August 2023: Infant Jazz Hands

Bonnie WohllebenPastor's Blog

Infant Jazz-Hands, Saul of Tarsus, and the Everlasting Love of God

Almost two years ago now, when my twin girls Eve and Adah were only a few weeks old, I made a joking-but-also-serious Facebook post about them. The post was about how, of all the things I wanted to teach my daughters—things about the love of Jesus, about the ways of the world, about the innumerable joys and struggles of life—there was one lesson I desperately wished I could get through to them right away. That urgent lesson was, and I quote, “DADDY CAN’T PUT FOOD IN YOUR MOUTH IF YOUR HANDS ARE IN THE WAY.” One friend (who happens to be a theology professor) commented on the post, pointing out the profoundly theological nature of that lesson. His response made me laugh, which was the point of the whole thing anyway. The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized he was right. 

Eve and Adah would cry out with hunger every couple of hours around the clock, screaming for food until we satisfied their desire. They would squeal and screech with increasing desperation, flailing their tiny arms and pawing at their mouths. There I was, bottle in hand, ready to feed them, actively trying to give them the very thing that would satisfy their ever-increasing hunger. And yet their frantic infant jazz-hands made it impossible to get the bottle into their open mouths. I was striving, as tenderly as I could, to satisfy my beloveds with the milk that would make them happy and healthy and strong. Nonetheless, they rejected my efforts with surprising vigor and persistence, not realizing they had become the cause of their own misery. 

Isn’t this a picture of us all—all of humanity, when left to our own devices? Like my sweet little girls swatting away their bottles, we consistently reject our Heavenly Father’s offer of grace, the milk of his Word (1 Pet. 2:2), the water of life that satisfies our thirst for the eternal (John 4:13-14). I can’t help thinking of Saul of Tarsus, later known as the Apostle Paul. Saul was a man who was hungry for religion. He was “educated at the feet of Gamaliel,” the greatest Rabbi of his day (Acts 22:3, 5:34), was ”advancing in Judaism beyond many” of his peers (Gal. 1:14), knew the Scriptures of his people backward and forward, yet he couldn’t see that they were all about Jesus (John 5:39-40, 45-47). He’d heard the preaching of the Christian gospel, yet he approved of those who murdered Christian preachers (Acts 7:58, 8:1). Before too long, Saul himself was chasing Christians down and handing them over to be killed (Acts 8:3, 9:1-2, 26:9-11). The milk of God’s living Word was there, right in front of his face, yet he couldn’t keep himself from swatting it away. How many times have we blindly rejected that same offer of grace?

As a new Dad confronted with my daughters’ flailing hands, I saw that I had two choices. I could have let them go hungry. Wasn’t it their own hands that blocked their mouths? But my love for them made that impossible.

My other choice—for me, the only possible choice—was to take their tiny hands securely in my own large hand, hold my girls close, and feed them at last with the wholesome milk their mother had provided. What I did for my girls is less than a shadow of God’s perfect love and care for his children (Matt. 7:9-11). God might have left Saul to his own devices, might have let him continue to destroy himself and others. But God had decided to love Saul with an everlasting love (Acts 9:15, Gal. 1:15-16). And so he took Saul in his hand. He sent a blinding light, a vision of the Risen One, three dark days of prayer, a brother with a healing word (Acts 9:3-16). Last of all, he sent his Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17-19), the giver of life, mighty to save (Zeph. 3:17).

Brothers and sisters in Christ, our Heavenly Father loves us—loves you—with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3, John 3:16-17). He holds you firmly in his hand (John 10:28-29). Nothing in all creation can change that (Rom. 8:31-39). Why should we ever be afraid?

Dr. Nick McRae
Senior Pastor, First United Methodist Church of Decatur