It is bedtime. I go into my daughter’s room to tuck her in. She is surrounded by stuffed animals and cherished dolls. She is in that sweet, still, twilight moment between wakefulness and sleep. I sit on the side of her bed, look deeply into her little eyes while she lies there still as if she’d been hypnotized, and try to tell her what is in my heart: “I am so grateful you are alive. Do you have any idea how much I love you? There is no gift in my whole life like the gift of being your dad.”
She is staring up at me. Then she speaks: “Daddy, I love you so much. . . .”
Her eyes well up. Mine, too. She puts her little arms around my neck. We are both “feelers,” so we savor the emotion. It’s a Hallmark moment.
I walk out of the room feeling that I pretty much have the father thing down. I go into the next bedroom. This child, too, is surrounded by animals and dolls, though some of them have been inadvertently kicked to the floor. She is not in that sweet, still, twilight moment, because she does not know twilight. She has only two gears: full throttle and unconsciousness. Her metabolism has an on-off button but no dimmer switch. I sit on the side of her bed, which is not still because she could never hold still long enough to be hypnotized. I go into my same speech: “I am so grateful you are alive. Do you have any idea how much I love you? There is no gift in my whole life like the gift of being your dad.”
She is staring up at me, suddenly still. Then she speaks: “Daddy, you’ve got something hanging out of your nose.”
Two children. Same parents, same gene pool, same family, same house—but they have different sets of wiring. Before I became a parent, I had all kinds of naive notions about how much I was going to shape and mold the little lives that would be entrusted to me. After our three children were born, I got educated in a hurry. I realized that if I was going to fully engage my children, I would have to learn to be present with them in ways that would most honor their wiring and personalities. If I tried to force them into all relating to me in the same way, it would be a disaster.
Our individual uniqueness means we will all experience God’s presence and learn to relate to him in different ways.
Everyone who is skillful at interacting with people comes to learn this. Successful coaches know which athletes require tongue-lashings to avoid complacency and which need kid-glove treatment to keep from becoming discouraged. Salespeople who make it to the top develop exquisite radar that guides them into knowing which clients want more conversation and which want more space. Effective bosses and therapists and teachers and politicians master the art of reading and responding to human differences.
Not only that, but our lives are much richer because of the diversity of the people in them. I have friends whose greatest joy is to sit down together and have a long talk about a great book. I have other friends whom I have jumped off cliffs with in hang gliding. My friends are present with me in different ways; they see different sides of me. And I’m glad they do!
So why do we think God doesn’t know about this?
He is the One who made us, and he made us to be wildly, wonderfully, absurdly different from each other. Thinkers and feelers, backslappers and wannabee hermits, race horses and turtles—“the Lord God made them all.”
Yet all too often we fail to realize that our individual uniqueness means we will all experience God’s presence and learn to relate to him in different ways, in ways that correspond to the wiring patterns he himself created in us. Frequently in churches we give people a “one-size-fits-all” approach to spiritual growth, like a doctor who prescribes the same medicine for every ailment from rickets to pneumonia. Gary Thomas writes about this:
All too often, Christians who desire to be fed spiritually are given the same, generic, hopefully all-inclusive methods—usually some variation on a standardized quiet time. Why? Because it’s simple, it’s generic, and it’s easy to hold people accountable to. But, for many Christians, it’s just not enough.
God wants to be fully present with each of us. But because he made us to be different from one another, we are not identical in the activities and practices that will help us connect with him. Some writers speak of people as having different spiritual temperaments; Gary Thomas writes of “sacred pathways.”
Ortberg, John. 2009. God Is Closer than You Think. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
We have just completed a 10-Part Study of John Ortberg’s book, God Is Closer Than Your Think. It is available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Lesson Subscription Service. It is also available on Amazon