This past week, after supper one evening, I witnessed one of those rare moments in Camden’s demeanor. With Camille giving the girls a tub, Camden wanted to exert some more energy and so, with the weather being unseasonably warm, the two of us made our way outdoors – despite the fact that darkness had long set in.
Not one for just standing around, Camden asked if we could play hide-and-seek – to which I agreed, on condition that we remain in the general vicinity of the driveway. We, after all, live on a modestly busy street and, at times, have somewhat questionable people who make their way down our sidewalks and even through our backyard.
All went well until the second or third time I hid. I lodged myself in a little corner between the side of the house and the deck and, despite the fact that the spot was not really all that hidden, Camden seemed to have a hard time finding me.
And that’s when it happened: panic and anxiety set in, causing him to get scared and call out to me in fear.
At first I wasn’t sure if he was just trying to trick me, so I didn’t answer right away. Then a car drove by and it startled him even more, causing his volume to increase as he cried out to me again.
Sensing the anxiety, I made my location – which was just a few steps away from him – known and he ran over to me, clinging tightly to me. When I asked him if he was really scared, he confirmed that he was.
The whole experience – which lasted all of about 15 seconds – had a surprising effect on me. I felt bad for Camden and yet at the same time I felt particular fondness for him.
You have to understand a little about Camden to appreciate the latter emotions, though. Whether it’s because he’s a boy or because he’s the firstborn or because he’s a firstborn boy or because of some other genetic factor, Camden is a classic Type A, strong-willed child. It is very rare for him to exhibit any hint of vulnerability or helplessness. He knows what he wants and he typically tries to get what he wants and he wants to get it himself.
It was thus a very rare posture for him – though it was completely understandable.
But it was a moment when he completely endeared himself to me – not because of any great thing he had accomplished; in fact, quite the opposite. It was his great helplessness and need of me that was the basis for the endearment.
As I’ve reflected on this experience a little bit, it has suddenly dawned on me that this is the precise attitude that so endears us to our heavenly Father. I know it sounds sappy and sentimental and trite, but it is nevertheless true. It is not our great “successes” that elicit the deepest fondness from God our Father but those moments when we recognize the depths of our helplessness and cry out to Him. As the Psalmist declares, “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103-13-14).
The word for “pity” is the Hebrew word racham – a word I have written about before that comes from the noun for a woman’s womb. This pity, this compassion, is thus a visceral, internal emotion that God feels toward us. He is moved with great pathos precisely because of our helplessness; precisely because He knows “we are dust.”
All this leads me to recognize that the very thing that I often think disqualifies me from going to God is the exact thing that endears me most to Him. My great need is, in fact, the prerequisite to His acceptance and love. Conversely, the times in which I exhibit the greatest pride and self-sufficiency, the times that I think I’ve finally qualified myself for His approval, are the times when I am least endearing to Him.
Sadly, I spend the majority of my life walking around with this latter attitude, not realizing it’s taking me farther and farther away from the center of God’s deepest affections.
Writing to pastors, Ellen White noted this very dynamic: “Christ’s heart is cheered by the sight of those who are poor in every sense of the term; cheered by His view of the ill-used ones who are meek; cheered by the seemingly unsatisfied hungering after righteousness, by the inability of many to begin. He welcomes, as it were, the very condition of things that would discourage many ministers” (Gospel Workers, p. 37).
Elsewhere, in that classic Steps to Christ, she highlighted the state in which God delights to have us approach Him: “Jesus loves to have us come to Him just as we are,” she wrote, “sinful, helpless, dependent” (p. 52), again reiterating a number of pages later in the chapter on prayer that “our great need is itself an argument and pleads most eloquently in our behalf” (p. 95).
Such an idea was a constant refrain for her. Our need, our helplessness and inefficiency, is the very condition that qualifies us for God’s favor and endears us to Him.
These are the very attitudes that we should thus embrace. To live in a constant awareness of our vulnerability and need is the great aim of the Christian journey. It is only then that we can be fully enveloped by the Father’s arms and find where our true strength resides.