A God Who Is in the Details
For my youngest son’s first Christmas, Santa Claus brought him a lovely, plush, stuffed animal rabbit. Over the last two years, this little rabbit went from being soft and grey with a velvety pink nose to being rather drab and bedraggled, his fur matted, his grey now dingy, the pink on his nose all but rubbed off. Earlier this month he lost a leg from being over-loved and had to have it sewn back on. My son adores this rabbit and calls him “Bibi.” Bibi goes everywhere with Abbott – all our errands, daily mass, on our walks, and, of course, to bed. It was inevitable then, I suppose, that Bibi would one day be lost.
It was bedtime on Sunday evening, and Abbott began to call his buddy to get ready for bed. “Bibi! Bibiiiiiii!!! BIBI?!,” his cries becoming increasingly frantic as the stuffed animal failed to answer him. I began to search for the rabbit, becoming progressively more frustrated myself as I turned the house upside down looking for him. I wracked my brain trying to remember the last time I saw him. Abbott began to cry, and my four-year old, Beckett, also began to cry in what was either sympathy or selfish pity (they share a bedroom, and Beckett knew a night without Bibi was apt to be a rough night for the both of them). My own eyes began to tear up – I knew it was silly, but it felt as though Abbott’s entire babyhood was wrapped up in that silly rabbit, and now it was suddenly gone.
After walking mentally through our activities of the day, I concluded Bibi must have been left behind at mass that morning. The church, of course, was closed by this point, so there was nothing more to be done that evening. I explained to Abbott, “Bibi is having a slumber party with Jesus at Church, isn’t that so fun? What a lucky rabbit!” Surprisingly, Abbott was both satisfied and comforted by this, warming to the idea of his rabbit keeping a midnight vigil outside the tabernacle. We all knelt and prayed for Bibi’s safe return, asking for St. Anthony’s intercession for good measure.
I had trouble sleeping that night. I was so worried Bibi may not be at the Church. What if we left him somewhere else? What if someone else took him home? I fell asleep praying the rosary. “God, I know this is so silly, but please, PLEASE bring Bibi back to us.”
I called the church office as soon as it opened the next morning, and after a short search, Bibi was found under a pew. The look on Abbott’s face when he was reunited with his best friend was a look of pure joy, and I spent the entire rest of the day feeling more ridiculously loved, cared for, and seen by God than I had in months, all over a ratty stuffed animal.
Skeptics, of course, may call this pure coincidence or good luck. Does God really care about a stuffed animal? How is it that the God of the entire universe could possibly be concerned with a two-year old’s toy? At one time in my life, I probably would have agreed with them. God was the guy I called in only when things got really tough – He was the closer, the pinch hitter. Like some magic talisman, I couldn’t rely on Him too much lest some of the charm wear off. Thus, for years, I rarely ever prayed. I’d perhaps cast up a last minute prayer before taking exam, plead for a good result from a job interview, or beg for a miraculous resolution to whatever latest scrape I had gotten myself into – but only once it became apparent that all my own personal strength and skills were exhausted.
This is not the God we worship, however. We worship a God who is not just in the big events, but also in the most minute, intimate details. How do we know this? Because life, down to the nittiest and grittiest details, is the very essence of who God is. He is the Great I AM. He is the viriditas, as St. Hildegard von Bingen writes, the very “greenness” that gives life to all from the mightiest redwood to the tiniest blade of grass. All is in Him, “[f]or in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). And not just because one day, millennia ago, He set the world into motion and then sat back, leaving us to spin out on our own, but because He constantly wills our existence. If He ceased to think about us for even a second we would utterly vanish. Stop and wonder at that – each individual breath you take, each beat of your heart, occurs only because God wills it, His viriditas sustaining every movement, every pulse, every blink of your eye.
This is not some far-flung deity that we worship, more concerned with his own affairs on some insurmountable Olympian peak, only concerning himself with us lowly humans when someone of incredible and rare beauty or talent catches his eye, as with the gods of old. No, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, our God, is incredibly intimate, coming to us in the most personal of ways: a tiny embryo in the womb of a virgin, a wafer of bread so thin it dissolves on your tongue the moment it touches, the whispers of the confessional, the union of flesh in holy matrimony. This intimate oneness is what He desires with each of us, to possess each of us fully without abandon.
To be truly known, however, is terrifying. It’s why Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden after eating the forbidden fruit. Deep within ourselves, each of us knows something is broken, something is amiss, so we try to hide it in professional accomplishments, material goods, Instagram fame, or even the external trappings of holiness. When we do this, we become convinced, even subconsciously, that we don’t really need God for the little things. We can rely on our own talents, our own grit and pluck, that tenacity that has seen us through a thousand times before. For a time that seems to work, until it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, our world crashes down around us. We hit rock bottom.
Even in that moment when we are at our lowest, however, God extends His grace. If we choose to respond in humility, we realize that it was never just us and our own talents getting us by – it was always Him. We cannot hide from Him. “You have searched me, Lord, and you know me,” writes King David, both the notorious sinner and the man after God’s own heart, in Psalm 139.
“You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
God already knows us, better than we could ever know ourselves. He is infinitely closer than we could ever comprehend, and He still calls. We have nothing to fear, because even in our incredible unworthiness, God is still for us, supplying what we lack! (Romans 8:31).
When I first started to rediscover God as an adult after spending several years as the proverbial prodigal, God sent a new friend into my life who began to help me open my eyes to this incredible intimacy. A faithful Catholic who was still simultaneously cool somehow (at this time of my life I still assumed all “super” religious people were dowdy fun-sucks), she prayed for everything. I mean everything. She prayed for resolutions to the most minor details of life – that the weather would be pleasant, for relief from a mild cold, that a trivial misunderstanding would be worked out.
I truly was astonished. At first, I thought it was a bit quaint, but then I began to realize the beauty in it. She knew, without a doubt, that God cared deeply about those “little” things. She trusted Him to take care of them, and by trusting Him with those minor details, she gained confidence that He was also taking care of the bigger trials in life. There was literally nothing she ever had to face on her own. That kind of intimacy with God, a kind that is not dependent on you or your own worthiness, but is faithful and constant and true, is deeply attractive. I realized that it is what I had been searching for all those years but had never found in the constantly shifting, mercurial tides of the world.
God is not the closer. God doesn’t want to be relegated to the extremes of your life – the highest joys and the deepest sorrows. He wants all of us, every detail, and He reaches to us through them. This is why I can turn in confidence to Him over a stuffed rabbit. It’s also why I can turn to Him without fear when I mess up royally. “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call on Him while He is near,” the prophet Isaiah writes (Isaiah 55:6). He is nearer than we can imagine – do you see Him? He is in the details.