My son Ben strides through our church like he owns it, seeking out his favorite people to hug. As we have finally emerged from our year-long quarantine, no one is happier than he to have human contact again.
Some people with Down Syndrome dish out hugs like candy at a parade. But not Ben. No, he is a selective hugger.
First comes the scrutiny. He examines you carefully, docking points if you are female, and adding them if you are wearing camo or a baseball cap. If you don’t measure up to his mysterious standards, he will turn away or hide his face.
Next comes the poke. It is his way of letting you know that he is considering whether or not to put you on his “good” list.
It’s an exciting event to make it to poke status. It may take a year or two for some people to gain that level of connection, and when it finally happens it is a special honor.
If all goes well after a number of weeks or months on poke status, there may be a semi-hug; a brief laying of his head on your shoulder. Then, if you pass all of the mysterious qualifications that only Ben’s brain can manufacture, you may reach full hug status. And Ben doesn’t hug by half -measures. He goes all-in with enthusiasm.
It seems to me that we often treat God the way that Ben treats others. If He doesn’t appear to fit the criteria that we insist on, we may ignore Him altogether.
Or, we may test Him with a prayer for something or an expectation that we want Him to fulfill, and if He doesn’t seem to appreciate our little bit of attention we will set Him aside until the next time we need something from Him.
But God – He longs to be on hug status with us. He wants the full weight of our love and trust.
“How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings,” Jesus wept over Jerusalem, “but you were not willing!”
He has proven His love. He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, it says in Isaiah, was crushed and oppressed to draw us near to His heart. And yet we poke Him to test if He will conform to our standards, or our culture’s trending ideas, before we agree to acknowledge Him.
I have known many people who dismiss God outright because their cursory examinations from a distance don’t conform to their ideas of how a god should behave. He is not always one for polite conversation, after all, and won’t share space with false gods.
I have known others who poke and prod to see if He will perform on command, wanting the benefits of His presence without paying the cost of surrendering their pride or need for control.
There are those who sidle in for a side hug, acknowledging Him as God and committing to follow Him. But there is that secret sin, that grasping for control or a cautiousness of spirit that stays in the darkness as a hidden insurance against disappointment.
Then there are those – those blessed few – who surrender their hearts and their futures to His great love, and find themselves filled with His Spirit and swept into a life of meaning and purpose; those who find true rest for their souls.
Ben is very limited in his speech, so only those at the pinnacle of his ranking are actually named. If he can’t pronounce your name, you will either become “Bob” or “Dem”, “Bro” or “Dote”. To be named by Ben is the ultimate compliment.
Jesus, too, renames us: Beloved. Friend. Bride. Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah. Jacob became Israel. Simon became Peter. Saul became Paul. We who once were known as bitter, desolate or forsaken are now named adopted, treasured and gifted.
“I no longer call you servants,” Jesus said. “Instead, I have called you friends”. (John 15:15)
The Holy Spirit moves through our world, searching for the humble heart, His eyes seeking “to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him”, it says in 1 Chronicles. In other words, those who have put Him on full hug status.
If we continue to insist that God conform to our culture’s standards or perform adequately for our demands, we will never find the peace we seek. He is not a God of half-measures, but of joyful abandonment to an all-in kind of living. The risk is real. The way, narrow.
The reward, beyond our wildest dreams.
It is a costly and dangerous step to put God on full hug status. But the payoff is so much more than everything we thought we ever wanted.
Let’s make today the day to finally go all-in, and run to the arms spread wide to welcome us home.