I see my 2-year-old grandson, Michael, only once a year. Understandably, each visit requires a persistent, patient process of rebonding. His confidence in me is strengthened by the relationship I already have with his older sisters who bound into my arms at first sight. But Michael takes his time, even when lured with chocolates or a cricket bat and ball.
This year - our third meeting - was no different. He watched, waited, and observed for several days. Then he allowed me to play cricket with him and kick a ball on the lawn. But there were no more concessions - not even a shared reading of his favorite book. Sometimes he sensed he might be missing out in some way, but he still held back.
As I thought about our friendship, it occurred to me I had been through something similar in my relationship with God - with fewer valid excuses. I prayed regularly, yes - that was part of my daily routine. But all too often I wasn't engaging fully with my Father. I was ready for a metaphorical ballgame, which relaxed me and made me feel better, but I tended to forget or even avoid the more intimate "search me" stuff, which was the tougher part of it.
In the Bible, the Psalmist is ready to lay himself open - be vulnerable - when he says: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Ps. 139:23, 24).
Vulnerability is not a word we like to apply to ourselves. But it is a significant element in any intimate, trusting relationship. One aspect of opening ourselves up to God is spiritual self-examination. This is what God requires if He is to lead us in the "way everlasting."
It's helpful to ask ourselves: Am I responding quickly to God's direction, or am I putting up flimsy little barriers? Am I hearing that "still small voice" gently chiding me when I have done something foreign to His flawless nature?
Unhesitating honesty, humble searching, and heartfelt respectfulness are all part of the mix. And the rewards are great - among them: freedom from anxiety, deeper and more flexible friendships, and irresistible joy.
I realized that Michael was a little young to reason this through with me. But I knew he was seeing unconditional love expressed in my relationship with his sisters, and that it wouldn't be long before he was ready to make the leap for himself.
To stretch the metaphor any further would be unfair to Michael, but he certainly set me thinking afresh about my need to reach out more often for the hand of God and to let Him guide me.
I also learned that it's helpful to keep an unflinching check on ourselves. The Monitor's founder wrote: "To ascertain our progress, we must learn where our affections are placed and whom we acknowledge and obey as God. If divine Love is becoming nearer, dearer, and more real to us, matter is then submitting to Spirit" (Mary Baker Eddy, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 239).
Clearly, as this bond of Love becomes nearer and dearer to us, we are able to trust Spirit to lead us.
I suspect I got through a lot more reasoning and praying than Michael did during our 12 days together. But beneath the surface, his relationship with me was growing toward trust.
One morning as we walked single file down to the beach for our swim in the Indian Ocean, Michael suddenly stopped, turned around, and waited for me to catch up. "I want you to hold my hand," he said earnestly. He didn't need to smile. Perhaps he knew I would see his gesture as an invitation to deeper friendship. He knew my hand was a reliable one to hold in the face of six-foot high waves. And I knew we were both in the hands of God, who would never let either of us go.
I the Lord thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.