The Presence of Participation

I am tasked with many to-dos, animated by achievement, motivated and able to multi-task. I love a good list and a learned lesson. I am blessed with my family, fired up by things worthy and others not worth it at all. I love to work hard, rest relaxed, and play with the people in my life.

Put all of this together with the fact that we live in a small house, I work two part-time jobs plus carry other sporadic vocational ventures, have three active children, and a diet that requires me to avoid processed foods and create everything from scratch, there are days I blow my short fuse, crumple in defeat, get too easily overwhelmed, and/or become the parent I am ever trying not to be: impatient, angry, and frustrated. (There’s a wife I want to be too, but that’s another post!)

I heard a story at Winter Training about a dad and his big riding lawnmower attacking a mow overdue. The acre of creeping tall grass , beckoned this dad out to work.  His young son, maybe a 3 year old, followed him out the door with his own plastic lawn mower in tow. While the dad  mowed the grass down from 3 ft to 3 inches, the son playfully plodded along with his plastic, achieving only what he could pretend. Producing nothing of real effect, creating perhaps more hassle than offering help, the desire to be present, to participate in whatever small way he could, offers a realization of what matters.

Just last week, Oakley amazed me mid-morning. He grabbed an apple sticker from the kitchen floor, walked over to the cabinet hiding the trash can, opened the door and dropped the tiny sticker in! I couldn’t believe it! Having watched others, he figured he would give it a try himself.

Often Oaks is the opposite of trash depositor. At this age (16 months tomorrow!) he is into all things being out (of a drawer/cabinet/MY PURSE), off (a table top or book shelf), and down (from a coffee table or dresser). He currently loves “helping” with the laundry by taking folded clothes OUT of the drawers in Eli and Andi’s dresser, down the hall to my room. Most unhelpful of his “help” these days comes while I sweep the kitchen floor.

While I sweep everything into a pile, Oakley comes to swish that pile around with his hand, snack off the scraps, or stomp on the crunchies. It doesn’t matter that I try to sweep in secret- starting while I see he’s deeply concentrating on a toy in the next room. Oaks comes to find me. He’s determined and deliberate in his swept- pile swiping. On those wound too tight by too-ambitious-of-a-list-of-to-dos kind of days,  Oakley’s presence while I sweep frustrates me. “You’re not helpful” I’ve sung to him in a sweet, sing-song voice as I’ve carried him out of the kitchen.

When I heard the lawn mower story, I realized I had a perspective to grasp. What Oakley wants to do is experience life with me. He wants to come alongside me, learn from me, but mostly BE with me. He is in large part, NOT helpful, it’s true. He can’t produce any real effect on to-do tasks. What he deeply wants to do is participate, join in, and be a part of the process in any way he can.

In Florida, I heard from God on all of this.

God, as Perfect Parent, invites US, little, clumsy, incapable, largely-unhelpful, us, to participate with God in what God is doing. God, building a kingdom, invites our participation and wants us to be present with God, no matter how little real effect we have in producing anything ourselves.

“Just be with me”, God invites. “I’m doing big and powerful things (mowing tallllll grass, sweeping disastrous floors, healing people, reconciling wrongs, loving the least…) and you can come be with me. Bring your plastic mower, your swishing hand that will make a mess of my work along the way, and your heart to be next to me- learning from me, being loved by me. Together we can do something that makes a difference.”

Oakley- I’m sorry I said you were unhelpful. Eli, Andi, and Oaks, I’m sorry I sometimes get frustrated by the messes you’re making or get claustrophobic by your hands and feet hanging on me, in the middle of my “work”. I treasure that you want to BE with me. I’m humbled you are learning from me.  I can’t wait to do big things that make a difference as we work together with the One whose Presence, with our participation, changes the world.

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