How do you feel about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? At Faith Church when Mothers and Fathers Days roll around in May and June, we take a cautious approach because we’ve heard from a number of people that these holidays are complicated. Maybe you know the feeling. It could be that your earthly mother or father is or was a difficult or abusive person. Perhaps they were distant. Sure, we are taught to honor and respect our parents, and we should, but for many, those relationships are fraught with pain. The result is that seeing God as parent is also difficult for some people.
This week are studying Deuteronomy 14:1-21, looking at how God’s list of clean and unclean foods matters to Christians. (Please read part 1 in the series, where I introduce the chapter by talking about the time some friends offered me the chance to suck eyeballs out of a fish!) Today, we get started looking at this passage, but before we get into God’s menu, we need to spend time in verse 1: “You are the children of the Lord your God.” That is a significant statement describing Israel’s relationship to God. He goes on to tell them that God chose them as his treasured possession. For those of you who struggle with the concept of God as your heavenly father, I encourage you to allow these verses to settle in to your heart and mind. Before God gets into his food menu, it is vital that Israel see themselves as loved, children of God.
But isn’t Deuteronomy a record of God’s covenant with Israel? Yes, it is. So, doesn’t that mean the concept of Israel as God’s beloved children is for them only? While Deuteronomy 14 is for Israel, the phrase “children of God” is carried over to the church in the New Testament. The Apostle John, in particular, enjoys the phrase, using it more than any of the other NT writers. A couple instances are quite famous:
John 1:12: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
1 John 3:1: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
I take it quite seriously if you have a hard time conceiving of God as father, and seeing yourself as son or daughter of God. If that is painful for you because you have had a difficult relationship with your parents, I don’t belittle that at all. But given what we have read in Deuteronomy 14 and from the Apostle John, I invite you to read on, as perhaps God wants you to revisit your identification as children of God.
As teenagers and adults, it can be hard for us to see ourselves as children. For many of us, it has been a long time since we were children. We forget. When we were children, many of us longed not to be children. We wanted to be adults. Perhaps you’ve long held the perspective that adulthood is superior to childhood, probably based in the truth that most cases maturity is better than immaturity.
A surprising change happens in many adults, though, when they discover within a longing for childhood. We use the description “adulting” whenever we are acting like adults, often begrudgingly, because life has forced adult-like behavior upon us such as paying bills and getting our car inspected; in short, “adulting” is being responsible. In the middle of “adulting,” how many of us long for childhood? But what are we longing for in those moments? I suspect we miss the effortless days of childhood, when we had freedom from responsibility, leaving many of us adults feeling trapped.
I’d like to propose that the concept of being loved children of God should free us, but not from responsibility. Instead, when we embrace our identity as the children who God loves, we are free to play. Writer Marilyn McEntyre taught me this concept in her powerful book, Caring For Words In A Culture of Lies:
“To play is to claim our freedom as beloved children of God and to perform our most sacred tasks—what we feel we are called to do in the world—with abandon and delight, free to experiment and fail, free to find out and reconsider, free to say something we might need to take back, free to look stupid in the interests of honesty because there are no grades…there is no competition in the Kingdom of Heaven…Children who feel completely safe and loved are playful. To play is to live in grace. And to live in grace is not to ignore the law…but to embrace it as an aid to abundant life. So in the interests of abundant life, good stewards play.” (196-7) And “reclaiming an appropriate practice of play is one of the challenges of adulthood.” (202)
Because you are loved children of God, you are free to play. As McEntyre says, this adult play is not childish or immaturity. Instead, seeing ourselves as loved children of God is a recapturing of the healthy freedom of children at play. Because we are so loved by God we can experiment and wonder and also take risks, just like the person who said, “if you’re hanging on for dear life, beloved child of God, let go.” In other words, trust him, he loves you. You are free, child of God, so live life to the fullest. What will that freedom to play look like for you?