What I Learned About God Through A Birthday Party

By: Ted Harro

A Birthday Inspiration

A few years back, Gretchen was about to celebrate a landmark birthday. I’m not great at doing obligatory gifts or parties, but when I get an inspiration, I go for it. In this situation, I got smacked over the head with the inspiration stick.

Gretchen loves gardening and visiting well-maintained gardens. I had been fortunate enough to become friends with John Anderson, the founder of Anderson Japanese Gardens, over the prior several years. His gardens are meticulously designed and impeccably kept, so much so that they are consistently rated as one of the top two Japanese gardens in North America. 

John’s adult son, David, runs the gardens. I decided to ask David if I could host a small after-hours party for Gretchen at the gardens on her birthday. 

Then I remembered that there is a traditional Japanese guest house in the center of the gardens. John mostly used the Guest House to entertain business associates throughout his illustrious career. Normal visitors can walk around the Guest House and peer through the windows at the traditional Japanese dining area, being careful not to smudge the windows with their noses.

Feeling bold, I asked David if we could cater a meal for our little group in the Guest House. I thought it would be special and provide a unique atmosphere to celebrate Gretchen’s life. He paused a split second before agreeing to this request.

At that point, I impulsively sprung an even more unusual question. “David,” I asked, mustering up my courage. “I know Gretchen would absolutely love seeing the gardens first thing in the morning. Is there any chance you’d be willing to let us stay overnight in the Guest House?”

Very few people get to stay overnight at this Guest House. I only knew of people like the Japanese ambassador scoring that room.

The pause was a little longer this time, but after a moment, David said, “I think I can arrange that!”

On Gretchen’s birthday, we did what I had thought was impossible. Not only did we get her small group of friends out to the gardens that night, but we were able to keep the whole thing a surprise. The weather was gorgeous. The group was engaged. We shared a wonderful meal in the guest house and showered Gretchen with our love.

I hadn’t told anyone about our plans to stay overnight. So as the night wrapped up, I stood up and said, “Thank you all for coming tonight. I have one last surprise for Gretchen. After all of you leave, she and I are going to stay the night here in the Guest House and enjoy the gardens early tomorrow morning before they open to the public.”’

How God Sees Our Good Marriage Moments

I have to imagine that God was beaming at us that evening. He saw a reflection – imperfect though it is – of the love that happens each moment in the Trinity.

Moments like that – where we get to give and receive extravagant love in our marriages – do something very important. They help us experience the joy of giving that reflects the Joyful Giver. They help us remember that if we can experience that between two bent image-bearers, there must be a good God who is the source of that kind of joyful generosity.

Maybe like me, you have believed the lie that God is the kind of person who you’re supposed to love. But  that if you really met him, he’d be a Cosmic Killjoy. 

This is why moments of pure joy and giving in your marriage matter. As good as they are, they’re a reflection of a God who is better. They teach us that God is actually a person we couldn’t get enough of if we really got to know him. 

When we experience enough of these moments, we won’t just say that God is the Joyful Giver. We’ll feel it to the core of our being. We’ll start to reflexively expect God to be very good, instead of tolerable.  Because we’ll have experiences that tell us everything we need to know.  

When we expect God to be a Joyful Giver, it changes everything.  We’re able to trust God – to really trust him – because we’ve learned that He’s completely good, that He’s the founder of Joy. When that happens, we’ll find ourselves more free of worry and sadness than ever before. 

If, on the other hand, we hang onto the lie that God is a Cosmic Killjoy, it becomes emotionally impossible to want to be close to God or trust Him. Whether we admit it or not, we’ll find some substitute for God rather than entrust ourselves to a dour, joyless person.

Marriage also gives us the opportunity to reflect that joyful generosity to each other. It gives us the chance to be who we were created to be – image-bearers, people who act out in our everyday lives the truth that there is beauty and goodness and love hard-wired into us from the beginning of time. That we were created by love and for love. 

This week: 

  • Take a look back at your own marriage. Pick out a moment or two when you felt connected to your spouse, where you loved each other really well. 
  • Play those times back in your mind. Savor them, like a great meal. Thank God for them. 
  • Remind your spouse of one of those moments. Smile. Enjoy the moment again in your memory.
  • Take a minute to admire God for creating your marriage as a lab for learning these wonderful truths about Him and about yourself.

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