I had the opportunity to work in the office for Jen and Chris several years ago when Matthew was a toddler and before Andrew was born. I was unfamiliar with their ministry or the skills that they taught. I just wanted to be helpful while Jen was pregnant with Andrew helping her with some office tasks to free up her time.
I have struggled most of my life from startling fear. Often when this fear gripped me, I would cancel appointments, rearrange my schedule and stay in predictable locations like my bedroom or a favorite chair in my house. I felt a lot of shame when I was overwhelmed. I was sure I wouldn’t be understood. I would get physically ill from the intensity of my fear. In my own mind, I interpreted my fear as ridiculous, irrational, childish immaturity. I was determined to hide it from all my relationships. I was determined to “get over it,” vowing to overcome it as an adult. It never occurred to me that God’s perspective of my fear was that of a gentle mother interacting with her young baby. The scene I am about to describe of Jen interacting with a young, fearful Matthew was so impactful, I can still picture it today.
Matthew was content to play with toys on the living room floor while Jen was busy in the kitchen nearby. I was working in their downstairs office and happened to come upstairs to ask her a bookkeeping question. Samson was their good-natured chocolate lab who liked most people… except the postal worker driving the mail truck. Sampson would bark his alarm at the sound of the engine and Matthew would cry at the sound of Sampson’s alarm. Jen came into the living room, swooped down to sit at Matthew’s level and brought her face to his. Matthew’s gaze was still looking into the distance. His attention was on the source of the barking and the anticipation of more disruption to come. Jen was not deterred. Her direct eye contact, soothing words, and gentle touch were intentionally drawing Matthew away from his upset and toward this bond she shared with him as his mother. Matthew began noticing her, his attention drawn to her attuning voice. He would turn in the direction of Sampson’s previous noise from time to time. Jen continued to talk to him gently, soothing his fears with her voice. After a short while, Matthew went back to playing, forgetting his earlier dread.
God used this picture mightily in my life as a testament to how He gently meets me in my fear. I often punished myself for being “ridiculous” in my fear. I’d add extra responsibility at work or offer to do difficult tasks for a friend out of guilt for the inability to overcome my own life situations. It never occurred to me that God saw me tenderly. If you had asked me, I would have said that God was just as disappointed in my inabilities as was I. I was sure God was rolling His eyes in frustration over my anxiety. I was convinced that He had a laundry list of expectations for me to achieve. When life was overwhelming, I didn’t consider God as a source of help as I believed He was already frustrated with my lack of production.
After watching this scene where Jen interacted with Matthew so gently, I was deeply moved. The skill of quieting and then of attuning to a loved one in pain was foreign to me. The dance Jen lovingly orchestrated with her son in order to bring rest to his restless soul was a breath of fresh air to my faith. Could Immanuel be perceiving me in the same gentle way? Was God’s face lowered to mine, hands on my cheeks as I struggle with my fear? Could His stance toward me be as a loving Father instead of a frustrated deity? What if He was not dismissive in my pain? God unfolded the framework for a visual platform, a clear reference in real time in which I could conceive of Immanuel interacting with me in comfort. Many times in the days ahead, Immanuel played back that scene of Jen tenderly comforting Matthew as a strong memory in which He could build trust with me. God is very aware of our weakness yet tender as He interacts with us. May you see Him as He is today.
(Note from Jen: Special thanks to my dear friend Deidre Buckingham for her guest Blog. She is a wife and mother to two teenagers. I love hearing how observing the skills used in a parenting interaction so deeply impacted her relationship with God. No matter what stage of life we are in, examples of the relational skills at work can impact all our relationships, especially our relationship with God.)