Thursday, June 19, 2008

Stretched Thin

When Israel was a child I loved him . . . But the more I called Israel the further they went from me (Hosea 11:1-2).

What parent doesn’t know what this is like? Few things elevate the blood pressure quicker or baffle the mind more than the ignored summons, the I’m-going-to-pretend-like-I-can’t-hear-you game.

Sometimes, when children are very young, their delight in something truly keeps them from hearing. The delight becomes distraction. They are running about or discovering something new and interesting. Innocent delight. An early love affair with the world and with life that enthralls them to the point of not hearing their own name. They are more wonder-struck than willful. It’s possible.

But that kind of enchantment is soon outgrown. In its place there emerges something far more dangerous and sinister. Marnie and I call it the “media coma.” The media coma looks like innocent delight, but it is nothing more than technologically induced deafness.
A visual fixation accompanied by complete auditory failure. Very early signs can be detected in association with Elmo. Later manifestations might involve Hannah Montana or Sponge Bob.

This leads to the real test of parental patience and sanity: the child’s intentional disregard for their own name. Oh they hear you clearly. They just won’t respond. No answer.

I’m pleased to say I don’t experience that very often. My kids and I, we have our moments, but generally they will respond to my voice when it speaks their name – especially if it is spoken loudly and with notable intensity.

Nevertheless, I do know what it’s like to be ignored and my experience of that kind of thing makes it very hard for me to fully comprehend God’s words to Israel spoken through the prophet Hosea. God called to Israel but they wandered further away. God called through his law, through the prophets and eventually through his own Son. They didn’t listen.

And yet, Hosea continues, God continued to lead his people with “cords of human kindness.” That’s surprising to me. God calling to his people, the people refusing to heed the call, wandering further away and yet being led by “cords of human kindness.”

When my call to my children is ignored my cords of human kindness are stretched thin. At times the cords of kindness are little more than a few strained fibers. I resort to a different kind of leading. When ignored I lead with steel cables of parental threat, of declared authority, of fatherly anger, whatever works.

The words of the prophet remind us again of how differently God parents us. We wander, but never far enough to break the cords of human kindness and the ties of love.

Long after the prophet Hosea had spoken those words, the apostle Paul wrote that it was God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). The Bible says plenty about God’s anger. But when it comes to turning us around and bringing us back to himself, back to the voice that calls us by name – God’s kindness does that. And just maybe kindness can do the same thing in our own families.

Ever calling Father, even in our wandering you lead us with kindness. Teach us to do the same with our children. Guard us from the impatience and frustration that fray the cords of kindness and ties of love in our homes. Make us more like you, our merciful Father. Amen.

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