I met an angel today at Mass.
I was pretty sure it was going to be one of those Masses. Peter was refusing to wear shoes. The girls felt that the 40 degree temps did not warrant tights or coats. Billy wanted to wear a suit jacket with a very casual polo shirt. It was the baby’s nap time.
But we went. Billy with a casual jacket. Katie with socks and her Marys Janes (shoes, not candy). Jenny with sandals and no coat (whatever). Peter with his shoes on the floor.
At church, I went in with all the kids except the unshod one. Bill stayed to coax him into cooperation. By the time Mass began, they had slipped in at the end of the row, and Peter remained quietly over there pretending to nap on the pew. Mary fell asleep during the homily.
After Mass, I turned to see a very old woman talking to Bill. I sidled down to hear the praises of my well-behaved children, for I knew that’s what it was. Having spent most of every Mass for the last month or two in the back with a squirmy toddler, and after last week’s debacle with Peter slicing his head open during Communion, I knew that to get through Mass without some “issue” was remarkable.
The woman gave me the glowing words that I needed to hear about my children being so good. Then she gave me even more: she told me how impressed she was with my husband. “What a good father,” she said, “So tender, so involved. How well he handled the little one (Peter).” She was nearly in tears, and she had my eyes welling. What a sweetheart.
Out in the car, I joked: “You can fool some of the people, all of the time…”
Bill laughed and said he had told her she was lucky to catch him at a good moment (the parking lot just prior to Mass not being a very good moment).
I’ve been pondering over the last few weeks how readily we accept new friends for who they are, even despite pasts flaws or sins, while we linger over the past with those we have known a long time. You can never forgive your brother the time he totaled your car, even though he bought you a new one and it happened twenty years ago and he was 17…but you can admire your hard-working boss who is a recovered alcoholic and spent 3 years in jail on DUI charges. Or that girl from high school might forever be a floozy…but that woman you respect from church with a sordid past awes you with her conversion story.
And I’ve been thinking about how God sees us in (at least) four dimensions (time being the 4th). I think C. S. Lewis used the two-dimensional example in Mere Christianity: we see a pencil in three-dimensions. If we were only two-dimensional creatures, we wouldn’t see the pencil, we would see only cross-sections of the pencil. We could never really be able to imagine that the circle of lead surrounded by some wood and a thin coating of paint was a pencil.
Similarly, God sees us…not just who we are today, or who we were a decade ago or who we will be the day we die. He sees us in our entirety. When we brood over past injuries or freeze in our minds the way someone used to be, we are clinging to a cross-section of that person and refusing to accept that that isn’t who they really are, any more than a pencil is a circle of lead surrounded by wood. And when we accept the imperfections of someone’s past, or present, or future, we get a teensy bit closer to seeing the whole person as God intended that person to be seen.
Today, that old woman saw my husband at his best. I’m sure she’s not foolish enough to think he never raises his voice or gets annoyed by the antics of his three-year-old-I-don’t-want-to-wear-my-shoes-kid. But she saw his capacity to love and his ability to get a disgruntled tot to behave for one hour (without using duct tape).
And her message to both of us, from where she sits and through her eyes: what a good father.