, about why I bother to listen, or want to obey his commands, it’s because this God came down to my earth and walked these dusty roads we tread. It’s because He carried sorrows like mine, and felt the heaviness of the loads I carry. And it’s because He bothered to pause all of the important work of heaven to be with His people face to face. This is why I listen, love, and obey.
The funny thing is I find a direct relationship between my spiritual health and how ready I am to get down on the floor and play with my little ones. When I’m allowing worry and stress to live heavy in my heart, I don’t feel the lightness of heart of a mother who is ready to play, and tickle and tease. When I’m not trusting God with my tomorrow or even my to-do list, when I’m clenching it so tight in my fist because if I don’t get it done—who will?—that’s when there’s not joy enough in my heart to make them giggle with peak-a-boo or turn the music up and dance with them. A heart that can play is a heart that can rest in Jesus for all that needs to be done.
And so I pray that 51st psalm of David, the one whose descendant would be Emmanuel. Oh Lord, help me put a higher value on a clean heart than on clean clothes and dishes. Oh Lord, renew in me a right spirit—one of trust, and peace, and hope. Cast me not away from your presence, but instead let me revel in the joy of your nearness, of your with-me-ness. And in that joy of your presence, restore to me the joy of my salvation, that very same joy that spills over from this mama’s heart into the lives of her little ones. The joy that comes down to crawl on the carpet with them, vrooming trucks and tickling toes. The joy that lets them know they do not walk this world alone.
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