Jesus and Peter walked on water. The Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. Neil Armstrong planted his bootprints on the moon.
Next to those, the most astounding footsteps I know were just three or four in number, and took place in my mother’s kitchen.
My son – compulsive, train-obsessed two-year-old boy – was crouched over the toy train track Grannie had set for him in a spare nook of kitchen floor. It was time to go. Knowing his propensity for emotional explosion, I’d issued a five-minute warning, then a two-minute warning … not that he had any such grasp of time, only to ready him for imminent disappointment.
Finally, time was up. “Okay now, let’s go,” I said. “Come put on your shoes.” Expecting the customary collapse and outburst, I was shifting position to lift him off the floor.
What I did not expect was my son to rise – wailing, yes, and angry, tears streaming – and step across the wooden track to sit in my lap. Willfully. Voluntarily. Impelled by nothing but the sound of my voice.
He bawled as I pulled on his shoes, but still, my heart welled with undiminished pride. In fact his tears only enhanced my respect, as they were proof of his willingness to obey in the precise moment he found obedience detestable. In that act, he valued our relationship more than his own desires.
What a concrete illustration of Jesus’ teaching on true obedience:
There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work today in the vineyard.”
“I will not,” he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, “I will, sir,” but he did not go.
Which of the two did what his father wanted? (from Matthew chap. 21)
Easily my boy could have said, “Yes, Daddy,” yet remained crouched over his trains. Haven’t I done as much when called away by parent, teacher, boss, spouse? How much more strength of heart it took for him to rise and step toward me – me, the very cause of his displeasure!
Witnessing such willful yet unwilled obedience, I feel I understand God’s heart a little better:
Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. (from I Samuel chap. 15)
In wailing, my son remained true to himself; in walking, he remained true to me. He was sincere enough to let me know exactly how he felt, holding nothing back, and I respect his sincerity. Yet a stronger motivation, a desire to cooperate, propelled his feet, and I respect that even more.
Am I my son’s equal? Sadly, no. Frequently I disobey God, choosing against what’s best for me, persisting in stubborn self-direction.
I earnestly hope that in every future temptation, the remarkable sight of my son’s moving feet beneath his tight red, tear-streamed face comes to my mind.