Monday, October 17, 2011

Kids, God, and cakes that look like mashed potatoes

Why I love kids: reason #1

Little kids are so easy to please. If you make them a cake, they will shout for joy, even if the cake looks like a mashed potato. If you sing them a song, they will say you have the most beautiful voice in the world. If you draw them a picture, they will smile and show everyone what you drew for them. 

And then they grow up.

And then they learn about being "perfect."

And then they become parents, and they sing off-key and make mashed potato disaster cakes and draw stick people for their own children. Unlike their happy children, however, they get frustrated with themselves because they can't do anything perfectly, because nothing they do is good enough to impress anyone but their own children.

There's something wrong with that. There's something really tragic about that life.

I might be going out on a limb here, but I think God is like a kid. I think that God is happy when we do anything for him, even if it's out-of-tune or misshapen or looks like a Picasso without the genius. I think that, like our children, God receives all sincere gifts joyfully. He doesn't judge our offerings based on some objective scale or some abstract concept of perfection. Rather, he loves every offering with a sincere heart. 

So what does that mean for today? It means that when you go do something for your family or your friends because you love them, it is a perfect gift. It's not perfect in an abstract, idealistic way, but it's perfect in the way that really matters. It's perfect because your heart is sincere. 

Giving gifts isn't about impressing people. It's about showing love, and showing love requires nothing more than a sincere heart and a little time.

When you, a mother that is actually working 25 hours a day, or you, a single twenty-something who has been wearing the same pair of shoes for three years because you don't have any money, brings a lumpy casserole to your church potluck, do you think that God loves you less than your neighbor that brings a lumpy casserole and a side of rolls? God doesn't compare and receive. God is like a child with undivided attention (i promise it can happen). He receives each gift individually, and rejoices in the sincere gift. 

Perfection isn't a measure of who makes the best food or who hosts the best parties or who has the most well-behaved children or who has the brightest smile. Perfection is between you and the person you're giving to, and it's a test of the sincerity of your heart.

Now here's a story, because I believe this, and because this is what gives me joy in life.

By the world's standards, I am a below-average musician. I know rhythm and scales and chords, sure, but I don't have much technical skill. Still, I love music and I love playing. At some point, I realized that  I knew enough to play for others in a way that could make them smile. So I started. I learned some silly songs and wrote others, and I played when the opportunity arose. Now, I can't stress enough that these songs were performed pretty badly, despite my practice. But here's what happened:

One day I was strumming a chord progression when my niece came up and started singing along. Within a few minutes we had created a new song and she was absolutely beaming. It was pretty terrible by the world's standards, but she couldn't have been happier. We later performed it for the family around a campfire.

At my wedding reception, I played a song that I secretly learned for my wife. It was a song that she loved, and I saved it as a surprise. In the middle of the song I forgot the words completely. I strummed and strummed but nothing came! I skipped the verse and moved on. As I played I couldn't look too much at my wife, not because I was embarrassed, but because she was crying and I knew I wouldn't be able to finish singing if I looked too much in her loving eyes.

At that wedding reception I also played a duet with my wife, and the two of us played a song with a small group of friends and family to close the night. All of the songs were performed with flaws. And yet, speaking of that night, my father, holding back tears, told me how much he was touched by the music, because there was so much love in it. 

Each of us can make another person happy, no matter how crummy our talents. The real measure of perfection is not found in comparison. It's found in your heart, and it's received with joy. God knows it, kids know it, and hopefully we will know it too.