What We Can Learn From Harry Chapin About Making Room For God

In 1973, Sandy Chapin wrote a poem about the disconnect in the relationship between her ex-husband James Cashmore, and his father, a New York City politician. A year later, after initially discounting it, her husband Harry Chapin witnessed the birth of his son. Inspired by the experience and in light of his wife’s poem, he wrote the now-famous song “Cat’s In The Cradle.”

After writing the ballad, he commented, “Frankly, this song scares me to death.”

Cat’s In The Cradle is written from a son’s perspective about his father who is too busy to spend time with him. Despite his many requests to join him in different childhood activities, his father continues to respond with little more than vague promises of spending time together in the future. Nevertheless, the son continues to admire him, promising that someday “I’m gonna be like you, Dad.”

At the end of the song, the roles are reversed. The father asks his grown-up son to visit, but the son responds that he is now too busy to make time. The father then reflects that they are both alike, saying “my boy was just like me.” The song’s chorus utilizes imagery related to childhood (hence the title, “Cat’s in the cradle”). You can read the lyrics by clicking here.

While other songs like Eve Of Destruction generate more consideration about its worthiness for the title of the Hippie Movement anthem, Cat’s In The Cradle at least deserves honorable mention. That song embodies the life trajectory of far too many Baby Boomers (and their kids!).

Every time I read the lyrics or listen to the song, my heart physically hurts. Perhaps it hits too close to home on a number of different levels. I see myself in the song as a son and a father. But I also relate to this song as a child of God. Fortunately, God always, always, always makes time for us.

Ironically, Chapin was either an agnostic or an atheist. In my walk with God, I so easily live as a functional agnostic, behaving as if God doesn’t exist. Even as a pastor and Christian writer.

The Purpose Of Lent Is To Make Room For God

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. The purpose of Lent isn’t to punish ourselves for our sins over the previous 12 months. The purpose of Lent is to reflect on how we live as functional agnostics, and then make room for God.

To a great extent, observing Lent is the attempt to avoid the pitfalls of this song. How often do we give God the leftovers of our hearts and priorities? Then at the end of our lives, we look back with great regret over the many missed opportunities.

Last month, I realized that I was giving God my leftovers. Despite my many “spiritual” activities, my soul was overwhelmed with a hunger  far deeper than the richest food could ever satisfy. I was becoming the anti-hero of Cat’s In The Cradle. So, I decided to begin my Lenten fast five weeks early. My focus isn’t mortifying my flesh–it’s creating room for God.

So I invite you to join me on this journey.

How do you make room for God? Please share it with us!

If you’d like to see a brief, interesting video about Lent, click on the video below.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s making room for God by turning off the sports talk and classic rock when he drives. Instead, he’s driving in silence or listening to worship music.


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7 responses to “What We Can Learn From Harry Chapin About Making Room For God

  1. John Moyer

    Admire you as your sports talk fix is pretty habituating, maybe even an addiction.
    I listen to satellite radio, classical music, opera, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and jazz.
    I dislike most worship music, the lyrics seem so lame for the most part. Love choirs, hymns, etc. Maybe I’ll look into that “for Lent.”
    God likes attention from each of us, and not something in a plastic container from the back of the refrigerator!
    Growing up in the “roman” church, the nuns took away our doughnuts on Fridays at school during Lent. We got weak, grossed out, hot chocolate instead.

  2. Georgie-ann

    we’re too self-absorbed,…this is one of our biggest problems,…early on I knew “this life” would never ever “be enough” for me on its own terms, and I “let God know” — (Whoever & Wherever He was,…’cause I wasn’t all that sure about these things) — that I wanted nothing but Him,…& I meant it,…

    meanwhile, I continued to live life,…aware of some resident “emptiness and pain” on the inside, but following normal life paths on the outside,…I can say that He took me at my word, and through all kinds of ins and outs and ups and downs, and big things and small things, and nice people and bad people, I was “led” or “drawn” to and through things that caused me to learn and experience more and more about this God that I was so hungry for, and “normal” life and spiritual life as well,…(and in these “modern” times, don’t think that “normal” is so easy to “know” and find! In fact “normal” can almost be counter-cultural these days, and something one establishes from inner data, rather than from the customary externals,…)

    how do I make room for God?,…(1) recognize the objectively “bankrupt” nature of the “regular” flow of life being lived only for itself, in such a way that I can be willing to detach myself from some of it without resentment,…(2) now I may have both some time and mental space to direct some thoughts and attention to God,…(3) ask myself what questions do I really want to know about God, and maybe “religion” or worship, even some of the kind of edgy ones, because God is way too big to fit all of Himself in a single human formula, and wants to connect very personally with us, so we have to be really personal with Him!…(4) seek some answers through reading, study, prayer, making sure that some of it is independent enough to allow me to hear “my own thoughts” and inner feedback, rather than just swallowing and following someone else’s overly regurgitated God formulas,…the latter is never really fully satisfying anyway,…(5) keep in mind that there are very sure guidelines and principles in the Word of God, that require our respect, and that this isn’t simply a fanciful free-for-all effort to rationalize self-deception and indulge our imaginations,…(6) seek out times, places, spaces, and locations, where we can make our own personal retreat style atmospheres, such as beautiful landscapes and/or sky-scapes, quiet rooms, religious settings,…when you get really good at it, you can also just pray in Wal-Mart or anywhere,…but that either comes now and then as a spiritual “gift” or usually takes some practice,…(7) be humble, be honest, admit you don’t really know what you’re doing,…we will always need God’s help to lead us! Open your heart and share with God in a personally truthful and revealing way,…dishonesty can’t go anywhere in the Spirit, because lies have no real substance, & the Spirit is more real than real, always operating in truth,…lies cannot activate the Holy Spirit, (except perhaps to arouse a rebuke, if one is really persistently cheeky about it!),…(8) expect some love from God & offer Him yours!,…(9) be willing to acknowledge “mess-ups” & to feel sorrow or regret,…God KNOWS EVERYTHING anyway,…(10) be real,…(11) be patient,…(12) be faithful to “pay some real attention” to God in an on-going way,…(13) go to church, read your Bible, listen to favorite Christian music,…(14) make efforts to do some “un-selfcentered” kinds of things,…to get out of the way!,…even make some real sacrifices if everything has “always been about you!”,…(15) or, do something nice for yourself, if you’ve always been “giving yourself away!”,…(16) slow down & smell the proverbial roses,…touch your world,…be amazed,…God loves you!

    Best Lenten wishes!

    • Georgie-ann,
      Your comments bring to mind Jeremiah 29:13: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” I love your ideas. The more I live aware of God’s permeating presence, the less I need Lent.

      God bless!

    • Georgie-ann

      I just want to dedicate this little piece (above) to our wonderful longtime priest, Fr. George Valastro, who died Thursday night in our local hospital. I just now got the news. He was very beloved, and will be missed and long remembered. God Bless you, Fr. George, & thanks for who you were, your prayers, love, faithfulness, and everything you did. Amen.

  3. Georgie-ann


    Not being a “cradle Christian” anything, — (I wasn’t actually baptized until age 33), — Lent isn’t “automatic” to me either, one way or another,…although, I have participated in quite a few different “takes” on it over the years, and I was actually VERY impressed with one season when a group of us actually ate real traditional Lenten meals faithfully together until Easter, which as a result of the preceding “fast” was a huge blast of absolute WONDERFULNESS to experience (with Greek Easter Breads, roast lamb, etc.),…I guess the ultimate in traditional Easter fare! The “spiritual” side of that was really quite “zingy,” if not truly supernatural,…but I do think our hearts were mostly in the right place!

    Other than that,…I’ve often had quite a non-committal haphazard approach, being mostly very “easy” on my (“poor poor”) self! (And I’ve had plenty of really really good sounding reasons and excuses!) BUT LATELY, I am adding a different sort of perspective: appreciating the kind of intangible “benefit” of the “group identity” of Christians doing and being “unified” in a position or effort that really differentiates us from the world’s extremely casual, non-differentiated, “anything goes” and “nothing really matters” mentality,…unity, some common — even very small — intentional “sacrifices”, and being different from the world, these are all sounding kind of good to me right now,…& who knows what a little bit of unified self-sacrificing might actually do for us?,…especially in an election year?,…dare we hope?,…

    Matthew 17:19-21
    19 “Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, ‘Why could not we cast it out?’

    20 “And he saith unto them, ‘Because of your little faith: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

    21 “‘But this kind goeth not out save by prayer and fasting.'”

    I’m hoping,…and doing!


  4. Georgie-ann

    …but I should add: …doing very little really, but trying to do something consistent.

    actually, I’ve aged-out on the Catholic fasting “requirement” for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and I think for not eating meat on those days & Fridays as well during Lent,…but I’m going to try to do those things anyway, this year, which isn’t asking very much really,…and I’m not piling on any other great feats of dietary sacrifice,…just gonna see if I can finally pull this off by myself!,…

    my biggest problems usually are paying enough attention to notice and remember to do it on the right day, and to plan ahead so that I’ll have the right kind of food on hand that I’ll be needing,…the discipline of the timing is the absolutely hardest thing for me,…if I already have some yummy cooked meat just sitting there “left over,” I sure don’t ever “feel like” cooking fish right then,…but I LOVE fish, so I’m just trying to figure out what my biggo problem is here,…am I being a little rebellious, in fact?,…too self-satisfied?,…too comfortable?,…I just like doing things MY way?,…I kind of think so,…hence this effort is singularly appropriate for me, as I have NEVER ever done it “right” on my own yet!

    so, I figure that what I’m really offering up/sacrificing is “habit” and laziness and routine and ease and predilection, and that’s actually probably some “good stuff” to challenge once in awhile,…especially for a possibly positive “Godly prayer purpose!”

    So, here goes,…nothing ventured, nothing gained,…such a very small little effort, that it seems a little “dumb” and unimpressive actually,…and it won’t matter at all if I don’t do it right, really,…and I’m not trying to prove anything,…but it’s what I want to do,…enough for me,…anything more stringent or demanding, and I’m sure I would fall right on my face, fail outright, give up, and lose my focus and prayer attitude,…so, we’ll see how it goes,…

    Loving God is the most important thing!


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