Madison was 3 when she got her first kite. It poked up from the plastic grass of her Easter basket, an elongated bundle adorned with a jolly children’s character, the one that was popular at the moment. I had anticipated introducing her to a dazzling dance in the sky but soon discovered I was far more interested in the kite than she. Madison clearly preferred the things nestled in the colored hay: marshmallow and chocolate candies, sugary Peeps, and a multicolored collection of jellybeans. As she sampled the goods, I prepped the cheap plastic kite, anxious to teach her all I knew about wind and tension, lift and string.
Out in the yard, her little fingers tightly grasped the unspooled line while I tilted the kite to catch the wind and implored her to run. “Go! Now!” The wind is right. Take flight and watch this beautiful thing.
With no instinct for it, she dashed off—her arms held down at her sides as the kite bumped and scratched through the scrubby grasses of early spring. “Let Daddy show you,” I smiled, pinching the line of string with thick fingers and waving my wrist at the air. A great conjuring was underway as the kite leapt up, rising as it was fed line. Madison shooed me off the string, taking the reins only to have it nosedive, crashing like her broken heart.
When we lift Jesus up, high above our troubles, we replace disappointment, fear, and death with peace, faith, and life.
So I coaxed the kite skyward again with my grasp just above hers on the string, working the tension at the top as her emotions rallied. The kite rose, arched, and soared high above us, and I found the moment I’d imagined. But when I turned to see my little girl’s joyful face, I was met instead by a red-faced expression of despair. Her look transformed into a warbling cry, her shaking finger pointing at the pink sneaker that had come untied. The triumph in the sky had been swallowed up by a loose shoelace.
Such is the life in Christ. Ours is a story written from before time, a promised inheritance hidden in Christ, a future where God “makes everything work out according to His plan” (Eph. 1:11 NLT), and we let the spiritual equivalent of loose shoelaces be our undoing. We gravitate to earthly things—what we can grasp and control—and miss the beautiful movements written above, where Christ is seated.
It happens to the best of us. Elijah the prophet proclaimed a three-year drought, lived off a bottomless jar of oil, raised the dead, and called down fire from heaven, and yet he was brought low by a threat from a queen (1 Kings 19:2). After shifting his eyes from the victories of the past and the promises of the future, he ran for his life into the wilderness.
The children of Abraham also had this tendency. Forgetting their deliverance from Egypt and rejecting the direct route into the Promised Land, they came undone—grumbling at God and loathing the very gifts He had given them. Then in slipped the snakes, a terrestrial complaint if ever there was one. The people were bitten, and many of them died (Num. 21:4-6). Yet in answer to their desperate cries for redemption, God gave them a perfect picture of the way out of turmoil. Moses was to take the very image of the thing that undermined them and set it on a pole so that everyone who was bitten could look at it and live.
That lifeline is precisely the hope of rescue we have today. When we lift Jesus up, high above our troubles, we replace disappointment, fear, and death with peace, faith, and life. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21 ESV). This is our rescue, our starting place, and the fixed position for our gaze.
More than 3,000 years later, it is very easy to look dismissively upon the grumbling of those biblical pilgrims and scoff at their shortsightedness. Their faithlessness turned a 40-day hike from Egypt to Canaan into a 40-year Iditarod, and their circumstances only got worse in every chapter of Exodus. But are we really so different, even on this side of the incarnation? How often does the Western Christian say he or she is “starving,” “exhausted,” or “missing out” on what everyone else has or gets to do? Shortsightedness is a common affliction for us as well.
It is very easy to look dismissively upon Israel’s grumbling. But are we really so different, even on this side of the incarnation?
We are so quick to measure ourselves by an earthly scale—by what we have and whom we know as well as our opportunities and challenges, our hardships and blessings. We know these are unreliable instruments compared with the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ, and yet we use them anyway. While the work of God in our life is meant to create soaring, beautiful flight, we are crushed, downcast, and red-faced time and again as we take our eyes off the things He is doing and worry over our “shoelaces.”
Human standards will always disappoint, just as Spirit-less regulations and rituals do. There is a reason the Scriptures use the language of light and life and flowing water—saving faith has a richness and vitality that captures not only our reality but our passion and imagination. We have been raised with Christ, and as a result, we have a new identity as well as the freedom to reorder the way we think and what we value.
Our hardships are very real. No matter how strong our faith is, the howling winds still whine. It matters when our finances crater, when the person we trusted is revealed as a scoundrel, and when the diagnosis is fatal. These things can and should touch us. But when they do, we must remember who sways the wind.
With my daughter crumbling before me, I bent low to tie up the strings that had been her undoing. Her reaction was extreme, but I didn’t want to focus on a trifle when there was so much to see in the sky above. So gentleness, along with a smile, found its way to my lips as we started in again, two creatures harnessing power from on high. Together we trooped forward, our footsteps falling and the kite rising in a channel of air. From my throat came calls of encouragement as I let off the string and Madison ran on, her joy floating backward to me on a stream of giggles.