We had a wonderful Vacation Bible School this week, except for the part that I messed up. Most of our kid currently attend the Spanish service, so we designed our VBS to cater to their needs. Unexpectedly, six English speaking teenaged young ladies also showed up. I didn’t have a specific job for VBS, so they became my group. We had enough English speaking adults sprinkled around that they could do snack and craft with everyone else, but I led the lesson and games side for them. These young ladies were new to our church, and I wanted to give them a good experience.

At this, I failed. They would tolerate my lessons for a short amount of time. They did the same with the games that I prepared. Eventually, they would get bored and wander off. If they didn’t like the food that our kitchen crew cooked, they would express it. Even if they asked for a specific game, if you didn’t play it the correct way, they would declare it “not fun” and seek out greener pastures. By the end of day three, my patience quotient had run out. I called a group meeting and tried to talk to them about respect and behavioral expectations. They failed to see any issues and simply repeated that they hadn’t done anything wrong. The next day, they didn’t return. I blew it. I feel terrible about the whole thing.

No requirement exists for them to like or appreciate what I did. My job should have been to try and give them the best experience possible. They could choose to enjoy it, or they can choose to express boredom and wander off. I can’t require them to simply like everything and go along with it. Polite society constructs all these norms around pretending to like something in order not to hurt the feelings of the host. We come to expect that’s how the world works. Everyone, at least to your face, will tell you how wonderful it is. Instead, the young ladies expressed their real choices, their true opinions. If they sat and listened, they genuinely desired it. If they wander off, they truly didn’t enjoy it. To know true appreciation, one opens oneself up for rejection. That the thing with choice. You can get the joy of being chosen, or you can get the pain of not being chosen. To truly trust a positive choice, the negative choice has to be on the table.

One can read the Parable of the Sower a couple of ways. It boils down to who made the soil rocky, path-y, thorny, or good-y. Did God or the person make the message stick or not? If God did, then, a whole ton of choice gets taken out of the human condition. If the Lord makes it so that some receive the message openly and others do not, then, we neither choose to follow God or reject God. How real can a relationship be if you cannot control your involvement in that relationship.

I prefer the version where it’s us choosing to be fertile ground for the Word or not. God’s grace reaches out to us and creates opportunities for us to encounter God. We can be drawn in by this or choose to wander off. God may construct a system of costs and benefits for participating or not. God certainly makes a compelling offer, and to live outside of a relationship with God runs counter to humanity’s core wiring. I read the Parable of the Sower as saying, “You want to be a path and have this all bounce right off you? Go for it” or “You want be shallow soil and never let faith take root? In the end, you do you” or  “You want to focus more on the thorns of this life? No one can stop you.” That way, for those who do let the God’s grace sink in and begin to bear fruit, God can know that devotion, that connection, that worship comes from a genuine place. It’s not coerced or predetermined. Acceptance freely given forms the bedrock of any true relationship, and I believe in a God that wants these kinds of relationship with God’s creation, even as I sometimes struggle, when I run into that in my own ministry. We can say yes, or no, or no and then yes, or yes and then no, or yes and then no and then yes (and so on).  

To me, Free Will forms an essential pillar to our relationship with God. It also introduced a lot of pain. We can choose to not follow God, not have that strength, power, and redemption in our lives, and God lets us make the choice. We can choose to hurt others. We can choose to degrade our planet. We can choose to waste God’s good gift. God doesn’t stop us and instead tries to pull us towards something better. That way, our “yes” to God can indeed be our own acceptance not an automaton’s forced movement.