It is midsummer here in northern California. More often that not, that means afternoons spent lounging on the couch while the AC blasts cool air into the living room. Between curling up with the boys on the couch to watch their favorite Netflix show, I do the dishes, make lunch, or fold laundry. On special days, we even add in a trip to grandma’s house for a swim in her pool or a morning playdate with friends.
This past month, though, brought incredible experiences for our family. Through the generosity of family and friends, we spent three days enjoying the mid-summer heat in southern California, via a whirlwind trip to the Magic Kingdom. We enjoyed rides that had us Soaring around the World and traveling at warp speed through various galaxies. We relaxed on a park bench and gobbled down cinnamon-sweet churros. We “oohed” and “aahed” at the fantastic displays of lights and fireworks. In a nutshell, we had the trip of every child’s dreams.
Ironically, though, as I look back over those three incredibly fast-paced days, it is our time relaxing by the hotel pool on the 4th of July that speaks to me most. In those few hours of soaking in the summer sunshine and splashing in the pool with my little boys, God decided to deliver a subtle wake-up call to me.
Do you ever feel like you are always one step (if not one hundred steps) behind God, as though the light in your brain doesn’t go on until much later than it should? This was one of those days…
While I’ve learned some incredible truths about myself over the past 30-odd years of self-discovery, true understanding of my introverted personality did not really sink in until I found myself sitting, clothed in my dripping-wet swimsuit, on a lounge chair in the shade beside the pool. My husband reclined in the chair next to me, sipping on an iced coffee and relaxing with some new friends who had joined us at the pool. While I wanted to contribute to their chat, say something witty or profound, I couldn’t. Instead, I focused on my sweet nine-year-old little boy reading in the sun only a few feet away, laying on his stomach, with his book clutched in his hands. Oblivious to the world, he devoured the words on the page.
“Go swim. Go socialize.” These phrases echoed in my head as I attempted to conjure some of that powerful Force my son is always claiming he can use.
Before my eyes, one of our new friends casually attempted to engage my son in conversation.
“What are you reading?” he asked gently, drawing my son out of his book-induced trance.
“Percy Jackson. It’s the last one,” my son replied before turning his eyes back to the page.
“I think I saw one of those movies. What’s the book about? Do you like it?” This friend kindly pulled my son a bit more out of himself.
My son’s eyes lit up, and he began describing the characters and a bit about the challenges they faced. After a couple of minutes, he returned to his book. I walked over to him. In an attempt to get him joining our group a bit more, I suggested he go back in the water and make another trip down the waterslide, but he was content to lay in the sun and read.
I went back to my thoughts, my silent imploring that my son join the group and open up. “What will these friends think? Will my husband think our son is being rude by sitting off by himself and not joining the group? How can I get him to put his book down and come over?”
As these questions and concerns whirled in my head, this new friend looked at me and said,” I love that he is so into that book. It’s so rare to see kids reading real books anymore.”
And there you have it. God speaking to me about my 9-year-old while I was busy trying to figure out ways to get my son to be something other than what God created him to be. My son is an introvert and a bookworm, just like me. Social situations with new people are stressful and awkward for him. He had spent time in the pool with the other kids, but he needed time to be alone – time to re-energize and relax. In that instance, I saw my son as God sees him: a precious little boy who loves a good story. I had been so concerned about what others would think that I was missing a beautiful moment that illustrated exactly who God created my son to be. I was projecting my own social anxiety onto my son.
Tonight, as I studied the story of Zacchaeus climbing a sycamore tree to see who “this Jesus was,”(Luke 19:1-10) I began to formulate some questions about Zaccheaus: Did he disregard his attire, his status, and the others around him, in reverence for the King? How often do I let the world or those around me dictate my actions? How often do I temper my response to God because I don’t want to look foolish in front of the world? Why don’t I run ahead with expectancy for what Jesus will do and instead always end up steps behind him, discovering his truth after the fact?
Just as Jesus knew exactly who Zacchaeus was and even called him by name, God sees us for who we are. He doesn’t place impossible expectations on us or judge us if we make a slight social faux pas. He is not concerned with the formalities of this world. In fact, more often than not, He guides us to work against them, to be ourselves as He designed us to be. Jesus saw Zacchaeus, the chief tax-collector, peering down from the branch of a tree as it extended over the road. Instead of accusing Zacchaeus of being a “sinner” as others were doing, Jesus praised him by requesting to join Zacchaeus at his home and pronouncing him “forgiven.”
So, through this short tale in the Bible and a friend’s simple words to me during a vacation by the pool, I have learned to celebrate who I am (and who my son is) just a bit more: introverts who devour real books the way others devour breakfast cereal. And, while it is still a good idea to join in the fun and games when you can to build your social acuity, curling up on a lounge chair with a good book that takes you on an adventure is okay, too.