If we are hungry for meaning, and God longs to feed us, why then aren’t our souls as constantly satisfied as the stomach of a baby “breastfed on demand?” Why does God feel so far away? Let’s listen to the divine voice that the author of Psalm 81 seems surprised to hear:
I hear a voice I had not known:
“I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah*.
Hear, O my people, while I admonish you; O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide and I will fill it.
“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.
O that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways!
Then I would quickly subdue their enemies, and turn my hand against their foes.
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before him, and their doom would last forever.
I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
*Meribah, in Exodus 17:7 and Numbers 20:13 is the place where the people of Israel, suffering from thirst in the wilderness, grumbled against God and Moses, and Moses struck the rock, and abundant water poured forth.
Parents, does your heart sink like lead when you watch the soft baby-eyes of your child slowly grow creases under wary lids of hurt as he grows and ventures into the world? Do you cry out inside when the small hands that once built joyful towers of blocks are now deftly building invisible walls for your preteen to hide behind? When you see your child’s strong shoulders bowed down under unnecessary loads, do you long to reach down and lift them from her … only to watch them turn to mist in your hands? When you see a longing in her face that will forever go unmet in the piles of glittering things that she so carefully gathers around her, do you beg her to stop in words that she cannot hear? As the heart of a parent bleeds tenderly for a child, how God must weep over us, God’s children. How God must suffer when God’s children cannot hear God’s forgiving words, instead clutching pain resolutely to their breasts.
Read the above portion of Psalm 81 again. Can you hear God’s longing for an intimacy with God’s beloved people, for a deep relationship that penetrates their whole lives, their whole community?
“Don’t you know me anymore?” God cries. “Why won’t you listen to me? I belong to you, and you to me. Have you forgotten?”
As parents, we of all people can imagine how God feels, as God watches us scrounging in the dust for pitiful crusts of bread while we could be spoon fed with wild honey. How God must rejoice when we stop our digging for a moment and taste the fine bread and sweet honey that God holds out to us.
The honey that the psalmist describes is “honey from the rock,” referring to the rock that Moses broke open in the desert with his staff, the rock out of which miraculous water flowed to assuage the thirst of the wandering Israelites. Just as God promises to give the people of Israel a rich and abundant land, a land “flowing with milk and honey,” so God promises to fill our souls with the smooth, golden sweetness of God’s presence—a presence that quietly covers and lingers, almost hidden from sight, molding and blending into the hard surfaces that it encounters. Indeed, God’s Love, when poured into the stubborn molds of this world, seems to become a hidden thing—a life-giving gift bound up in the scraggly rocks that line the wilderness path. It takes some kind of breaking, some kind of cracking open, before the rocks can reveal their sweetness. Ours is a God who waits patiently and resolutely in the shadows, looking for the cracks, waiting for the opening, always ready, like a parent, for any chance to coat our insides like wild honey, to slip a quiet hand beneath a burden, whispering “I love you,” while we sleep.
Did you know that there is an African-American Gospel group called “Sweet Honey in the Rock?” Listen to their song, “Remember” on YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vW2TpW4gCt8. As it plays, go to the kitchen and take a spoonful of honey. Look at its rich golden color and the way that it clings to the spoon. Admire its slow, golden waves—the way it runs everywhere in all directions, leaving a sticky trail wherever it goes. Slowly taste it, and notice how it clings to every nook and cranny in your mouth, molding itself around your teeth and tongue, covering every surface with sweetness. And spend a few moments remembering—remember joyful times of intimacy with God, and ask God to come into your life again, like wild honey from the rock.
With toddlers and primary children: Serve a piece of challah or other soft bread for breakfast or a snack with some good, gooey honey. Tell your child that your love goes all around them like the honey goes all over the bread. Show them with a big, silly hug. Then wonder with your child: “I wonder how God’s love goes all over the whole world like this honey goes all over the bread?” See what they say. Let them show you what God’s love looks like, using their bread and honey, even if it gets them sticky!
With elementary school children: Serve a piece of challah or other soft bread for breakfast or a snack with some good, gooey honey. Talk with your child about where our flour comes from, and about how bees make honey. Before you eat, or as you bake, say a prayer thanking God for the bees that share this good honey with us and the farmers who grow good wheat for our bread. Talk briefly about how God wants to take care of all of creation, just like you want to take care of them. Share an intimate moment with your child by talking about a time when you felt frustrated because you couldn’t help them out of a tough situation, even though you really wanted to, and how much you always love them. Listen to the “Remember” song and let them name some beautiful things in the world that bring them closer to God.
With teens: Enjoy a snack of some fresh bread and honey with your teen, even standing around in the kitchen. Bake with them, if they’ll let you! Teens often need to be doing something before they’ll open up. If they don’t know about the blog, share with them why you’re serving bread and honey by mentioning your exploration of Psalm 81. Concentrate on explaining that it’s hard for you sometimes not to be able to “fix” their problems for them anymore, now that they’re getting older and more independent. Be honest and vulnerable in this intimate moment! Ask them how they feel when their friends are struggling, and how they help/ can’t help. Wonder how God must feel when God watches us struggle without us letting God into our lives to help. Just see where the conversation goes. If your teen likes music, you might even want to play and share the “Remember” song, asking them to name some beautiful things in the world that bring them closer to God or Jesus.