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When Eugene Peterson Yelled at a Child Picking Flowers

The late pastor and writer Eugene Peterson once told a story about walking in Yellowstone Park with his wife and three children. Peterson wrote:

As my family and I were walking in a mountain meadow in Yellowstone Park, there was a little boy of four or five about 30 yards out in the meadow picking exquisite alpine flowers. It is against the rules to pick flowers in national parks. I was outraged. I yelled at him, “Don’t pick the flowers.” He just stood wide-eyed, innocent and terrified. He dropped the flowers and started crying.

You can imagine what happened next. My wife and children, my children especially, were all over me. “Daddy, what you did was far worse than what he did! He was just picking a few flowers and you yelled, you scared him. You ruined him. He is probably going to have to go for counseling when he’s 40 years old.” My children were right. You cannot yell people into holiness. You cannot terrify people into the sacred. My yelling was a far worse violation of the holy place than his picking a few flowers. Later I had plenty of opportunity to reflect on this, reminded, as I frequently was, by my children.

I do that a lot, bluster and yell on behalf of God‘s holy presence, instead of taking off my shoes myself, kneeling on holy ground, and inviting whoever happens to be around to join with me.

He added, “If we begin by formulating a problem, by identifying a need, by tackling a necessary job, by launching a program, we reduce the reality that is before us to what we can do or get others to do.” Peterson concludes that everything we do in the Christian life must begin with adoration, with a sense of wonder, and with worship.

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