Monday, January 30, 2017

Applause of Heaven - An Adoption Update

We celebrate Sensi regularly, making up for lost years of parental praise. We applaud little leaps and mighty triumphs. We praise him when he cuts his own food. We praise him when he wipes his own butt. We praise him when he finagles his own zipper. We praise him when he dresses himself. We praise him when he shuts the door, makes his bed, clears his plate, cleans up his toys, and finishes his homework.
Sensi ran upstairs and put on his blue shirt to "Join the Blue Team." We praised him for it.

As these motions become habitual, we scale back the adulation, but we're always on the lookout for new advances to cheer. Sensi continues to develop, progress, and nestle into our family. The language of praise is one simple way we can reaffirm our son.

Liz has developed an endearing routine to motivate Sensi with his homework. When he finishes a problem, reads a sight word, or articulates an idea, she proclaims, "You're so smart." She seals the compliment with a light jab to his shoulder. Sensi always beams with pride before retaliating with a punch of his own (always harder).

In moments of praise, Sensi's expression is priceless. His smile erupts, eyes twinkle, right arm bends at the elbow, and fingers splay out, pressed against his cheek. (Typically the middle finger shoots up first). Praise sends a positive shock through my son's muscular system. He cannot hide his delight.

One time while sitting around the table, Sensi performed a remarkable feat. He consumed a vegetable (that wasn't broccoli). Amazement gripped me and Liz; Claire and Margot sat in awe. We responded in the only appropriate manner: We gave Sensi a slow clap. He suffered sensation overload - grinning and jerking and flipping us the bird.

Sensi is not the only beneficiary of praise in our home. We praise the girls for their kindness, patience, and creativity. We praise Liz for her empathy, intentional love, and smashing good looks. We praise the dog for peeing on a light pole. And we praise me for endless displays of wit and wisdom.

The language of praise speaks to a universal need for belonging and significance. A biblical word comprising these concepts is honor. According to Bruce Malina, "Honor is the value of a person in his or her own eyes (that is one’s own claim to worth) plus that person’s value in the eyes of his or her social group. Honor is a claim to worth along with the social acknowledgement of worth." (The New Testament World, 30)

We all long for divine honor. We all want to hear the applause of heaven. Grasping for divine approval is in our DNA as image-bearers, for God "crowned [us] with honor and glory" (Psalm 8:5b). And for those who believe in Jesus, "praise, glory, and honor" awaits us the revelation of Jesus (1 Peter 1:7 cf. 5:1, 4, 10).

The ecstasy Sensi shows at a word of praise gives me a foretaste of the heavenly honor I hope to receive. In "Weight of Glory," C.S. Lewis explains this illustration:
I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child - not in a conceited child, but in a good child - as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised... I thought I could detect a moment - a very, very short moment - before this happened, during which the satisfaction of having pleased those whom I rightly loved and rightly feared was pure. And that is enough to raise our thoughts to what may happen when the redeemed soul, beyond all hope and nearly beyond belief, learns at last that she has pleased whom she was created to please.
Lewis does not dismiss how praise turns to vanity or how ambition clouds our desire for approval. He does, however, help explain our native and innocent hunger for praise. And he encourages us to live for divine approval.
The promise of glory is the promise, almost incredible and only possible by the work of Christ, that some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive that examination, shall find approval, shall please God. To please God... to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness... to be loved by God, not merely pitted but delighted in as an artists delights in his work or a father in a son - it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But it is so.
These reflections by Lewis bolster my resolve to speak praise to Sensi and my girls. Any fear that I may be "overdoing it" is quieted by the notion that I am preparing them for the applause of heaven. Some glorious day, I want to stand by as God says to them, "Well done." Then I'll watch their smiles erupt, eyes twinkle, and a shock of delight transform their humble bodies into glorious ones.

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