I have always found the doctrine of election to be rather . . . unhappy. “You—in.” “You—out.” “Saved.” “Damned.” I can just picture God the Father up there on His throne, forehead wrinkled, eyebrows ablaze, making two lines out of all of us. A stairway going up, a stairway going down. Before time began, He picked some of us for one end . . . and some of us for another. So the story goes. Personally, I don’t like it. It’s so severe. This is grace?
My girlfriend, Rebekah, is amazing with children. When she talks about kids, she throws open the windows to her soul with abandon, and the light inside bursts out like fireworks, like the Fourth of July. I soak it in when this happens. It’s my favorite thing. Coincidentally, Bekah got babysitting gig this year with two kids only two doors down from my apartment beneath Dr. Walhout’s house. Their names are Abby and Alex. Second grade and kindergarten. Their parents are both lawyers, so between school’s end and their parents’ return they play with Bekah. Lucky kids. I get texts randomly from her while I’m reading political blogs or microwaving hot dogs: “I’m sitting under a fort we just made in the living room!” “We’ve played with nothing but pipe cleaners for three hours straight!” “We’re at the park on the merry-go-round! Miss you!”
OK, I’m pretty lucky too.
Recently my housemates and I got a dog, Meatloaf, and he constantly has to piss. I’m almost embarrassed for him, because it seems like every thirty minutes he scratches at the door, runs up to me or Brent, and runs back to the door, again and again, looking at us: “Look, I know I have to do this a lot, but really, I’m as ashamed are you are annoyed, so if we could just go on a quick walk I really really really have to go. Now. Please? Oh, and maybe I could score a treat when we get back?” Damn dog, anyway. I’ve never felt more manipulated.
All that to say, by chance once Brent and I took Meatloaf on a walk to pee, and caught Bekah, Abby, and Alex at the park. After Meatloaf jumped five feet from the top of the playset, he was officially declared their favorite creature in the whole world. Bekah tells me that Meatloaf is now one of their favorite topics of discussion. A couple weeks ago one of my favorite events of the year happened: the kids requested that Meatloaf come out and play. Bekah sent Brent a text and not too long afterward we were outside and had even picked up a couple extra girls from the neighborhood gang, Anna and Emily, to join us.
And we were off. Soon we were talking about what Meatloaf should be for Halloween next year.
“What if Meatloaf was a prince for Halloween?” Abby suggested.
“Oh!”—Alex bursted, getting ready to rocket off into space—“What if Meatloaf was a . . . a toilet!!”
Suddenly I was giddy. “Yeah, a toilet!” I exuberated, goading him on. “And then we could flush him!”
He burst out laughing. We were officially buds. Poop is the funniest thing in the world when you are five. And twenty-two. Pooping is hilarious. Five-year-olds know this, and revel in the absurdity of the whole process.
Even great theologians too often forget that God used to be five. God used to get so excited about dogs that His little feet could hardly stay on the ground. God probably giggled at potty jokes, too. God decided to spend a year being five; I hope He enjoyed it while it lasted.
We arrived at the park, but the main playground was taken so we set off downhill toward the swingset. Bekah, Brent and I were the sun to these kids’ comets. They harnessed our gravitational pull to rocket out into the park, lingering under bushes—“Look, this should be Meatloaf’s toilet!”—or behind trees before slowly, faithfully swinging back in, coming inevitably back within arms’ reach—“Rebekah, can I have a piggy back ride!?”—before shooting back out again. And we slowly made our way through the grass.
Someone suggested a game of hide-and-seek, and right away the kids claimed their side. “I’m gonna be a hider!” sung Anna, and she and Emilie were off into the trees. Abby took off too. My new friend Alex stood in suspension, considering his options.
“Alex,” Bekah cooed, “Do you want to be a hider or a seeker?”
He walked up to me and pointed to my nose. “I want to do whatever you’re doing.”
My heart swelled and gushed, and a smile flooded my face. It was a torrent of rain after seven years of drought. It was the taste of fresh strawberries from the local farm. It was undeserved, unasked-for grace, and it felt like—and it was—heaven.
A very strange and wonderful thing happened in that moment. See, I haven’t played outside in ages. It isn’t like me to play hide-and-go-seek in a park; it’s not something I would choose to do on my own. And even when I was a child, I found myself to be reluctant to just play. Reading was more my thing.
But in Alex’s innocent, trusting act of election, I found myself transformed. In his trust I began to trust myself, and I became a world-class playmate. We chased. We tagged. We laughed. We had fun. And soon Alex was following me all over the place, and I found myself climbing trees and balancing on logs just to entertain him, just to hear him giggle and try to do it himself. His innocence became my innocence, and his joy became mine.
The Lord is like this boy. I am convinced. We are an insecure, broken, oft-mistaken people, we humans. Yet the Creator looked down at what his hands had formed, saw what a mess it had all become, saw how scared and insecure and awkward we felt, and He came to us and chose to be with us not in power and judgment and authority, but in vulnerability, in humility, in trust. He arrived among us in a crib, among animals and peasants—a child, puking and mewling in his mother’s arms. In and through this decision, he made it forever clear to us that He looks to us and says, “Yes. I am on your team. I am with you.”
“I want to do whatever you’re doing.”
May we be forever transformed by that choice.