I was three years old the first time I tried to run away from God.
My mom and I had spent the night at my grandparents’ house and I woke up to the sounds and smells of breakfast being cooked. I padded out to the kitchen, probably getting underfoot as Grandma was pouring juice for everyone and setting places at the table. There had been plenty of visits and meals at Grandma’s before, so I knew the routine: the grownups brought all the food to the table, we sat down, I was supposed to be quiet while Grandpa or Grandma thanked God for the food, and then we ate. Like most parents, my mom tried to keep me from drinking my juice or milk or whatever until after I had eaten (a habit that has stayed with me through adulthood), so in my three-year-old mind, beverages were off limits, too.
Well, this particular morning, I had climbed up into my chair, and without even thinking about it, reached across for my cup and took one sip – one sip – of orange juice. And panicked. The grownups were all still in the kitchen; nobody had thanked God for the food yet. So I did the only thing I could think of.
I ran and hid under the bed.
When breakfast was ready and my mom came looking for me, she found me curled up in the fetal position, sobbing hysterically and completely terrified. Not exactly a scene any mother wants to come upon first thing in the morning. She kept asking me over and over if I had hurt myself, and all I could do was cry. I was scared. Scared that Grandma would be mad at me, and worse yet, that God would be mad at me and take me away because I drank juice before grace was said. It was a fear so strong that decades later, I can revisit that morning in my mind and feel the same physiological response. The only thing I managed to say to my mom was, “I drank the juice.”
My poor mother, having to discern that her three year old daughter was having a theological meltdown without even understand who God was.
This is where the memory falls apart in my mind. I don’t remember what my mom said to me to comfort me, although I imagine it was along the lines of “nobody’s going to be mad at you”. The natural things that one would say to a preschooler who thought her life was over because she prematurely sipped orange juice.
It makes for an endearing bit of storytelling now, and thankfully, I’ve learned a bit about God since then. And perhaps the biggest thing I’ve learned is that God is the embodiment of love. I so deeply wish others of my faith would learn this. God’s grace is bigger than any of our fears. I’ve long since stopped fearing God; it’s people that I still fear. And I know that in the midst of my fears, no matter how deep inside myself I try to hide, God is still going to find me. And cover me in love. And wait until I feel love, and not fear.
I recently revisited Grandma’s house for the first time in many years (she lives several hundred miles from me), and I took a peek into the rooms where I used to stay. Those beds don’t seem so big anymore; I’d have a hard time fitting underneath them now. But just to be on the safe side… I passed on the orange juice.