Years ago I was coming out of the nearby Park and Shop market in Blackstone just ahead of a friend of my mother who was not only shopping for groceries but tending her grandchildren as well. The children, probably first and second-graders, were skipping about and hopping around as children are wont to do, munching on a chocolate bar or popsicle that grandma had provided. My mother’s friend was doing her gentle best to keep the kids in line. She smiled when she saw me and remarked, “It’s nice to be young! Not a care in the world!”
And indeed it is nice to be young without a care in the world! And this is the way it should be. Children should feel secure that Grandma is not going to forget them in the market or neglect them as they cross the busy parking lot. Children should feel safe at home knowing they won’t be locked out when they get home from school and there will be a tasty meal on the table at the right time. And children should feel safe at school and at the youth center and at the public park. A child’s expectation of security is not the result of naiveté nor is it the consequence of unwarranted presumption. A child’s expectation of security, of “not having a care in the world,” is exactly the definition of childhood. Children should rightly take it for granted that mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, teacher, coach and monitor will always have the child’s best interest at heart. The time will come soon enough when a maturing youth and young adult will have to make life-altering decisions. But the years of candy bars and lollipops should not be outgrown too quickly. The capacity to trust and an abiding awareness of security is not only vital to daily human life, it is integral, in fact, it is foundational to a Christian’s religious life as well.
It is no accident that God reveals himself in Scripture as a Father: “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” And again, “So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Nor should it be surprising that God might employ the metaphor of motherhood to explain his solicitous care for his children. Isaiah writes: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Yet accepting the Fatherhood of God, accepting the maternal solicitude that constitutes the Divine Providence of God, is a challenge for all believers. Rare is the Christian soul that can accept literally the words of Christ from this Sunday’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” It is all right for children not to worry about food and drink and clothing. Mom and dad will take care of that. But adults by definition have to be concerned about family, home, jobs and community. Concerned? Yes. But despairing? No. And trusting? Always.
No man or woman comes into existence accidently. No human being on the face of the earth, no matter how abject, no matter how exalted, is here merely by chance. As St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “For we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared in advance, that we should live in them.” God the Father has a personal providence for every one of his creatures. There are challenges in life assuredly. And there comforts in life happily. But God is present to every creature along every step of life’s journey. Enduring trust in this providence of God is indispensable to authentic Christianity.
Jesus pointedly asks his hearers during his hillside sermon, “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” And he adds with supreme confidence: “Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.” Few Christians can honestly report that they take these words of Jesus Christ literally and live by them regularly. Most Christians, let’s be honest, fret and fuss through much of life’s weeks and months. Trusting in the providence of God, the Fatherhood of God is easier preached than practiced.
Jesus summarizes the challenge he directs at his disciples when he memorably instructs them: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” Trust in the Fatherhood of God comes only with the sincere conviction, the profound belief, the guiding principle, that God can literally be taken at his word. God is Fatherhood. God is Father.