I love being a dad. It’s a wonderful and glorious opportunity to get the privilege to nurture, care for, and teach your children. But I love the moments when they teach me even more. As a dad, I love the thought of giving my son some decision-making options and leadership opportunities in our family. But he’s four, so sometimes I find myself enduring my son’s desires as a result of my idealistic endeavor. This means that sometimes being a dad leaves me barreling up a steep hill carrying a bike and a baby sister because in one of these “ideal” opportunities, my son wanted to go to the more exciting park. (Initiate common parental activity regret).
This experience brought me and my son into the same struggle. Neither of us correctly calculated the distance of the journey, and soon into the adventure he had ditched his bike. Well, it might be better to say he thought it best that I carry it rather than he ride it. As the walk dragged on, he began to question if he had it in him to continue. I shared his complaints and had similar self-reflections. But I pressed on, driven by a desire to avoid a toddler meltdown…oh, and to be a good example to my son.
Climbing the final hill to the park, our experience began to divert. My son couldn’t see what lie ahead, because he’s four and not that tall. But I could. The park was on the horizon, and a surprising dialogue ensued between us. My son was on the brink of giving up, literally. He was lagging behind and growing in his disinterest in our journey. But from my perspective I knew it was almost complete. Now I just had to convince him that what he longed for, a fun day at his favorite park, was just ahead. So I began to express excitement at what I saw, but it didn’t seem to change his disposition. I continued to no avail. Then a question came to mind. It was a scary question, as any parent would agree. But a necessary one.
“Son, do you trust Dadda?”
I awaited his response. For four years I have been stumbling through attempts to love and serve my son in order to build a trusting and loving relationship. Was there any fruit of these labors? Any budding hope of a job well done? I longed deeply to know that he trusted me and that he would follow me as I led him to what I knew would be his delight and joy. And then, in those few seconds of deep, metaphysical reflection and life-altering contemplation, his answer came.
(Parents, if you’re reading this, maybe you can share in the grief of such moments. Let’s take a breath together, share in the slow dropping of a tear and the stab in the pit of the stomach, and press on.)
The questions in my mind continued to race, and naturally, I pondered my very existence. But then it became clear to me why he was so quick to say “no.” It wasn’t so much that he didn’t trust me at some deep level, thus revealing my ultimate failure as a parent (at least I hope not!). Instead, it was much simpler than that in his mind. Toddlers are not able to contemplate abstract ideas and concepts, so I’ve heard and been taught. Trust is very abstract. Ultimately, my son didn’t have a trust problem, he just had a vision problem. He couldn’t see the park. It wasn’t there before his eyes. All he knew was the growing lactic acid building in his legs as the hill looked infinite before his eyes. He saw and could feel the rolling blacktop heating up his feet inside his cute miniature sneakers. He felt the avalanche of perspiration building its stinky film on his body under the hot sun, soaking and soiling his shirt. Those were real and concrete. And all those real, tangible manifestations told him that his journey was hopeless. It maybe even made him question if there really was a park at all.
Now, as this progressed, some theology began to crystallize in my mind. I was immediately struck with the simplicity and sanctity of such a lesson learned from my little one. And if you’ll let me dote on my child(ren) a bit, I am so grateful for him (them) because instances like these remind me just how much of a gift he (they) are to me. (Parents, if you will join me again for another wiping of the tear…).
Strangely, this whole park extravaganza mirrored some recent life and spiritual experiences. Like my son climbing the hill, there were some circumstances in my life that were causing me to question what was real, to ponder what was worth my tangible sweat and sacrifice. Over the past couple of years, disillusionment about life with God has been a repeated theme. And although doubts and concerns have plagued me, I am grateful for such disillusionment. The very nature of an illusion is that it isn’t real. To be disillusioned is painful, yes, but it is pregnant with grace. I desperately want what’s real in this life and the one to come. I am sure you, dear reader, want the same. However, pressing circumstances can make it almost impossible to see the grace and hope of a disillusioning experience. The pain of loss, of doubt, of confusion, of disappointment, of dissatisfaction, all can scream at us that this is and maybe always will be a fruitless, hopeless journey full of vanity. But what my son taught me that sweaty and tiresome day is that when it comes to life and faith, sometimes I just need to grab hands with someone a little bit taller than me, someone who can see over the hill and beckon me to trust.
Ultimately, I am called into such a relationship by my Creator and Father in heaven. And often, that call or beckoning reveals itself in those whom he has placed around me. Friends, family, my spouse, strangers, and yes, even my toddler, all can be pathways of the Father’s invitation to trust, not blindly, but based on his history of faithfulness.
May I always have the ears to hear and the wherewithal to notice the profound lessons awaiting me through loved ones, strangers, and especially from my children.