Ishmael and Isaac

Two days ago my wife shared with me what happened at the store after she and our son Yan had got the groceries. “The moment we got out of the store Yan ran up to me and grabbed all the heavy bags I was carrying insisting that he should carry them. I was pleased to see him so enthusiastic but I was also flabbergasted: how did it happen? I don’t recall ever making him help us with the bags. He just wanted to do it!”

“Well, I answered, maybe he was watching us carry the bags all the time, and we never demanded that he should help us. So after a while he just wanted to do it. It’s only natural… or supernatural?”

In his “Comme un roman” Daniel Pennac tells a story of an amazing literature teacher who was able to bring his apathetic high school students to fall in love with reading. When he first came to that school he found his students bored to death and hating the very concept of reading. So he just began reading to them – “Perfume” by Patrick Susskind. Weeks passed. And he just read. Nobody was interested. Or it seemed so.

The students were suspicious – when would he start demanding something back? Give assignments etc, ask them to write compositions, analyze the text, memorize extracts… But he didn’t. He just read. After about a half a month, one student raised her sleepy head from the desk and asked: “Why would she do something like this?” A conversation ensued which no one else seemed to follow.

But after a while more students joined in, and by the time the book was almost over, the class was, for the most part, all ears. But one day the teacher said: “You vacation starts tomorrow, so you will either have wait till the next semester to hear the ending, or read it yourself.” By the end of the day the school library ran out of copies.

The principal was, of course, beside himself: “How will they learn to write compositions? Who are you to neglect the curriculum? How will they learn literature if you don’t make them do anything?” The reply was: “Just wait and see”. When the children were asked to write an essay on the “Perfume”, the results were outstanding.

Daniel Pennac’s states his principle as follows: “Give with no strings attached.” Sooner or later, the giving will produce a response. And then the impossible will become possible – believe it or not.

You can make a person read, but you cannot make him love reading. You can make a person study math, physics, languages, history, music, but you cannot make him delight in these things. You can make a person behave morally but he will not love morality. You can make a person to act righteously by coercion but he will never do it out of desire.

Love is only born in response to gift. An ultimate gift – with no strings attached. If you want a child to love something give it to him and demand nothing back. Then you wait. A long-long time. One day he or she will pick up your bags and say: “I want to carry those”, or “I want to read myself”, or “I want to play music”, or “I want to read the Bible”, or “I want to play tennis”.  I want…

Don’t give up even if you have been waiting a long time. You may start worrying: “What if he never will…”, “Maybe I should make him do something?” You may. It will probably work. You will get results. But not love. You will get Ishmael, not Isaac. A child of your own efforts, not the child of promise. The child of promise is born without your help. You cannot beget anything by your own effort except trouble. All we must do is wait. And give – with no strings attached.

When the response comes you will be absolutely sure that it came from God. And it will come unexpectedly, as a great reward. Because God desires our love He gives and demands nothing back. Because love cannot be coerced He has to give with no strings attached. Because He’s after our love He makes Himself the ultimate gift knowing it’s the only way to get our love in response.

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