For some reason, at that particular moment, it was a piece of heaven. And I smiled.
Later, when I was alone, I thought about why my son does that. Partly, I think it’s a habit. And, even if he doesn’t think about it, he knows that holding my hand keeps him safe and prevents him from falling when he stumbles.
But I think it also has something to do with loving and being loved. He knows how deeply both his dad and I love him. And I know how much he loves me, too. Sometimes, with kids this age, there is an almost overwhelming purity in the love they display. It comes without condition, and it takes my breath away. Even in the simple act of his hand reaching into mine. It’s like making love momentarily tangible, a moment of incarnation.
In all this, I couldn’t help but think of God and how it feels to be loved by him—and loving him in return. The image of holding or being held by the Father’s hand is a common one in Scripture. Mostly, when I’ve contemplated that, it’s in terms of being guided or kept safe. But in the warmth of the memory of my son’s hand in mine, I couldn’t help but consider the simple joy of slipping my hand into the his out of plain love. Of walking beside him without care not simply because I am safe and guided—which I am—but first and foremost because I am loved. Unimaginably, incomprehensibly, overwhelmingly loved.
And that takes my breath away, too.
This was one of several moments in the past week that I’ve been startlingly reminded of God’s love and goodness in a thoughtful way. You know those moments—when something stirs inside or your breath catches, when everything tilts in a kind of kaleidoscope twist of understanding. Those other moments came in a book, the chorus of a song, the first few verses of a psalm, as well as a particularly moving story I watched on television. All of these experiences made me more aware and attentive in purposefully and more regularly turning toward and reaching out for the Father's hand in simple, celebrating love.
Funny, but when I get back in that habit, the needs come along before God with a little less angst and a little more ease. And that was made most apparent to me when we had an unexpected visit to the emergency room one night earlier this week for that same son of mine.
Having two children, you can imagine that this wasn’t our first trip to the emergency room. But each visit carries its own heart-squeezing unknowns and trauma. Amazingly, as we waited through exams and tests, I started to notice a sense of gratefulness and marvel I couldn’t shake. Like for a husband of steady strength and patience. The precious gifts of my children. A girlfriend’s text messages of encouragement and concern. An ER doc who was calm and smart. The nurses. Even the needles and blood tests and machines that took x-rays—and a place where that level of care was available.
Gradually—even in the midst of all the uncertainty, chaos and then hours of stand-still waiting that come with emergency room visits—my gratefulness took me to a God who seemed to permeate every nook, cranny and molecule around me with a sense of “totally unbroken care.”
Not that I wasn’t absorbed, concerned, pained and praying for deliverance. Or that I didn’t have moments of anxiousness. But you know, Paul has it right: “Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”
And that takes my breath away, too.
That night, my son came out of it all pretty good. But who knows what the next visit—and there will be in all likelihood a next one—will hold. For me, this habit of reaching out for God’s hand is far from one that occurs with the automatic nature of my son’s reaching for mine. This is one habit I’ve got to keep on top of. It requires no little amount of effort on my part. But God is good. He’s changing me. I’m building that bedrock of experience, that confidence that God is who he says and can and will do what he says. Little by little, God’s wholeness is settling me down and working me into “his most precious harmonies.”
And that’s a good place to be.
(Images: my son's hand in mine; my son's hand next to his father's at the emergency room)