Me and a friend – the impossibly tall Stewart – preached at our church recently, and we both told stories tied up with our respective families.
Stewart told a story of walking his youngest son to school, a few days after Stewart’s mother-in-law, his little boy’s grandmother, had died. He’d put his arm around his son’s shoulder and his little boy unexpectedly looked up at Stewart and said, “Dad, would you keep your arm around me a little while longer?”
Stewart called the moment a “diamond in the dust.”
Not a dry eye in the house at the line, “Dad, would you keep your arm around me a little while longer?”
Stewart talked eloquently about how he’d felt; how he knew that he wanted to always be there for his children; how he knew that there’d be days they wouldn’t welcome his fatherly embrace and protective arm; that there would be times when that relationship would feel stretched and that there were times when their arms around him left him feeling blessed.
Stewart continued, drawing the parallel between his response to his kids and the response of Father God to us, His children.
I’ve heard lots of folk talk about “the Father heart of God” and, if I’m honest, most of the stuff has left me cold … just more theological and spiritual jargon in the main. However, Stewart’s simple story made that idea real for me – as a dad, I get it – that visceral response to your kids, that desire to be the best dad you can be, to provide for your children, to love them with a kind of fierce determination that you won’t ever give up. As a son, I also got behind the request, and I’ve found myself praying in the last few days, “Father, could put Your arm around me a little while longer …”
A little later in our tag team preach I told a story about my dad. Dad has cancer – he’s lived with/through it for the last five and a half years. If I remember right, he’s had a total of five operations over the last five years or so; one emergency one to remove a tumour the size of a grapefruit from his large intestine and the rest to remove various tumours and lesions from his liver.
He’s been undergoing a course of chemotherapy recently, to shrink a tumour in his liver to the point where it could be tackled with a procedure called microwave ablation – yes, it is what it sounds like, they stick in a big ol’ needle and microwave the tumour!
Dad’s had chemo before and he coped incredibly well, but this stuff is a more “aggressive therapy” – in plain English, it’s bloody awful.
Over the last few months I’ve had the dubious privilege of taking him a specialist unit every couple of weeks, and waiting with him for five or six hours whilst the chemotherapy drugs are pumped in to his system … watching as it ravages him. I hate it. I know it’s supposed to be killing off the cancer, but to my non-medical and all too emotional eye, it looks more like it’s slowly killing him.
This most recent time, by the end of the treatment, Dad was really shaky and depleted. I helped him get out of his chair, and steadied him as he put on his sweater. I’m sure I could just scoop him up and carry him like a child if I needed to he’s lost that much weight.
As we started to walk from the ward, Dad looked at me and said quietly, “Walk close to me son … stay close, just in case.”
It’s certainly a different take on diamonds in the dust, but somehow it was one for me … Let me explain a bit.
Dad’s a stubborn mule of a man sometimes; he’ll normally ‘soldier on’ through the nitty-gritty unpleasantness of his illness and treatment and tell you repeatedly that everything is “Tip-top!” But, in saying that he wanted me to stay close to him, for him to have the reassurance that I wouldn’t let him stumble or fall was a huge thing for me.
When you’re a little boy, your Dad is your first hero, the biggest man in the world and someone you automatically look up to … in many ways that continues, even if – like me (and like my son after me) – you get to be physically bigger than your Dad in your early teens!
Dad’s tacit acknowledgement of his weakness and vulnerability didn’t change that for me … instead, it invited me to walk alongside him; not to remove the weakness, but to be with him in it. Not wishing to romanticise it, but in that simple moment there was a level of intimacy and understanding that no amount of eloquently composed and expressed thoughts could have conveyed.
Now bear with me as the thoughts aren’t fully formed yet, but I think that like Stewart’s illustration invites us into thinking of God as a Father, to think of His provision and His comfort and His strength, this experience of my Dad’s fragile request also showed me something of God …
Christians believe in a God who embraced weakness and even death in the Incarnation; a God who refused to insulate Himself and His experience from the harsh realities of the created world; a God who can look the afflicted and the hurting in the eye and honestly tell them that He understands; a God who stumbled and fell as He carried His cross; a God that invites us to carry our cross as we walk alongside Him.
I think there is a mysterious power in this vulnerable God – in a God choosing to not remain a distant unapproachable deity shrouded in clouds of fire and lightning.
It’s in the fragility and brokenness – ours and His – that you suddenly find a God that is within arm’s reach. He’s not removed and remote in His heaven, He’s alongside you, yes to put an arm around your shoulder, but also to invite you to walk alongside Him when it might seem He is somehow weak and powerless.
He’s a crucified and beaten God, who the world then and now scorned and castigated – who was tortured and murdered by corrupt authorities and religious zealots, who was and is disregarded by the rulers and the elite. He’s a God of brokenness who is for the broken; a wounded God that carried those wounds even after conquering everything – doubt, fear, and even death.
Our broken God.
Our Crucified King.
Somehow, in hearing my Dad ask, “Walk close to me son,” I felt the same request from my Abba Father – vulnerably asking that I walk with Him too …
My diamond in the dust.