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Ian is now in second grade. Last week, he called his adoring grandpa (me) to help him make a robot for school. The robot did not need to be motorized; it just needed to look somewhat like a robot.
I thought about Ian’s request for about .0001 seconds before replying: “I would love to help you, Ian!”
Ian and I started with the design stage. He climbed up on my chair with me and we looked on Pinterest where we found dozens of ideas for simple robots. Ian found one he really liked. So, we turned our attention to materials.
Ian and I went to the room in our basement where I store the wooden boxes I love. Trusted friends are allowed to enter the room if they show appropriate reverence. Ian and I picked out several boxes that might work for the robot. We settled on one that seemed perfect.
Then we went to the vault in the garage where I keep magical mechanical things: an intricate old-time music box that hasn’t sounded a note for decades but has bunches of rusted gears and machinery; an early apple peeler with gears and levers. So many treasures! I love these things! Ian picked out two old piano casters and a wooden roller for wheels, an old tin can for a neck, CD’s for eyes, and forks for hands.
Then the assembly. A few small brads, a little glue, and some picture-hanging wire tied it all together. He added a couple of thumb tacks and some scribbles on the front to represent controls. Ian proudly displayed his robot at school.
I love Ian.
So, let me ask you: What will it take for Ian to maintain goodwill with me, his grandpa? Do I expect that he will have no other friends but me? Is he required to come over every day for relationship maintenance? Do I insist upon gifts and complements? Do I have a list of demands that he must meet to earn my love?
No. Our loving relationship is sustained by one thing: the love we have for each other. I may not see Ian for several days or even a week or two. It doesn’t matter (though I do miss him!). When we get together, we fall naturally into our loving and happy relationship. I suppose this happens because of all the sweet time we have spent together.
Ian and I have done little science experiments at our house. We have taken things apart. We have gone out for Taco Bell. (He knows that I love Mexican pizza and he wants three side orders of rice and beans with two packets of mild sauce on each.) We have taken unnumbered walks together. We eat Reese’s. We have spent hours studying toys on amazon.com and at Walmart.
I also know the things that bother Ian. He especially hates loud sounds. So, when he was little, I would check the restroom to see if they had one of those deafening hand dryers. As he got older, I held my hands over his hears while he dried his hands. I lent him my hearing protection when we used loud tools in my garage. I want Ian to feel safe as he learns and grows.
Sometimes Ian’s experiments with growth include saying or doing rude things. I may gently prod him knowing that, over time, his good heart will guide his choices and actions.
We are buddies. I think we always will be.
My relationship with Ian has taught me a lot about my relationship with Heavenly Father. Father yearns to be a participant in my life. When I invite him to do a project together, He responds instantly, gladly, and with all the resources of heaven. When I face overwhelming challenges, He stands by me and even places His hands over my ears.
What does Heavenly Father require of me to sustain a loving relationship? I think He is a lot like I am with Ian. He loves our time spent together. At times, I may not spend as much time in the scriptures as I should or pray as earnestly as I should—but He still embraces me when I turn to Him. There are times when I am impatient, selfish, judgmental, and even wicked. He prods me to be true to the spirit within me. But He continues to love me even when I fall short.
I have experienced the King of Heaven as a kind and loving father.
When I was younger, I tended to think of Father as the heavenly accountant—keeping track of my misdeeds and waiting (impatiently) for me to make amends and get better. That mindset kept me from feeling His love and support. It kept me from progressing.
I used to read the scriptures as a solemn duty. Now I embrace them as more clues about the life and doings of my best friend.
I used to say prayers to persuade Him to do things my way. Now I pray for His power so I can do things His way.
I used to attend church out of habit. Now I look forward to the weekly opportunity to praise His name in hymns, rejoice with fellow saints in His grace, and to meet Him at the throne of grace—the sacrament table. I love the Sabbath!
I used to dread home teaching because I felt that I didn’t know how to do it right. Now I am grateful for opportunities to minister because I want to be His messenger of love into the lives of His children.
I used to be upset when things didn’t turn out as I wanted. I still have my preferences, but I am willing to trust His design for my life. Everything is all right because of Him.
Knowing Him, partnering with Him, and trusting His love for me changes everything. I am more peaceful, more purposeful, more glad to serve. I’m still a fallen and flawed person, but I am happier than ever. Maybe Henry Ward Beecher was right, “the test of Christian character should be that a man is a joy-bearing agent to the world.”
But what does it mean if we attend church, read our scriptures, and say our prayers but don’t feel happy? What if we feel burdened, confused and angry?
My personal paraphrase of Matthew 7:21-23 would be, “You may have called on my name, showed up at every meeting, done many wonderful things, but you never let me be your friend. It is not enough to go through the motions. I want to be your friend, not your accountant.”
If we go through the motions without feeling cherished by Him, we are walking in darkness at noon day. It doesn’t have to be that way. He invites us to awake and arise. He invites us to see Him face to face. He invites us to be His partners in serving. He invites us to be His friends.
Elder Holland teaches us of the beautiful way Jesus called on His father:
In that most burdensome moment of all human history, with blood appearing at every pore and an anguished cry upon His lips, Christ sought Him whom He had always sought—His Father. “Abba,” He cried, “Papa,” or from the lips of a younger child, “Daddy.”
This is such a personal moment it almost seems a sacrilege to cite it. A Son in unrelieved pain, a Father His only true source of strength, both of them staying the course, making it through the night—together.
In mortality, we will have days of failure and nights of darkness. What will save us is our Heavenly Friend. We may not yet know Him well or trust Him completely, but we can, in times of desperation, call on the One who will respond. We can turn to Him as Father and Friend.
So, rather than try to impress Him with our dedication or our piety, we should turn to Him in loving relationship. We do not read the scriptures to complete a goal but to come to know His heart. We do not pray in order to call down blessings but to get counsel from the one who wants to bless us. We do not attend church to check a box, but to spend time with our beloved Father and our cherished Brother.
A changed relationship results in changed behavior. We get guidance from Him in everything we do. I may not read every word in the book of Hebrews, but I can ponder what it means to “have a great high priest” and to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:14-16). I may not pray the same way others pray, but I can talk with the One who loves me more than His own life.
He doesn’t want our friendship to wait until I’m living the gospel better, studying more consistently, and praying more effectively. He wants to be my friend now. He will respond to every authentic friend request, to every effort to connect.
If we aren’t sure we are ready for heavenly friendship, we can review our lives looking for messages of love from Him. If we are attentive, we will find that He has helped us here, encouraged us there, and been at our side always. Gratitude is the path to friendship.
I pray that you will know that He loves you even more than I love Ian. He lives. He loves you with all His soul. He intends to redeem you and give you the glories of eternity.
Wishing you a joyous friendship.
This is the season for gratitude! I would like to help you build that spirit in your family and among the people you love. I am offering five copies of my children’s book, God’s Trophies, for $25, free shipping in the US. This is a $65 value! The book features a wonderfully illustrated, joyful story that helps children to learn about gratitude for all of God’s creations and teaches them that they are each God’s most beloved creation. The book would make an excellent holiday gift for any special people in your life!
To get this special offer, go to: https://ldsgreats.com/products/five-copies-of-gods-trophies-by-wally-goddard-picture-book
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her insightful editing.