I am the fourth of four children and the only son. I appeared late on the scene and by the time I was a teenager my older sisters were grown and out of the house. Technically, I am not an only child, but for practical purposes I was one during my teenage years. There are some advantages of being the last child and having your parents all to yourself. When asked where to go to eat, I had the lone vote. When asked what movie we wanted to see, I held the children's majority. When I had a ballgame, there were no other sibling conflicts to work around. Life was good as I was the center of my parent's universe. Their love for me taught me a lot about God's love for his children, but on the other hand I fell victim to a somewhat egocentric and distorted view of God's love as well.
I am the father of four and, although my oldest two are now out of the house, at one time I was the father of four teenagers. (There ought to be some kind of award for that!) As a father I wanted to please them all, but I soon realized that whenever you make a decision for one it often times was met with the disapproval of the others. It was so simple when I was a kid - "let's do what Todd wants" was the simple solution around our house. But as a father myself I had to explain to our children that decisions have to be made with all four children in mind, not just the wishes of one. Being a father is difficult.
I recently began to think about this is terms of God, my father. If I struggle with four children, how difficult must it be for him? He loves each of us dearly, but decisions he makes simply cannot accommodate everyone. Each "yes" he grants means a "no" to others. I am not an only child, and as I form my opinion and idea of God I must realize that I am one of many that he loves.
This has had an especially significant impact on my prayer life. I often want God to answer my prayer and have failed to be aware that many other equally-loved children are making requests as well. I often have been critical of God for not prioritizing my requests, but now I am starting to realize that his decisions are best for the family, not just for any one particular child.
When Jesus' disciples came to him one day and asked him to teach them to pray I see this principle subtly brought out in the first two words of what we often call the Lord's Prayer. He begins his teaching on prayer with these words - "OUR Father." As we come to God with praise and requests we must first realize that we are part of a community, part of a family. We must realize that God is not just my father, he is our father and my prayers will be received and answered with the family in mind. Some of his decisions will please me, others may not. I have to be content in my knowledge that he loves us all and some of his choices may puzzle me and even anger me, just as some of my decisions please some of my children and anger others.
Being our father is difficult, but I need to trust that he is leading us well and one day there will be a time when all his children's desires will be answered. But until that day I live with the comfort that God is my father, and encourage you that he is your father, and remind all of us to patiently bear in mind that he is our father.