Last fall my friends Ben and Melissa added a baby to their family. I was excited for the news, and waited impatiently for the day they would invite me to come see the little girl. As we were sitting around chatting, and watching the baby doing baby-ish things (that is to say, not much of anything but make faces and noises). Ben said, "Do you want to hold her?"
I said, "Well, yeah!"
I have to admit, it had been a long time since I'd held a newborn in my arms; most of my friends have passed the age when they're adding children to the family, so opportunities to hold newborns are few and far between for me.
As I cradled her in my arms, I thought, How different this is from the way I hold my nephew who is four years old! This little girl is so fragile compared to him!
And I remembered a word that crops up in the Bible from time to time: gentleness. Colossians 3:12 tells us to clothe ourselves with gentleness (meekness). Galatians 6:1 instructs us that when we confront someone caught in sin, we must do it gently.
And what does that tell us? It tells us that, like newborn babies, human beings are all fragile. Not, in most cases, physically fragile, but spiritually fragile and emotionally fragile. How we treat one another is a reflection of our understanding that, as Psalm 103 says, we are formed from the dust of the earth, and there is nothing more fragile than that.
This past summer we took the teens in the youth group to Popham Beach for a day. This is one of our "yearly" outings; we've done it every summer for quite a few years now. We spend the day playing in the water and playing on the beach (ultimate frisbee, beach volleyball, etc.).
My nephew Daniel went with us this past summer, and at one point he wanted to go down near the water and build a sand castle (I guess he wasn't interested in playing volleyball). So he brought his buckets and his shovels, and I went with him down to an empty spot where we could build.
Our castle was a very nice one. It had four towers, and a wall connecting all the towers. There was a moat all the way around the castle...and it was a very big, very deep moat. No one was going to breach the walls of our castle!
But, by the end of the day, when we went down to the water for one last dip before heading home, our castle was already starting to deteriorate...I think someone had stepped on our wall in one spot, and the moat (which we had built to protect the castle) was eating away at the foundation of our walls...
When we go back next summer, I have no expectation that our sand castle will still be there. In fact, I will be downright shocked if we get there and discover that the castle still stands strong and defiant against all destructive forces.
There's an interesting verse in the book of Psalms, which has long been one of my favorites, and it makes me think of our sand castle...
God has compassion on us, because He is the one who formed us, and he knows exactly how we were made (he knows our frame -- or, as the NIV says, "He knows how we are formed"). The book of Genesis reports the rather unusual manner in which God created man:
So there you have it...we're just castles in the sand. That's all we are. Extraordinary, when you think about it, that God should love us. I have to confess, I didn't have a huge amount of love for the sand castle I built. I'm not shedding any tears over the realization that the castle is probably long gone. Yet God loves us.
Far too often we have this picture in our minds of God sitting up there in heaven scowling down at us, eager to zap us with His righteous indignation every time we drop the ball, every time we fall flat on our faces. God is laughing to Himself, saying "Ha! I've got you now, you miserable piece of trash!"
But God is not like that. When we drop the ball, when we fall flat on our faces, God says, "Well, I did make him out of sand, after all."
The really extraordinary thing (in my mind, anyway) is that God intends to take these castles of living sand and make something that will last forever out of them.
That is truly amazing.