I watched her as she came into the restaurant. What an engaging smile! Nobody had to do anything for her. No performances. No gifts. No getting up to make a fuss. The smile came from within and seemed to be part of her nature.
She sat in her high chair and played as the adults ate. She made no demands and never fussed. Look her way, though, and she would reward you with that ever-present smile. A pinch of saltine was wonderful to her. She clearly enjoyed chewing on a toy or two her mother had brought. And that constant smile on her face would just melt your heart every time you saw it.
At various times in the course of the evening, people made her the center of attention. They peek-a-booed, patty-caked, and chin-chucked. She loved the attention, sure enough. You could hear her chuckle from deep down inside.
Everybody in the restaurant was sneaking glances at her now. A couple of times when her eyes caught ours, she offered that captivating grin. She didn't appear to feel intruded upon that strangers were basking in the glow of her favor.
I just knew it had to end though. She'd get tired. Then she would turn grumpy, fuss a bit, and need a bottle or nap. Although I'm sure it happens, we never saw it that night. For the entire time we shared the room with her, she smiled. No, she beamed. Her radiant face made us feel special for being there.
Then it dawned on me how like that night is the experience of God. We have somehow convinced ourselves that we must jump through hoops, offer extraordinary gifts, or otherwise draw his attention and favor to ourselves. Then, convinced he is looking, we work to crank up the performance level lest his perceived smile turn to a sour, scolding look.
By what terrible logic did such an image of the God of All Grace emerge? Has its widespread acceptance led some to despair and give up on his favor?
God's presence in our lives is much more like that of the baby my wife and I saw in a restaurant that night than some can bring themselves to believe. His constant gaze is accompanied by a natural, easy smile. It is only natural, after all, for a Father to enjoy watching his children. No need for any of us to make a fuss or think it is necessary to earn his favor. No need for us to fear that his mood will turn gloomy and his manner forbidding.
Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these" (Luke 18:16 TNIV).