Seven Year Olds Know Best12:03 PM
I remember the fire hydrant the most.
It was a grayish September day a week or so after two planes crashed into tall buildings and my brother climbed the tree out back to watch Air Force One land. I hadn't been thinking about anything, really, just wandering around in the grayness, barefoot and pensive. I thought about Jesus and the cross and Jesus on the cross and the nails piercing flesh -- and I stopped there cold. The nails piercing flesh -- not a Precious Moments Bible concocted character but flesh, Jesus flesh. The nails pierced flesh -- and why? Why did He take it, the whips stripping away, the crowds hating, the nails tearing skin? Sin. Sin did it. We. We did it. We nailed Him there.
And the thought overwhelmed me: sweet Jesus bleeding His life out on the cross for me, for sinners, and it wasn't fair and it wasn't right but He did it anyway, did it because -- because He loved. (I cried.) And He didn't love just in a general sense, in the way I'd always taken it as a Sunday school girl; He didn't just "die on the cross" in the exhausted, repetitious altar call way.
At age seven, by the fire hydrant, in the tears and the grayness, I understood for the first time the thing that turned the world upside down: Even if I was the only person in the whole world, Jesus still would have died for me. He loved me that big. And when I saw His great love, His arms stretched wide on the bloody cross, I loved Him then, loved Him with every ounce of seven-year-old existence. I told my mom about Jesus' love, about the unfairness of the perfect Son of God dying the death of filthy sinners. And I said yes, Lord -- I love you. I want to be saved.
Cause: God || Effect: Whole-hearted devotion
It's that simple.
For a very, very long while, I doubted that salvation. I told it in my testimony but qualified it with, "But I'm not sure I was really saved back then." For one thing, I fell into pettiness and lukewarmness maybe six months later, if not sooner. For another, I struggled and struggled and struggled with whether I was saved at all. I never let on -- no, I was too good a kid and too mature a Christian to admit that I couldn't sleep some nights lest hell fire wake me, that I prayed that magical sinner's prayer over and over, that I squirmed whenever the pastor or the youth leader issued mass invitations to salvation. I must have been saved several hundred times over the course of those years, if salvation comes through a prayer. I must have rededicated my life about half as much (since rededication seemed more of a milestone than starting over again).
And that silly little jaunt by the fire hydrant -- it taunted me. The one time I was secure in my salvation was at seven years, when I didn't fully grasp my own sinfulness, when I didn't know anything about the great theological debates, when I didn't know really anything except that Jesus died because He loved me and because of that, I loved Him. Only that.
It didn't take long to discover the back story of God's holiness and the spiritual agony Jesus faced that was far greater than nails driven into hands. It didn't take long to learn of my own sinfulness and how it grieved and angered the God I rebelled against. It didn't take long to get embroiled in the theological debates and tangled up in the doubts. Ironically, the only thing I felt sure of then was that Jesus didn't love me and I didn't love Him very much either. So I belittled that childish "salvation" that hadn't sustained me through rebellion and pain and spiritual bondage.
Now I'm not so sure.
I think that I knew better when I was seven years old. It was simple, it was pure, it was innocent and it was all God in me. I wasn't striving in my own strength, I wasn't overanalyzing, overcomplicating, I wasn't doubting. I merely saw that God loved me and responded to it with a full heart. Cause and effect.
That's why Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belonged to such as these -- little girls and little boys like little seven-year-old Bailey who mourned sin and danced under the banner of love.
God peeled away the layers of fake spirituality and filled me with His love and I responded to that: now I no longer doubt my justification. But that continued salvation -- that sanctification -- that's where I want to fall back on works and effort. I want to come back to God -- where I don't place my trust in how much I love God but in how much God loves me. For the love of God is a mysterious thing: when applied liberally, love springs back. Always. We love because He first loved us. I need that again: the simplicity of faith, the power of love. I want to worship this God who is love and rejoice in His love and be filled with love.
Then the doubts fall away. Then the love for God blossoms. Then the faith grows. Don't believe me? Ask the seven-year-olds.