My wife is currently in China on business, as is the case quite often these days, and my four-year-old daughter Salina is home alone with Daddy. Lately, she has reminded me on several occasions what a awesome blessing being a father is, but also what an incredible responsibility a parent faces from the time a child enters the family until the time said child goes out on his or her own. I suspect the responsibility doesn’t end there, either.
Although Salina is only four, she is already participating in the soccer program at a local church. It is a great program for children and is entitled, “King’s Kids.” The program emphasizes not only soccer, but the spiritual life as well. Salina enjoys playing and her mom and I enjoy going and watching the kids go at on the soccer pitch.
After about the fourth game of the season, I noticed that my daughter had the habit of giving the ball to the opposing team whenever they approached her. If she was running down the field “dribbling” the ball with her foot other kids, as they should, would try to intercept her and steal the ball. What I noticed was that with Salina, stealing the ball was unnecessary. If an opposing player headed toward her, she merely passed the ball to her. This, of course, drove her coach a bit crazy but, to the coach’s credit, she well understood that these were four-year-olds here, not miniature, female versions of Pele.
Eventually, I made the decision to get to the bottom of this tendency my daughter had of turning the ball over so often. “Salina,” I asked her. “I have noticed that you often pass the ball to players on the other team when they try to take the ball away from you. What’s that all about?”
“Well, Daddy,” she said with eyes filled with innocence. “You told me I should always share. I just wanted to share my ball with them.”
There you have it. From her perspective, she was doing the right thing, the noble thing. And why was sharing the right thing to do? Because Daddy told her so.
That seemingly insignificant event was a bit of an epiphany for me. Things that we adults often say with out much thought have an impact that runs much deeper than we realize. For Salina, Daddy’s lesson that she should always share evidently took hold. I am glad that this particular lesson did sink in, but it also brought to my awareness the importance of paying attention to what we teach our children, with directly or indirectly. This is especially significant when it comes to spiritual matters.
By the term “spiritual matters” I don’t just men things about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, etc. I am also referring to issues related to spiritual values like sharing, honesty, integrity, kindness, etc. What we teach our children about these things will have an impact as they grow and develop. And please understand you fathers who may read this (and mothers) – no one else is going to teach them. It is not the school’s job to teach these values, it is not the church’s job to do it, and it sure isn’t the peer group’s job. It is your responsibility to impart a solid, biblical code of ethics to your children. You cannot and should not ever abdicate this task. And, when you really think about it, you really don’t want the school and the peer group teaching your child right from wrong. Hopefully, the church does this but please remember that what the church does along these lines should only help support what you began at home, not replace it.
Being a father is not so much a task, however, as it is an honor, a blessing, and a privilege.
Another incident that brought this message of parental blessing and responsibility occurred a few nights ago. Since she was old enough to walk, part of our nightly ritual has included me giving Salina her bath, drying her and putting her to bed. This is usually followed by a bed time prayer and reading a story to her (or, telling her one that I made up.) Until a few months ago, I did the praying because Salina didn’t want to say prayers out loud. Around the beginning of the summer, she began to pray as well. She would recite the famous “Now I lay me down to sleep….” or one of the meal time prayers she had learned at her Day School. I was totally unprepared, however, for what happened a few nights later.
After we got into bed, Salina asked if she could say the prayer. I told her I would like that very much, wondering which prayer she would recite. Instead, she began to pray her own prayer, asking God to bless Mommy and Daddy and a host of others. More amazing, she began to use many of the words and phrases she has heard me use in our prayers. She used the exact words and even with the same cadence to her prayers. This just floored me.
“And Dear God, bless my Mommy and fill her heart with your light….Let the light of your blessed Spirit shine through us and touch each person we meet tomorrow…”
It is such a strange feeling when you hear your own words of prayer come back at you, especially from the lips and the heart of your child.
I was not only moved by the way she prayed, but also felt again the overwhelming impact our words can have on our children, for good or bad. All these months as I prayed with her, I felt that she was a passive participant, perhaps sitting there half asleep.
I was so mistaken!
Instead of being a drowsy participant in our prayer time, she was like a little spiritual sponge, soaking up every word, phrase, and even the rhythm of my prayers. It is difficult to put into words all the things I felt that night as I listened to Salina’s first personal prayers. Certainly joy and wonder were a part of it, but there was again, just as when I questioned her about her soccer play, the almost overwhelming sense of personal responsibility.
Think of it this way my friend. When God chooses you to be a parent; when he places a new life in the womb of your wife, he is also placing something in your heart as well. God is blessing you, a father, with the joy and the responsibility of caring for not only your child, but His child. God is entrusting to you the care, nurturance, and spiritual upbringing of one of his very own. Think about this act. I mean, really think about it. Take some time out and prayerfully ask the Holy Spirit to impart to you the deep understanding of what it means to be the father of one of God’s very own children. Yes, this child is also your child, but he or she is God’s child first. And God thinks highly enough of you to raise that child.
What an honor! What a blessing! And man, what a responsibility!
Friends, this parenting role that we have is a distinctively holy business. I think I was aware of this truth before last week, but somehow not in the deep sense I am aware of it now. Speaking as a father, I can say that I have come to the realization that in many ways, the first, and all too often, the lasting image a child has of God is somehow mysteriously formed in his or her interactions with we fathers. Again, the responsibility is incredible. When I really think about it, I also understand that as fathers and mothers, too, we parents are in the memory making business. We give our children many things, including mental images that remain in the mind for life. This, too, is a huge responsibility.
As I prayed about these new insights and revelations, I asked God to guide me and support me in my role as a father. In doing so, I also realized that God wanted me to be a father, but more than that, he wanted me to be a “Daddy” – just as he is. I am to strive to be consistent in my ministry as an “Abba.”
Words like awe, wonder, and the like are woefully insufficient in describing the response you will have when you take this reality deep into your soul. A term I first heard used by the Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel comes to mind:
I realized in that prayer time two other important truths that are fundamental to success as an Abba. These truths are simple but foundational: