Just in Time

As I was reflecting on this letter, I began to think of how, in many ways, I am still a spiritual eight-year-old

I’ve grown in some ways, but in many others I feel just as small, just as weak, just as vulnerable. I began to think, “Does God still see me as an eight-year-old?” After a moment’s thought, I realized that I am certainly not an eight-year-old in God’s eyes; I’m a infant. And so are you.

 

Some months ago, my mother handed me two old yellow sheets of notebook paper—the kind with dull green lines for text and a red double-lined sidebar. This was always the kind of paper I considered most cheap: the last-resort paper. On the backside of the paper, I found my name penned in my father’s small-cap script: “Taylor.”

The letter was dated October 21st, 1993, the day before my father’s first brain surgery. He had written a letter for each of his four sons, should the worst happen. He did not know then that he would live another eleven years and work through two more surgeries before the cancer would take his life. Nor did he know that my mother would wait until 2017 to deliver that forgotten letter. Nor could anyone have imagined that a few old pieces of yellow scrap paper would survive the yearly cleanouts of clutter from his old office. But here we are.

The letter is what you might expect from a father who was seriously considering the imminence of his own death, leaving behind four children and a wife. I am not ashamed that the letter contained words such as “honey” and “sweetheart”—especially now that I have children of my own. For all the emotional language used in that letter, there were two sentences that tore me up quite a bit: “Taylor, you are so gifted and skilled, and bright. But you don’t always believe in yourself.”

I was eight at the time he wrote this letter. Strange how little we change with age. As a writer, I always find myself pandering for someone’s praise, looking for a place to lift myself up, or an opportunity to have someone else do the lifting. I can honestly say that I do this not out of vein bravado (though I’m sure I have enough of that, too), but because I don’t believe in myself. Though I would eventually be an English major, I had to attend special reading classes as a child and always felt behind in school when it came to reading and writing. In high school, I discovered that I wanted to be a writer one day, but I did not believe I could be. My father, like many fathers, was keenly aware of his children’s character.

Now, let me just say that this concern from my father was not the sort of tripe that comes across in Hallmark cards or popular films. This was not the hollow “you’re worth it” that I hear all too often in the broader culture. Make no mistake, we are “worth” much, but not on our own. Scripture is replete with examples of how we have the greatest worth not because of what we have done but because of what we’ve been given: the image and Son of God. Instead, my father’s concern was about my view of God himself. The following lines in the letter make that clear.

Have confidence in how God has made you. Not pride, which says, “I don’t need God,” but confidence, which says, “With God’s help I will be all he has made me to be.”

I do not have that kind of confidence, a godly confidence. I more often have a worldly sort of confidence, which is telling in a number of ways. Perhaps the most obvious revelations are that (1) I doubt the power of God to do in me that which he wills, and (2) I often consider my own ego to be more precious than God’s holy name. That is, when I am confident, I am confident in and protective of myself, not God. These are horrible confessions—but they are just that. What’s more, I wonder how long it would have taken me to make them had I not received an old letter from my father, twenty-four years late.

As I was reflecting on this letter, I began to think of how, in many ways, I am still a spiritual eight-year-old. I’ve grown in some ways, but in many others I feel just as small, just as weak, just as vulnerable. I began to think, “Does God still see me as an eight-year-old?” After a moment’s thought, I realized that I am certainly not an eight-year-old in God’s eyes; I’m a infant. And so are you.

Now, this infancy is different from the sort that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 3. We are called to outgrow our infancy in Christ—to move from taking spiritual milk to taking solid food from the Word (Heb 5:12). Certainly, in this sense, I hope I am not still an infant (perhaps a toddler or early adolescent).

But in another sense, I am an infant and always will be. I am infinitely younger than he is; he is infinitely older than I am. God, of course, transcends time, so this language does not really do full justice to the relationship. But it is at least clear that our human sense of age difference leads us to appreciate the great distance (an unimaginable distance) between our earthly years and God’s eternal existence.

We are not nearly as old as we think. We commonly hear people complain about feeling older than they are, but in spiritual terms, I rarely hear people complain about feeling younger than they are. But that is just the point for Christians who understand the greatness of God and smallness of their faith. Spiritually, we are infants in the care of our gracious heavenly Father.

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