By Karen Ward Robertson
My peace is rumpled, Father. I’m afraid, disappointed, tired of struggling. So many things distract me, Father, from having a heart like yours. I want to flourish with fruit: peace, joy, goodness, faithfulness, love.
“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:10-12).
Teach me how to have a clean heart, Father—a simple, trusting, childlike heart.
I leaned on my hoe, catching my breath, wondering where this 4-year-old dynamo gets her diligence, passion, and determination.
Katherynn paused in her work, lifting her grimy face to frown at me. “Why did you quit?”
I forced a smile. “I didn’t quit on purpose. It’s hot. I’m tired.”
“I know!” Katherynn exclaimed, apparently oblivious to our sweat and exhaustion. “Let’s pretend we’re in a big field and we’re working hard! And when we’re done we can have a tea party!”
My focus had become finishing the weeding, but Katherynn’s focus was on enjoying the gifts God provided in the moment until we got the job done. I was hot and miserable. She enjoyed sunshine. I was tired and cranky. She sang praises. I wanted to quit. She spurred us on to love and good work until we reached higher ground and completed the job.
“Let’s sing loud because you’re getting a little bit cranky,” Katherynn whispered passionately. “Let’s sing really, REALLY LOUD!”
After a rousing chorus of “Awesome God,” one of her favorites, we were sweaty, blistered, hot, and tired, but we were refreshed. Singing loudly had brought the joy necessary for motivation and strength to finish our work.
“It’s a lovely clean flower bed,” Katherynn declared as we stood side by side admiring our finished work. “I’m proud of you.”
I hugged her sweaty, wise little body close to me.
“God says to be careful, to take heed, that you fulfill your ministry,” I told her. “He wants us to do what we have been called to do and not quit. You were faithful. You got the job done.”
She squinted her eyes against the sun as she looked up at me, considering the lesson. Her grin came quickly, then the laughter. “Let’s ask God for no more weeds!”
“Even the weeds in our lives have a purpose, sweetheart,” I explained. “To work is good.”
“That’s true. Some of the weeds have flowers inside. Now, let’s make that tea. We need cookies.”
The door opened and closed so quietly, I wasn’t even certain someone had entered the house.
Ethan, age 8, sat on the couch, mesmerized by something in his hand. I paused, surprised, not because he was on my couch, but because he usually comes to me in a run, with a bang and a shout.
Life is an ongoing party for Ethan, and it’s one of my favorite things about him, but this time he was very still. When he looked up, his eyes were full of joy and wonder.
“Oh, Nana,” he told me, opening his hand to reveal a shiny black arrowhead. “Look what Carolanne gave me!”
I was amazed by the magnitude of Carolanne’s generosity, wondering if it really should be seen as a gift. Ethan immediately sensed my question.
“Really. She gave it to me. She said I will keep it,” he whispered. “I need to draw it.”
As Ethan draws, a new appreciation is unfolding in my heart. Working methodically through the disappointment and pain of my life with rheumatoid arthritis, I find myself awestruck with wonder at this gift the Lord has given me—this treasure, this opportunity held in my hands.
Oh Father, look what you have given me, this thorn in my flesh. You said I will keep it. I need to capture my gift by writing about it, studying it from different angles, appreciating it with gratitude.
God is listening to me just as I listened to Ethan.
“You can have the drawing, Nana,” Ethan said, hanging it on the refrigerator. “I don’t need it. I have my treasure.”
He tucked the arrowhead in his pocket and hugged me even tighter and faster than usual. “Bye, Nana! Thanks!” he yelled, leaving the door to bang loudly behind him.
And I have a treasure too. I have been given an opportunity to live fully awake to God’s presence in every moment, to let his power be shown through me in every circumstance, to discover grace even in disappointment, even in pain.
It makes my life an ongoing party. I have a treasure that makes me want to create something colorful to give away and maybe hang on the world’s refrigerator.
Johnathan wanted to stay up with his older siblings. It wasn’t that he cared about their games and books—he just didn’t want to miss anything. First he begged, then he argued. After that, the toddler ran away from me.
“No, Johnathan. Come, please,” I gently encouraged, moving toward the stairs. “Come to me.”
“NO! No, Nana. NO!” he yelled as I lifted him into my arms. Legs kicking, arms pushing me away, I carried him toward the bedroom as he continued to rebel.
In the darkened room, next to the crib, he softened his crying as he realized he was helpless to change my mind. As I cuddled him close and rubbed his back, I talked softly, patiently. “Night-night, stars. Night-night, moon. Night-night, bear. Night-night, God.”
As I comforted him, he put his head on my shoulder, and I began to sing. Though still disappointed, he began to tune in to my words, quieted by my love. “No, Nana,” he whined softly. “No. No. No.”
My heart rebels too. At first maybe I’m only disappointed, but my frustration can quickly grow into anger and resentment. I want to do what God wants me to do, but there is hesitation, fear, and rebellion against his plan.
I know he wants what is best for me, but must it take sacrifice? What if I miss out on something everyone else is getting to do? I beg him, argue with him. Sometimes I even run away from him. “No, God. No. No.”
“I love you, Johnathan,” I said. “It’s time for night-night.”
“No. No. Nana . . . OK. Yes,” my little one agrees.
Simple, childlike faith doesn’t come easily. The more I struggle, God quiets me with his love, sings over me, not forcing my submission, but encouraging me to have a heart like his.
Every day I become more childlike in my trust. The disappointments and struggles haven’t gotten any easier, but my faith has grown stronger. I’ve learned to obey more quickly because I’ve learned joy will always come if I do. I want a simple, childlike heart that obeys even when I disagree with God, even though I’m afraid, angry, or disappointed.
What was the response of Jesus’ heart on the cross? Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done. OK. Yes.
Karen Ward Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.