I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll probably say it time and time again: God bless Panera Bread. It’s a microcosm of society. From coast to coast, I’ve seen Christians unite at Panera after church and homeless people sit by the fireplace and little old ladies knitting and playing Scrabble. I’ve also seen students of all ages working with tutors of all ages over coffee and danishes and textbooks, a grouping of which I’ve proudly participated.
I’ve also seen moms and dads bring their little ones to Panera, the kids ogling the pastries in the window at eye-level, pointing and shouting at this one and that one until the parents give in and carry a plate of doughy goodness to their table.
Today I ventured to Panera like countless times before and saw a dad with his two small boys, maybe seven and five years old. They sat right next to me, and even with my earbuds blasting Explosions in the Sky I couldn’t ignore them. They were bouncing all over the table, and they even interacted with a young married couple with a baby girl.
“Hey buddy!” the younger boy said to the baby, reaching for the little hand.
“Please don’t touch her,” the wife firmly said.
“High five!” the older boy shouted to the baby not ten seconds later.
“Please don’t touch her,” the wife repeated.
I couldn’t help laughing behind my laptop screen, and then I watched the boys and their dad gather round the circular brown table for their meal. The younger boy volunteered to pray.
He closed his eyes and said, “God is good, God is great . . . “
It was a familiar prayer from childhood, one I’d not heard in quite some time. The simplicity of it. The childlike innocence behind it.
I remember a time when I could pray a prayer like that.
I’m not saying I don’t still believe God is good and God is great. I do. Against all cries and chaos around me, I do.
But it’s a harder prayer to pray today than it was two decades ago. No doubt.
God is good? God is great? He is?
But what about loved ones who die?
And what about friends who abandon us?
Enemies that attack us?
Struggles and temptations and pitfalls we face and succumb to, over and over?
How can we continue to declare with childlike enthusiasm, “God is good, God is great”?
I heard the boy’s prayer and I actually winced from a table over. “Enjoy it while it lasts, kid,” I heard myself cynically thinking, wondering what trials he’ll soon face, the relationships he’ll carefully develop and then break, and the vices he’ll cope with in unhealthy ways.
There’s no way around it. The struggle storms are coming.
And yet we take heart. We see the smoke thickening the air and descending like a Blue Ridge wildfire, and despite the trembling in our bones and the throbbing in our gut, we close our eyes and bow our heads and say that God is good. God is great.
We say it to ourselves, we say it to God, and we say it for each other.
The little boy next to me says it for him and God and his family at a circular table, unaware in his 5-year-old comprehension that his six bold words are also traveling to the table next door.
This is Day 12 of #MakeNovemberTolerable. Keep checking back every day this month for new stories and discoveries of beauty where beauty may be hard to find.