Last Saturday, my wife Liz and I kept our youngest and oldest granddaughters.
The youngest, Hagan, went down for a nap about an hour into their visit.
Harper, 5, always wants an afternoon snack — always something sweet. I suggested baking a can of cinnamon rolls while the toddler was asleep.
"Can I help you?" she said eagerly.
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"Sure you can."
We washed our hands. I carried a kitchen chair to the counter for her to stand on.
As I removed the rolls individually from the container, I handed them to Harper to place in the pan.
After she'd arranged them, off-center and spaced too far apart to get them all in, I distracted her a moment while I realigned them.
I put the loaded pan in the oven, warning her to stand away so she didn't get burned.
We watched a few minutes of football until the oven's timer sounded and the rolls were done.
I cautioned her again before I removed the hot pan and set it on a thick towel. She climbed back up on her chair.
I opened the little can of icing that came with the rolls, then handed her a dull knife. She couldn't get the hang of removing the icing from the can, so I scooped a bit of it out myself with the blade, then gave her the knife and let her spread it on a roll. We repeated that eight times.
"I'm good at this, aren't I, Papa?" she said. "I'm a good baker."
"You are very good at this," I said. "I'm glad you're here."
The icing was lopsided, double thick on a few rolls and thin on others. I distracted her once more while I evened it out.
She climbed down from her chair. I poured her a glass of milk. I put her chair in its proper spot at the table. She sat down to eat a roll.
The whole time, she beamed and talked, delighted at having helped me bake.
The secret — the kind of secrets we adults keep — is that her help really wasn't much help. In fact, it created extra effort for me. I could have baked those rolls more efficiently without her.
Having her at my side wasn't a benefit to my baking. But it sure was a blessing.
I let her help not because I needed her kindergartner's efforts, but because it made her feel good to think she was doing something beneficial and grown up.
I also let her help because helping me might teach her rudimentary kitchen skills, or at least motor skills, that will be of use to her later.
More than anything, though, I let her help me because I love her wildly and enjoy her presence and delight in listening to her chatter and like to indulge her.
Afterward, it occurred to me that maybe that's how God sees all my awkward, off-center efforts.
I help God a lot, you know.
I preach sermons and lead a congregation and write newspaper columns about spiritual issues and occasionally appear on the radio to discuss similar matters.
Hey, some days I'm not sure what God would do without me.
Maybe you feel that way about yourself.
Then, once in a while, I recognize God in fact did get along without me quite effectively for eons. He managed to create and run an entire universe, while also dealing with the needs and wants and squirrelly behaviors of billions of previous men and women, not to mention all our contemporaries.
Chances are he doesn't need my aid at all. Doesn't need me to accomplish even one of his missions.
Chances are he could do things quicker and better if I wasn't underfoot. Maybe, in fact, he has to fix my lopsided efforts when I'm not looking.
Chances are he's merely indulging me.
But that's not necessarily bad.
It might be very good.
It might mean he feels about me the way I feel about Harper.
It might be he's pleased to ignore any inconveniences of my help just so the two of us can hang out together.
It might be he loves me as if I'm one of his children, or, better yet, one of his grandchildren.
Maybe it amuses him to watch me think I've helped. Maybe he likes to see that smile on my face. Maybe he just enjoys hearing me chatter.
Maybe he feels the same way about you.