When I look back at my childhood there are a few memories that stand out to me as those that played a big part in my development. One of those is about cooking with my mom. I remember pulling up a stool and standing at the counter to help her make lasagna (imagine my surprise when I found out it had cottage cheese in it), potato salad and, my favorite, chocolate chip cookies. I am convinced that these experiences not only gave me confidence in my ability to cook (some might say overconfidence) but also a close relationship with my mother.

Partly because of this modeling and partly out of necessity, I have tried to involve my children in cooking with me. We have made bread, muffins, pizza, cookies, cakes, casseroles – anything that can involve stirring, pouring and even a little measuring. Through this process my children have broken several things but learned many more. Hannah is four, but I am proud that she can recognize a butterfly cut in a chicken breast or pork chop.  She is only a few steps away from making homemade pizza all by herself and she can break eggs like a pro.

I don’t know if you have ever tried to cook with children, but there are a few guarantees if you do. First, you will make a huge mess. Flour, sugar, milk, red food coloring (yeah, that actually happened once – and I have the stained cabinets to prove it) – all will find their way to places other than the bowl for which they are intended. Things will be spilled, dropped, sloshed, and overfilled. Your kitchen will look as if the Pillsbury Dough Boy spontaneously combusted on your counter top – and all over your kids. This leads to the second guarantee: cooking with your kids will take much longer than cooking by yourself. Aside from the time spent cleaning up the mess mentioned above, you have to supervise each step one at a time. There is no multi-tasking when cooking with children, especially if there is more than one. You may step away from your work area to get something from the refrigerator once – but only once. You can’t leave the two-year-old stirring the cake batter while teaching the four-year-old to measure cinnamon.

The third guarantee is that your children will be very proud of themselves when they see (and taste) the finished product. Nothing makes a child beam like the announcement that they baked the cake for the potluck or that they made dinner for the family. And that is what makes the extra effort and time worthwhile. It doesn’t matter to them that they only did what you asked them to do and that you held their hand as they stirred or poured or mixed. It makes little difference to you that you actually did most of the work while they made your job harder. All that matters is that they were a part of creating something with you, and that sense of accomplishment becomes a part of who they are and who they will become.

Sometimes I get frustrated with God because He doesn’t work as quickly as I wish He would. I question His timing and His decision-making because He won’t act like I think He should. The God who parted the seas certainly can provide relief to disaster victims. The One who raised the dead could easily heal a cancer patient. Why does He allow conflict to go unresolved and threaten relationships between husbands and wives or church families when we all know He can do anything?

I certainly don’t want to oversimplify anything, and I don’t presume to know anything definitive on these topics. However, I wonder if He isn’t like the father who wants to teach his children to cook. God could do all those things, but His primary concern isn’t to create a painless existence. It would probably be easier for Him if it were. Rather, He is more focused on helping His children become more like Him, and that means teaching us to comfort those who are hurting, to bring aid in a disaster, and to be agents of peace in a world of conflict. He wants to teach us these things so we can be His hands and feet to the world. It will be much more messy if we work at it, and it will certainly take more time, but how much better off will we be when we can look back and see that, with God’s help, we were able to be involved in His work?

Throughout the Bible we find story after story about God choosing someone unlikely to do His work. He works with them over time to help them develop the faith they need, and then through them brings about His desired result. One of my favorites is Gideon, maybe because I can relate so well to Him. During a time that the Israelites are greatly oppressed by the people of Midian, an angel of God appears to a frightened, timid young man and calls him a “Mighty Warrior.” Judges 6:11-16 records this first conversation.

The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

“But sir,” Gideon replied, “if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.”

The LORD turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

“But Lord, ” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

The LORD answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

Then, through a series of tests and proofs that God was going to be with him, Gideon finally believes and leads the Israelites to victory. However, as I read it I realize that Gideon didn’t actually do much to defeat the Midianites. God did all the work. He used Gideon to lead the group of 300 to go up against them, but God was the one who created confusion and caused the Midianites to kill themselves. I sometimes wonder why, if God was going to just kill the Midianites himself, why go to all the trouble of getting Gideon ready to lead? It leads me to the belief that, while God didn’t need Gideon, He obviously wanted him.

This account reinforces to me the belief that God’s primary concern is my development. He could easily fix all the things that are wrong all around me, but instead He wants to use me to help Him. He can heal a broken heart, but He wants me to develop the ability to give comfort. He could provide relief to those affected by disaster, but He wants me to develop a giving and compassionate heart. Yes, it will take more time and be more messy than if He were to work alone, and ultimately it is Him who will be doing all the work. But, it is important to Him to create within me a sense of accomplishment and a love of His work. He loves to see my excitement when I realize that we did something good together so that I will continue to seek out more opportunities to work with Him.