For my birthday last year, I thought it would be fun to have a high tea with my kids and mum. I enjoyed planning it and putting it together as much as the actual party - starting with trawling through op shops to find beautiful, mismatched tea cups.
Miniature cheesecakes, fruit cups, tiny quiches, cucumber sandwiches, chocolate macarons, cupcakes topped with handmade fondant flowers, a table set with lace and glass serving displays. It looked and tasted as beautiful as I’d imagined. We dressed up, sipped (iced) tea in our delicate tea cups and shared a perfect afternoon tea. Bonus being two of my sisters had days off that day and could come too.
My kids loved it so much that they begged to have another one over the Christmas holidays. Remembering how special a time it was, I happily agreed. And then Christmas happened, and New Year and the craziness of getting ready for school and fitting in everything we’d planned on doing on the holidays, and somehow it got to the last few days and we still hadn’t had one.
I was totally run down from being up what felt like half of every night with a teething toddler and not feeling all that great but couldn’t bear the thought of disappointing my kids. So, I threw a tea party together. In one afternoon.
A few pastries and lamingtons on sale at Coles, some chocolate custard spooned into little glasses and topped with whipped cream, cucumber sandwiches, a tub of strawberries and a three-tiered cardboard display I found in the cupboard leftover from a party years ago. I didn’t even remember to pull out the teapot and cups until my daughter reminded me.
No chocolate mousse cups, no special little cheesecakes, quiches or the tiny little ham and lettuce scrolls my older daughter loves which I'd planned on doing. I sat there, eating and laughing with my kids, taking silly photos, and feeling like a failure. I’d promised them a special tea party, and hadn’t even had the energy to make one thing myself.
But as we were sitting there chatting, I asked (probably trying to make myself feel better by remembering my past success) which tea party they liked better, absolutely shocked when my daughter said – without even a thought – “this one!”
I couldn’t understand it. Sure, it was nice but it was nothing compared to my birthday one. I’d spent days preparing for that one. Put hours of effort into each bite. So, of course, I asked why. Her answer ripped through me.
“Because we get you to ourselves at this one.”
She didn’t care whether I’d spent hours making fondant flower toppers or two seconds grabbing a box of pastries. It was the time spent with me which made this one special. I felt honoured and ridiculously challenged all at once.
I love serving God. Really love it. I’ve been involved in lots of various ministries within the church over the years from youth leading to singing on a worship team to serving in a coffeeshop to helping abused women feel like they matter. It’s such a buzz and a privilege to be able to serve God with what he’s given me.
But I wonder how many times I get so caught up in the buzz of serving that I forget why I’m doing it. I want everything to be perfect before I come to God, forgetting that it’s my presence he wants far more than my list of accomplishments.
God wants our best, sure. He loves it when we give all we have to him. But he loves our presence the most. He’s not asking us to run ourselves ragged trying to put on a show for him. He simply wants our hearts. Our attention.
It’s a real challenge for me to stop doing and just be. I feel like I have to prove to myself every minute of every day that what I’m doing is worth something. That I'm worth something. I want the things I care about to be perfect and therefore throw everything I have into what I do. And I don’t think there’s anything exactly wrong with that – until it distracts us from the point. Which is God. And people.
My daughter didn’t need fancy food to make a tea party special, just my attention. That half hour (before my son decided chocolate custard was far more fun to paint with than eat) when I sat down with them and focused on nothing and no one else but them. No lists, no cleaning, no cooking, no running around trying to get everything done or accidentally ignoring them while I chatted to someone else – just being there.
God loves your service but he loves your attention even more. In all your running about serving, don’t forget the reason you’re doing it. Because God loved you first. And he can’t wait to sit down – everything else aside – and spend time with you.