Questions of Childhood
I don't know if all children have as many questions as I did, but I remember thinking about things a lot. And not the useful kinds of things that other people apparently thought about and knew, like how to climb the bleachers in the gym without tripping.
I fell spectacularly on those bleachers at my school, in front of everyone.
Not just once. Multiple times.
It generally happened because I was thinking about something else, and forgot to pay attention to what I was doing. Like, walking.
I also remember flipping my desk over more than once in elementary school. I would be sitting there in class thinking about something else, notice my pencil lying on the floor, and lean over the wrong way to pick it up. CRASH!
I wasn't the neatest child, either, so everything I had crammed into my desk flew everywhere and usually took several minutes to clean up.
My teachers may have initially been shocked by this, but they were mercifully kind.
My fourth grade teacher, for example, I loved her. What could I give her as an end-of-the-year present that would express the deep well of emotion in my heart towards her? Maybe I could get an empty box and metaphorically fill it with all the wonderful memories of her class, then write her a note explaining what was in it...wait, was that my pencil on the floor? CRASH!
Thankfully, I had the most amazing cousin who was equally contemplative, if not quite so clumsy. My cousin knew God as a child in a way I wanted to know Him, and he could speak a truth that would sum up all I would later read in the apostle Paul's writings in just a sentence.
I admired him greatly. In addition to being something of a dreamer, I was also wildly passionate, and had a great deal of trouble keeping my emotions under control. My cousin was a paragon of peace. He was steady and solid, a bulwark, while I was more like the sail on a ship—calm and still one minute, flapping wildly in the wind the next.
Once, when I had accused him of some fault, my mellow cousin responded with an unusual heat born of defensiveness by saying well, he didn't think a certain game I played to determine the person you'll marry when you grow up was necessarily very godly, either.
Immediately, I wrote the name of the game on a piece of paper and burned it in front of him, vowing never to play it again.
Rather shocked by this, he said hesitantly that he wasn't sure burning it in effigy was exactly godly, either...
I often went to him to discuss the deep questions that burned in my heart. One such question went like this:
“If you know something is wrong, but you do it anyway thinking, 'Well, I'll repent later and God will forgive me,' and then you do repent, but you planned to all along, will He still forgive you?”
When I think now of all the awful answers I could have gotten from well-meaning religious adults about the evils of abusing God's grace, I'm so thankful I was spared that and given instead this wonderful childhood companion who always treated my questions with the proper amount of seriousness.
He considered thoughtfully for a moment before saying, “If we really mean it when we do repent, then I think He does.”
This sang through my whole being as right. And I loved my cousin for understanding all the layers of questions in such a question:
What does God do with our naughtiness? Can we get away with tricking Him because He's so kind? What if we're sorry for our naughtiness, but we planned to be sorry before so we could get forgiveness, does our sorriness even count then, or is it too late?
His answer captured a truth I instantly recognized and would carry with me into adulthood: What matters most is always, What is your heart toward Him at this moment? Not, What have you done? Not even, What did you mean to do?
And from that moment, I have never been afraid to come to Him with my sin, even the sin I knew I had chosen. And I have never doubted my welcome there. In fact, I always just wanted to run to Him quickly with it, get rid of it, because the other part of my cousin's answer that resonated clearly was: You can't out-clever God. He knows what you're thinking. But, He's on your side.