I'm sure that everyone knows the feeling. One day you hear yourself talking, and you think, "I sound just like my mother" (or father, or best friend, or whoever). I still find myself using the same incredulous tone modeled to me by my boss at my first job out of college. And I find myself, especially when talking to my husband, using the indirect discourse mastered by members of my family: "Do you think you'll find time to take out the garbage tonight?" I don't intend to sound like them. Sometimes I don't even want to sound like them. I've just been around them enough that the words that come out of my mouth have been shaped by their presence in my life.
So I shouldn't be surprised to hear Penny and William start to sound like me. Penny and I have a routine when I put her to bed, where I throw her a series of hugs as I walk out the door. One–over my left shoulder. Two–over my right shoulder. Three–between the legs. Then I turn around, from the doorway and face her again. Four–a big embrace thrown through the air. Recently, she has started returning the favor, but she tries to up the ante by throwing me six hugs, seven hugs, eleven hugs. And the other night as she was hurling those embraces in my direction, she exclaimed, "Oh my goodness gracious!" And I heard myself talking. Same tone of voice. Same emphasis.
With William, lately, it's been snuggling. Last week, one morning, the three of us were very tired. Penny suggested snuggling in her bed. So she and I lay there together. It took William a while to figure out what was going on. But eventually he left the room and returned with his two blankets, pacifier, and two giraffes and a small pillow and climbed in with us. Every day since, he's climbed into Penny's bed, pulled up the covers and said, "Snuggle."
This week, I read Ephesians 5:1-2: Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Imitate God. Well there's an impossible command if I've ever heard one. There are some clues from the verse itself about how to do this. To imitate God involves first knowing that I am loved and then loving others in return. And love doesn't look like warm fuzzy feelings. It looks like sacrificial service, even to the point of suffering.
But those thoughts are still rather abstract. It's watching my children that helps me understand that this impossible command is really an invitation to intimacy. My children teach me that imitating anyone comes from spending time with them. They teach me that imitating God involves acting like a child in God's presence. Watching how God does things. Listening to how God talks. Walking through every action of my day with God as my companion. Maybe someday, I'll catch myself, even if just for a moment, loving others like God loves me.