Love you more
Bedtime theology with the 4 yo...
(Just starting bedtime snuggles)
Me: Okay, which prayer do you want to do tonight?
4 yo: My own prayer.
Me: Okay, go ahead.
4 yo: (Sing song voice) God and Jeeeeesus, you are the best ever, I love you more than anyone, I love God and Jesus more than you (looks at me). God and Jesus, I wish I could kiss you and hug yooooooouuuuuu, you are the best everrrrrrrrr. Amen.
Me: (Pause) That was very...original, sweetheart. Thank you.
Martin Luther, in explanation of the First Commandment, writes: "We are to fear, love and trust God above all things." The commandment is to have no other gods, which of course is easier said than done. I learned somewhere as a child that this commandment meant I should love God more than even my mom and dad, which troubled me. How could I love an unseen God more than the parents who cared for me daily? Not to mention my beloved siblings, my constant playmates. Should I place all these second to God? It seemed somehow wrong.
My four-year-old, with his bold pick of God over me, seems less bothered. I'm not sure he really thought about it, as the reader should note that this prayer was accompanied by an interpretive dance of sorts. Prayer can be joyful, which grown ups can forget.
It's tempting to overthink faith, which is seductive if you like to overthink things in general. Do I have to love God more than my spouse? My children? What does that mean to put God first? If my prayer time is interrupted by my child, am I being disrespectful? Is it okay if the child needs a Band-Aid versus just wants a cookie? You could go crazy trying to overthink any of the commandments.
There's a story in Matthew's gospel about the overthinking Pharisees, religious leaders who weren't just overthinking it but also trying to trick Jesus. Which of the 600 laws are most important, they asked Jesus, hoping to fluster him in a debate. Jesus doesn't skip a beat. He replies: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else hinges on these.
I was well past my childhood when the first commandment came into clearer view for me. Martin Luther, in a way, got me into this conundrum of whom to love more, and in a way he got me out of it, too. The way I love God best is by living out my vocations, as Luther understood them: roles to which we are called, gifted to do well and exist to serve God and the neighbor. Mine include my family roles such as daughter, sister, wife and mama, as well as pastor and writer.
The way I live out the first commandment is by loving God through loving the beloved ones in my life. It's not a competition. My holistic love for my children is how I live out my love for God. We don't love God in a vacuum, but rather through the specific circumstances and people in our lives. Love God, love neighbor. Repeat, and see how the love of one informs the other, not limits it.
Loving God and loving neighbor aren't always a tidy pair, though. I felt a call to ordained ministry early in young adulthood but put it off awhile, in part, because I knew my father disapproved. I wanted to love and honor him (there's another commandment I wanted to take literally) so I stuffed away, for a time, my sense of call to ordained ministry. True vocation always catches you up, though. As it turns out, you can love God and neighbor, even when they don't seem to agree.
After my child's "very original" prayer, I snatched that little dancer up for a hug and kiss. He wanted to embrace God and Jesus, but he bear-hugged me instead. We were living out our vocations, and it felt so good.