Early in the morning I was sitting alone at the dining room table with a cup of coffee. Everyone else in the house was still asleep. The soft light of early morning filtered in through the windows, and a beautiful quiet prevailed.
Then I heard little footsteps coming down the stairs. It was my three year old daughter. She made her slow way down, step by step, until she stood in the doorway at the foot of the stairs.
“Good morning, Love,” I said with a smile.
“Hold me, Daddy,” she answered, holding out her arms.
I got up and went over to her and scooped her up in my arms.
I wrapped her in a hug, and she snuggled her head on my shoulder.
“Dad, can I whisper something in your ear?” she asked me in a small, hushed voice.
“Yes,” I whispered back.
She lifted her head so her lips were right at my ear and whispered: “Dad, I love you.”
I asked her in a hushed voice, “Can I whisper something in your ear?”
“Yes,” she said.
“I love you,” I whispered in her ear.
“No Dad,” she answered, still speaking in her hushed voice, “whisper me a secret about my birthday. I want a Madagascar cake.”
And therein lies a great spiritual lesson: when it comes to a gift, think about the getter, not the giver—you have to consider what the intended recipient wants to get, not what you want to give. Even when it comes to early morning whispers.
It’s like when my daughters want me to have a tea party with them. Daddy much prefers running around the backyard to doling out miniature spoons of sugar into fairy-decorated teacups that are so small you have to refill them after each swallow. But then, refilling them is a big part of the fun with tea parties, and if I want to do something fun for my daughters, sometimes that means doing what’s fun for them even when it isn’t what I prefer.
Occasionally we have to disambiguate what we’re doing for ourselves from what we’re doing for others. It can be easy to dress up what we want in the trappings of sacrifice and masquerade it as a gift for another, and sometimes we even manage to fool ourselves—but then, as the Bible tells us, “my people will have it so,” Jer 5, 31, at times we are prone to “willingly hear lies,” Ez 13, 19, and we fool ourselves because we want to be fooled.
I have to remind myself of this simple distinction with my kids all the time. I’m frequently tempted to do things that are purportedly for them which just so happen to coincide with what I like. Especially when it comes to ordering pizza. I’m happy to order a large sausage and pepperoni pizza as a special dinner on occasion—when my kids would inexplicably prefer plain cheese. (Really, though, I am doing the kids a favor by introducing them to the wonderful flavor possibilities of pork products; a plain cheese pizza is just a wasted opportunity, a blank canvass waiting to be painted with delicious, palette-pleasing fennel, salt and grease. They just don’t realize it yet. To date they remain obstinate purists: plain cheese, if you please. But I have scored one notable victory: my oldest daughter loves ribs! I have done some good work in cultivating culinary tastes.)
This same principle of focusing on the intended recipients when preparing our gifts also applies in our relationship with God. As Saint Padre Pio said: “God is served only when He is served according to His will.”
That’s the goal. To serve God according to His will. Which requires us to be wary of our propensity to willingly hear—and tell ourselves—lies. Being mindful of that hurdle, if we can quiet the constant clamor of our own desires for a time, we might be able to create the still, quiet space that will allow us to hear, like a whisper in our ear, what God would like from us.
Copyright 2014, Jake Frost