My first grader finished an assignment on Harriet Tubman last night. She did all the work herself with the exception of finding the photograph online (her big sister helped with that while I was playing taxi for my other kids). She was beaming, a smile spread wide across her face when I walked in the door. “Look what I did, Mommy,” she said, and I looked over her shoebox lid with the pictures pasted on purple construction paper, careful cuts around each one, the words “Harriet Tubman” written in marker across the top. When I read over the finished project and I saw all the “inventive” spelling, I wondered if I should have her correct the spelling before turning it in. But I just couldn’t. It was just too heart warming. Pencilvanya? Oh I LOVED it! I love that word and the “anportant” person Harriet Tubman was and the “varry anportant” person this little first grader is, one who warms her mother’s heart with what she makes with such pleasure.
You see when I take on a project, I focus all too easily on what I could do better, I fall easily into thinking that God is judging everything I do and frowning at all the mistakes I’m making in the progress. But that’s not what my mother’s heart does when I read, “Pencilvanya” on my Ellie’s cardboard lid. No, instead I smile and wrap that sweet child up in my arms and smother her with kisses because she did such a GOOD job. She did it without my edits, and she was so proud of what she could create, so proud to show me when I came through the door. It’s exactly what I want her to do. I want her to be able to do her own work, to do it with her whole heart and never cease to hand it to me for the encouraging affirmation of my pleasure — my pleasure in her and in what she creates.
And I think God takes pleasure in what we create, without correcting our spelling. He dares us to create with a whole heart, letting us make mistakes that will themselves be a teacher. He is the ultimate Redeemer of mistakes, broken things and even evil; He can take the wrongs and miraculously, in his amazing way, make them into something that benefits us.
I remember Jesus’ illustration of the talents, that story he tells where three men are given different amounts of money by their master and told to take care of it until he returns. The first two take some risks with the money and end up increasing the original amount so that when their master returns, he is very pleased. But the last one falls prey to fear and worries about his master’s potentially harsh response if he were to lose that money. So he buries it. When the master returns, the third man gives him back only what he was given and nothing more. The master is displeased.
I so relate to that third man. It’s a problem with my theology: I tend to think of my master as judging and harsh. I forget all his mercies, his tender dealings with the sinner, with the ones who messed up tragically. Again and again throughout scripture and my own life, God has proven himself to be merciful, forgiving and the one who can redeem anything for good. So why bury talents, why get paralyzed in the fear that I might make a mistake, might misspell part of my life and ruin it all? The master is not displeased when I attempt to please him with a daring spirit and a lot of heart. What he is displeased with is my not trying at all, my giving up in self defeat, my refusal to see him as full of mercy and loving kindness, able to redeem my mistakes.
Our “Pencilvanyas” are precious when they come from a heart that wants to please him. The call to perfection is not, I think, about attaining perfection in this lifetime. Instead it’s about his perfect redeeming of our imperfect attempts. When I create, when I serve and love with a childlike heart delighting in his pleasure, he lavishly perfects what I do and makes it into something good. Ah, I can feel the weights lifting. His love is freeing and inspiring. It does not brow beat nor discourage. No, that is not his way.
I can’t wait for Ellie to turn in her report tomorrow. I’m sure it will get some grins from her teacher.