Tayla is now almost three years old. When I study her comings and goings it opens a whole new vista for me. In her childhood innocence she’s illuminating the meaning(s) of a kingdom of God life for me. She is guiding me to return to what Paul Ricoeur calls a ‘second naïveté’ – refreshment after times of critique.

She can now count to six, almost flawlessly. Yet, with six numerical tools in her pocket she never, and I want to emphasize this, never ever counts her way through life. Instead she has adopted a peculiar way of structuring her actions and gatherings.

Where I would use numerical categories to organize, label and make sense of life, she counts in terms of the relational structure(s) that have impressed her most. When she collects flowers, rocks, leaves, balls, grass blades and basically any object, she makes sense of it by naming it in terms of relations.

She doesn’t pick up two rocks; it is a ‘daddy rock’ and a ‘mommy rock’, a ‘daddy ball’ and a ‘mommy ball’. Accumulation, for her, is relational. She teaches me, what I now call the ‘mathematics of love’.

When her brother was born she expanded her relational categories. She now picks up a daddy, mommy, sister and brother ‘whatever-she-can-find’.

The other day I officiated at a marriage and talked about this ‘mathematic of love’. I realized that Tayla is living in a relational narrative that is giving her sense and security. Some days I think about children who don’t have a mommy or a daddy and it saddens me to think that they’re not living into this loving mathematics.

I also think of church leaders and how this new mathematics could potentially change our hearts and attitudes towards the people we serve. Pastors are notorious for reducing people to numbers. I sometimes call it the ‘excel syndrome’ – we shrink people’s glorious lives into spreadsheets designed to impress and dazzle.

Taking my cue from Tayla I sometimes wonder….

What if we started dealing in this ‘mathematics of love’? It could be amazing. Instead of answering the question “How are your church doing?” with a numerical answer like “Fantastic we are now 200!” What if we told stories about Lollie, Suzette, Schalk, Jacques, Anne-Marie, Louise, Dewald, Tayla and Liam? I think it might just help us to inch closer to our God who, if you read through the endless genealogies, also speaks in the mathematics of love.