By Kim Longden
Last month, I came across a photo taken over ten years ago that made me smile. I had just finished making Christmas cookies with my kids (all ages five and under at the time) and had snapped a picture of our finished product: odd-shaped, funny-colored, unevenly-sprinkled Christmas cookies adorned the counter.
Although the memory is endearing to me now, I remember feeling frustrated at the time over the fact that having little helpers in the kitchen meant letting go of any hope of perfectly decorated Christmas cookies (or a perfectly decorated Christmas tree, or a perfectly clean house, or perfect anything really!).
Little kids are so eager to help, and ten-years-ago me knew that it was good in the long run to let them. However, I hadn’t experienced enough of the long run to have a real great perspective on the situation. Letting my children help was hard for me because it meant letting go of control. Their helping made things take twice as long, get twice as messy, and the end result … well … my circus-looking Christmas cookies said it all.
Those intense, early years of parenting began my (still ongoing) process of letting go of things that I thought were important (like perfectly decorated cookies), and exchanging them (in faith) for a greater good that I couldn’t see yet. Part of this process involved learning that, even though I didn’t need my little kids’ “help” to get the job done, letting them participate was about something more important: deepening our relationship through closeness in time spent together.
Ten years further up the road of parenting and the process of letting go, I can see how beautiful the cookies in my picture are because I have gained a better perspective of what letting little helpers participate is really about. Taking time to give up on a smooth process or a perfect result has yielded a greater harvest of stronger relationships and treasured memories—which, I have learned, are more important than perfect Christmas cookies, or a perfect house, or a perfect anything.
My experience with little helpers gives me new insight into my relationship with my Heavenly Father. The Spirit invites and enables me to participate in God’s work in the world, but God doesn’t need my “help” to accomplish divine purposes. In fact, I’ve often thought of what a mess I sometimes make when trying to tell someone about Jesus, or awkwardly attempting some act of kindness.
When God lets me participate in the divine work of loving my neighbors or teaching my kids to love Jesus, God is looking for something more important than a smooth process or an efficient result. As I look for what Jesus is doing around me, and then prayerfully ask if I can be part of that, too, the Spirit is deepening our relationship through closeness in time spent together.
My kids are always eager to “help” in the kitchen. So why aren’t I as eager to roll up my sleeves and engage the work of the Spirit in my life or in the lives of people around me? Maybe it comes down to the same obstacle I faced when letting my little helpers into the kitchen: I have an ideal of a perfect result, and I don’t like to lose control.
But if I’m going to act on Jesus’ invitation to participate in His mission and His work in the world, I’ll need to let go of my idea of what that’s supposed to look like, and let the Spirit be in charge of the process as well as the result.
I don’t like letting someone else be in charge. But the lesson I learned from my little helpers makes me think it’s worth the risk. My “help” might make things take twice as long and get twice as messy for the Spirit, but engaging with what Jesus is doing in me and around me is about something more important: deepening my relationship with Jesus through closeness in time spent together.
As I look ahead to following Jesus in this new year, I want to take the time to give up on a smooth spiritual process or a perfect discipleship result. I’ll try letting go of control more often, because I’m longing for a greater harvest of a stronger relationship with Jesus. I’m looking for treasured memories of the Spirit’s gentle presence and invitation as I try to see and “help” with what God is doing in my world.
If I can gladly welcome my imperfect little helpers into my kitchen for the sake of building our relationship, how much more will my Heavenly Father invite and empower my imperfect contributions to God’s saving activity in the world?
God doesn’t need my help; but God wants a deeper relationship with me. The pressure is off: I don’t have to control the situation or the outcome. I can just participate with the confidence that the Holy Spirit is at work. What a relief!