I once read a book by Venerable Fulton Sheen in which he explained that parents are entrusted with the immense responsibility of giving children their first impression of God’s nature. What an incredibly honorable but also daunting task! Be too lenient and a child may perceive the Lord as a distant presence who has little concern for us. Be too rigid and they could come to regard him as a harsh and merciless judge who consistently awaits our next misdeed, ready to appoint a punishment.
Because of this, I attempt to address difficult situations with my toddler in a way that will accurately demonstrate not only mercy and loving patience but also the very real existence of boundaries and consequences. Of course, more often than I’d like to admit, I completely fail at this.
I realize, though, that this goes a step further because I encounter people on a regular basis who have never been given an accurate portrayal of God. They’ve never felt delighted in, sought after, welcomed or loved by someone reflecting the nature of our heavenly father. They’ve never been instructed in a way that offers guidance and insight as opposed to condemnation and shame.
In my mind, preparing the way means being open when the Holy Spirit presents an opportunity to reveal the character of Jesus to others. It means delighting in those who are hungry for affirmation, seeking those who have lost themselves, and gently, lovingly instructing those who are uncertain of the way.