At the playground, my youngest sits in a lopsided plastic car on springs and calls me using an imaginary phone. Ring Ring!…Now you pick up—no, hold the phone like this! I’m her substitute sibling while her real ones are in school, so she’s sticking by me more than usual.
She runs to play, then back to sit on my lap. Out to play, then back again.
She pulls out a notebook from her narwhal backpack and “reads” it. Mark 35. Now you read it. Say “God made the world.”
She attempts to walk up the slide.
She asks all her questions.
She is loved with an everlasting love.
I think about this as I watch her stand in front of me in all her three-year-old fullness. She’s hilarious and expressive and curious and so, so, fiercely loved.
Do you really love her more than I do?, I ask God, heart swelling with the answer I’ve been meditating on.
I’ve been thinking on this love in light of a picnic our family attended recently. It was a gathering for Staten Island pastors and their families, hosted on our friends’ wide church lawn and complete with bouncy house, unlimited cotton candy and popcorn, and all-around fun for the kids. PK’s need love too, said a fellow ministry wife. It was so thoughtful and generous, and the Chang kids had a blast.
Seeing everyone gathered in for prayer though, that’s when it hit me, God’s love. Particularly, God’s his love for the people living here on our island. Each pastor’s family—called to love and serve the people here— stood a living witness to me of this love. A testimony that God sees and remembers those on the “forgotten borough”.
This conviction deepened in conversations as I listened to individual stories of how God called these men and women to their churches. They are proof to me that God loves those we have loved and have prayed for, and that he loves those we don’t yet know but hope will come to know him. The Good Shepherd is seeking out his lost sheep on Staten Island. That he would call under-shepherds here for this task is evidence of his pursuit of souls. Of his care.
One of the most, if not the most, unfair charges I’ve ever leveled against God in ministry was about this care. When the needs have been great and the stakes high. When I had cared deeply, but couldn’t do anything to stop the things that would harm those I loved. When he could have stopped these things, but didn’t.
At that time, God spoke to me his assurance that all he does is not in spite of, but because of his care. But I see another way now that I have been wrong to raise such accusations against God, either out loud or deep down in unspoken ways.
I would accuse God of not caring, but why did I care, if not because he did?
What if I cared because God cared?
I mean this not just in the sense that I was like him in my caring, or that he commanded me to care. I mean, what if the very fact of our being where we are—hearts breaking for the suffering and brokenness around us—is in and of itself an act of God’s steadfast love toward those we would accuse God of not loving?
I think I’m influenced by Luther’s work on vocation here. Our callings, according to Luther, are not just jobs assigned by God. They are “masks” of God behind which he actively works in the world. God himself milks the cows through the milkmaids, he said. This is what I was so convinced of through the presence of those ministry families at the picnic—God’s active love for Staten Islanders in the calling of men and women to serve our churches. He loves through our love.
Perhaps this is what John meant when he wrote that though no one has seen God, his love is perfected in us when we love one another (1 John 4:12). The moments my heart is moved with compassion, the conviction to intercede and do good for another, these are acts of my joining God where he is already at work, where he actively cares and has already been caring. In our love, the love of our unseen God is made visible.
Recently, I have watched many of my friends get hit with wave after wave of trials as they serve God—in difficult church dynamics and with a break-in and floods and health problems and loss. I’m walking with some of the godliest people I know as they navigate unfulfilled, good desires. I see parents at a loss for what to do with prodigals and I can’t shake the faces of some of these wandering young people from my mind. I join with believers as they pray for the sick and newly widowed and abused. I scroll my news app through reports of wars and floods and horrible things people to do one another.
The temptation for me has been to lower my head in despair while my heart slowly hardens to God who could fix it all in an instant, but chooses not to.
But what if I care because he cares?
What if it is God himself who prompts my compassion, conviction, lament, prayer, and a desire to act in response?
How often have I known such love, the care of the invisible God made tangible through the concern and compassion of one of his children? And when I’ve received this love, didn’t I know it to be, in a very real way, the love of God?
This makes a difference in the way I think about prayer, especially when overwhelmed by the needs around me. Luther has said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance,” and I think today how prayer is not overcoming God’s indifference either. I am not charged with reminding God of those he’d forget otherwise. Rather, my prayers—for the world, for unreached people, for the suffering, widowed, fatherless, doubting, prodigal—are being prompted by his word and Spirit because he so loves.
I need to remember this as I parent too. God has loved my children from before the foundations of the world, and in his coming, death, and resurrection. My loving is a participation and expression of his vast, wide, deep, long-suffering care, it is a drop in the ocean of his tremendous love for my kids. This knowledge of his love for them anchors me when I’m anxious about their souls and futures and wellbeing. And it brings me to a deeper knowing of the love that surpasses knowledge when I feel my heart explode with affection for my little one at the playground.
What if my care is evidence that he cares? It is not the whole case for his love, not even close, a partial fingerprint perhaps. But it’s what he has brought to me this week. And at the very least, it is setting a course correction for my own heart.
This is the reminder then, for me. Maybe for you too. To take heart when those we love are going through dark days because God loves them too. He has not forgotten the ones we fear he has forsaken, and he has not overlooked the needy we have been called to serve. Your brokenheartedness, your tears, your pleading, your lament, your service, your pursuit, your waiting, and your prayers on their behalf— these are evidences of his remembrance and love.
Beloved, he cares. And you do because he does.