Literal Faith

I often wondered how to realistically accept God’s promises on a personal level. His promises are so grand and unimaginable that as an adult, there’s always a small whisper of reality or doubt that used to hover over my belief. I’d hear Isaiah 43:2 “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze,” and think, Ok, but if I literally walked through flames, I would be burnt.

Years ago, I wrote a children’s Christmas story and submitted it for critique to my local Scribblers Christian Writer’s Group – a talented panel of writers and editors. It took me years to present it to any non-family, non-biased readers, but I had reached a point where I thought the story was quite good. Needless to say, I was eager to hear their feedback. To my relief, they thought it was very clever and had a great new slant on a story that’s been told before. However – there’s always a however in any valuable critique –  when I submitted it to a professional team of writers and editors at a conference, they didn’t see the story to be positioned as I had planned… for children.

“Oh, I don’t think this story is for a child,” one of the evaluators said.

“But it’s about Christmas… and Santa,” I stammered.

“Yes,” they acknowledged, “but children are literal.”

Children are literal? I thought. Mickey Mouse wears gloves, suspenders, and shoes the size of boats… do they think he’s a real mouse?

Their evaluation of my supposed-children’s story took a negative turn when I enhanced a factual story with fictional concepts. In my mind, I took creative license to spin a fable that could be true; but with no evidence of truth, the panel believed it could confuse a child. I guess when a child sees a dog driving a car or a frog transforming into a prince they are certain it is a work of fiction… <insert eye roll emoji here>.

After a second critic’s opinion concurred with the former, I left the room, manuscript in hand, and repeated their words over and over to myself, “Children are literal,” trying desperately to see my story from their perspective.

I honestly didn’t know what they meant, seeing as children are the bearers of the greatest imaginations and make-pretend stories. Surely they would read my story through their creative, childlike eyes. I can’t say that I had clarity or agreed with their advice, but the words, “children are literal” rang in my head for sometime.

That is until one day, about a year later, when I turned on the TV to watch a favorite preacher of mine. His warm-hearted anecdotes, simple as they were, always delivered a deeper message for me. The story he told answered the question that had confounded me. It went something like this:

A little girl came to her father and asked, “Daddy will you build me a dollhouse?”

“Yes,” the father answered, “I will.” He returned to the book he was reading.

A few minutes later, he looked out the window into the backyard where he saw his daughter carrying armfuls of toys, dolls, and tea sets.  After watching her make trip after trip, he approached his wife.

“What is Melanie Jan doing?”

“Well,” the mother said, “you promised to build her a dollhouse and she believed you, so she is preparing for it.”

The father quickly put down his book and ran to the lumberyard to purchase building supplies to build the dollhouse. He didn’t do it because he wanted to, or because felt like it; he did it because his daughter had the faith to believe he would do what he said. Her faith motivated her to action; and in turn, her faith in her father motivated him to action.

It’s no wonder Jesus tells His disciples, “Unless you come like little children you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” It’s not complicated for a child to do this; they take words at face value, which is why Melanie Jan was moving her toys to the proposed site of her dollhouse. It was as simple as believing the words her father said.

As adults, we recognize that there are two dimensions to our words. What they actually mean – the literal definition – and what we mean by saying them – the figurative implication. The latter is where we developed the term “figure of speech”. Most adults would subscribe to the idea that Melanie Jan jumped the gun – figuratively speaking. But, in her innocence, she prepared for what her father promised. As should we!

Our God does not mince words. He wants us to take His promises at face value. If He says we can move mountains with faith the size of a mustard seed, He means just that. When He says come boldly to the throne of Grace, then boldly we should come. God doesn’t just want us to believe in Him, He wants us to believe Him, prepare for His promises, take Him at His word, and do it with childlike faith. If Melanie Jan’s father jumped up and ran to the lumberyard in an instant, think how much more quickly our heavenly Father can be moved to action because of the faith we put in Him.

While I may struggle to accept the final opinion of the writer’s panel, I do accept this: God cares for me, He loves me, and He saved me… literally.