As I was clearing the clutter from the kitchen counter top, I saw it – a familiar scrawl on an unassuming piece of plain white copy paper, nestled among an assortment of mail. I recognized the script, a haphazard jumble of letters; I know the boy whose hurried hand fashioned it. The note was from Ethan, my middle son. He had used a “baby in the bulrushes” tactic, hiding the note just enough but not too much to avoid discovery. I pulled it from the stack for closer inspection. As I suspected, it was a Christmas wish list. It read:
“EthANs WiSh LiST: I hoPe I GeT A RAt. I HOPe I Get A RAt OR Some KiND OF Pet. i’LL ALSO Be HAPPY iF i DON’t Get A Pet. i DON’T WANT MUch MORe PResseRe ON YOU. WRihT heRe FOR SUGGASTiNS.” The bottom half of the page consisted of several rows of wandering lines, numbered one through seven, with the final line labeled “extra.”
I smiled. My initial response was one of delight. I thought it was such a sweet note and it stirred all my motherly emotions. As the reality of the request began to sink in, though, my delight turned to disbelief then disdain. Eek! A rat? Seriously? That is the ONLY thing he wants for Christmas? The last thing a mom of six needs is another living thing that eats and makes messes; a creature that requires upkeep and attention. The wish list was tender and touching, but it was also perplexing and problematic. As I stood there pondering what a good parent might do in this situation, Ethan breezed into the kitchen.
“Hey buddy! Got your note,” I said.
“Yeah,” he answers.
“So, you really want a rat? A rat. That’s all you want?”
“Why a rat?”
“Well, they’re really smart, they bond with their owners, you can teach them to do tricks, and I just really want something that I can love and play with. Something that’s just mine, not like Daisy or the cats.”
“Um-hmm. Well, why’d you give me space here to write my suggestions?”
“Well, you know what I like. And a rat’s really all I want, but if you have any other ideas, I’m okay with that. You usually pick good stuff.”
And then he was gone – out the door, down the hill, and on the trampoline in a whirlwind of singular motion. And there I was, frozen in a moment of parental indecision.
Not knowing what to do, I read the note again. And again. And again. Each time, I hoped some plan of action would materialize in my brain. I loved this boy, but did not love the idea of a smelly rodent with a hairless tail living in my house. And suddenly, a strange thing happened. Each time I read the note, the words began to fall out of focus and the spirit of his supplication began to emerge.
He didn’t say he wanted a rat; he said he hoped for one. He assured me he’d be happy regardless of the outcome. He voiced his concern for me as a busy mother with an already abundant load of responsibilities. He trusted me enough to choose for him, believing that I would not leave him with disappointment because I know and love him. I began to see in his simple scribble these words: HOPE. JOY. LOVE. FAITH. I was so concerned about all the complexities that I couldn’t see the simplicity. The heart of his Christmas list was the message of Christmas itself.
I thought I was going to teach Ethan a lesson in the seriousness of pet ownership, but quickly realized that I was the one being schooled. His note wasn’t rooted in selfish expectation. It was rooted in our relationship. His note wasn’t a request. It was a dialogue that began the moment I held him for the first time in our hospital room, and it was all bound up in love.
His note was a picture of the kind of dialogue God wants to have with me. He has been in love with his creation since the moment he spoke it all into being. He loved us before we knew Him. He does not wish to withhold His goodness from us. He took the form of a baby and dwelt among us to save us. Those who call upon the name of Jesus cannot be separated from Him. He is our hope. He desires our faith. He deserves our trust. We should live in contentment, believing His promise that what He has planned for us is much greater than anything we could ever ask for. He takes pleasure in giving His children good things! What could be better than salvation and eternal life with Him, where hope, joy, love, and faith abound?
Often I bring complexity into the conversation through my sin or my lack of faith. My prayer this Christmas is that I would fully appreciate God’s love for me. I pray that my faith would be more like that of a child, resting in relationship, trusting without question, and believing in a hope that does not end.
And so I smile again. I am reminded of God’s love for me and my love for this boy. The disdain disappeared and delight returned to my heart. I knew what I needed to do. In asking for a most unlikely gift, Ethan had actually given me one. So I grabbed a sheet of paper and scribbled my own note. It read, “Shopping List: one adorable rat.”