I just received the most wonderful thing: a package from my family for my birthday.
Among the many treasures in it were four sheets, front and back, covered in the “artwork” of my two-and-a-half year old niece, Jenna, with a note from my mother, Jenna’s grandma:
We know she’s drawing pictures, because sometimes she narrates as she draws: “This is a dumbrella!” “This is how you make a parfait.” What comes out on the paper doesn’t remotely represent what’s in her mind, but I don’t care. These pictures are more precious to me than a Monet or Picasso—not because they’re terribly impressive in themselves, but because they carry the heart of a sweet little girl who loves her Aunt Kori.
Is there a lesson here for us? So often, when talking to people about their walks with God, I hear discouragement and self-criticism. This from people that are really seeking to please and serve God: “I should be reading my Bible more.” “I know I don’t pray enough.” The general attitude is, “I wish I could just be the Christian I want to be; I want God to be happy with me. But I can never make it.”
I wonder if this isn’t a bit like Jenna looking sadly at her little scribbles and saying, “Well, I know they’re pretty bad. You can have them, but I’m sorry they’re not better,” with her little head drooping sadly.
It is right for us to want to grow and get better. It is right for us to look in the Word and at the examples of faithful people and be inspired to greater things. In the same way, Jenna is constantly exposed to drawings and artwork that are done by people far more skilled than her. And she will undoubtedly get better, and that is good. Those scribbles are entirely appropriate for a 2-year-old, but would be questionable from a ten- or 25-year-old.
So why isn’t Jenna the least discouraged? There is not a hint of her kicking herself for these shabby little offerings, no looking wistfully at good art followed by a loathing glance at her own pictures. Why? She is totally happy and pleased with where she is and she will most assuredly improve. Could that statement be made for our spiritual lives—ever?? Don’t you think, “I can’t be happy with where I am! God isn’t happy with it! He wants me to grow—I want to grow!! This place isn’t good enough!”
Here is the secret of Jenna’s happiness: She is not comparing herself to other artists. She’s not even evaluating her own art at all. She is hearing the praises of her mother and grandmother: “Beautiful, Jenna! You’re doing such a good job! Wow!” and she’s thinking of her aunt, far away in the “Czech Leplublic,” whose heart will light up at the sight of these drawings. That’s all that she knows.
Could it be that Jesus is just as pleased with our struggling offerings as I am with Jenna’s drawings? Could it be that he is proud and happy, not because the offering is so exceptional, but because the heart behind it is so precious? Could it be that our criticism of our abilities—which, admittedly, fall far short—make His heart sad?
Could it be that our eyes are on the wrong thing? Jenna is, ultimately, not focused on her art at all, but on the love and praise of those receiving it. Could we learn to do the same?
“For every one look at ourselves, we must take ten looks at Christ.” (CS Lewis)
Yes, our offerings are a bit pathetic, ragged and dirty and so much less than we wish. True. Now take ten looks at Christ, and see the shining love of a Father for his child, the delight in the love of your heart, the joy at just being able to be with you.
This is the gospel, friends. We don’t come to God on our own merits, but on the basis of His sacrifice and love. We don’t earn this relationship, and it is foolish and even sinful to try. All there is for us to do is enter in.