When my first child was born in the soft glow of Christmas lights, the midwife held out a pair of umbilical cord scissors and asked if I’d like to make the cut. How could I know that as I positioned the twin blades, in a moment I would be not only separating my daughter’s physical connection to her mother but also severing time?
The blades met each other and I felt a door close in me just as another flung open. Before and after. The part of my life where I could stand back and observe time’s ordinary pace, gone. I had entered a new phase of life, a new world—one where days would race into years in the duration of a lullaby.
Fatherhood has brought many challenges along with heart-swelling joy. First steps and words, first dreams and articulated desires, and questions heavy with wonder and expectation even over the most mundane objects and events.
Sometimes, in the crush of the daily routine, sleep has been scarce. In my tiredness, many times I’ve found myself wishing to fast forward into a more rested hour, a less demanding year. I’ve wished days away, weeks–the sheer exhaustion of keeping up with now four children often making it impossible to notice and delight in the changes occurring in them.
And yet every once in a while I look up from the sizzling skillet, my hands covered in dish soap, the iPhone glowing against my cheekbones, and recognize what I’m missing: everyday communion. The moments that together transcend mere memory and become woven into the fibers of our being—my life stitched together with theirs beyond biology or familial obligation. The chance to be here, now, in the ordinary time of God’s grace.
Perhaps it isn’t any wonder that those of us who live in the affluence and self-importance of the modern world often find ourselves feeling stuck. We live day-to-day in a manner that seems to forgo real peace for the sake of feeling safe, and true joy for the sake of comfort—the abundant life Jesus promised ever elusive. And for what? Out of everything we strive to attain, what exactly are we hoping to become? Great?
How much does my inability to enter my children’s world correspond to my inability to inhabit the reality that I am truly God’s child?
Jesus, in settling a dispute between His disciples about who among them would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, gave them a lesson that defied the logic of the adult world. He said, “‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to Him a child, [Jesus] put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt. 18:1-4 ESV, emphasis added).
In all my adult years of considering Jesus’ words, I’ve never seriously contemplated what role my children might play in helping me become again like a child. Instead, I’ve held the thought at the far end of metaphor rather than see it as something practical. I’ve chosen to see His command as something to achieve in the abstract, rather than a way to be in the here and now.
With this realization, I have to be honest with myself and acknowledge that I often reject the way of my children for a more serious approach. One where important matters stay in focus—some of which, in all honesty, are important only because I want them to be and not because they’re necessary to family life. I reject the way of the child each time I turn away my kids just to squeeze in a little more work, another round of text messaging, yet another hour relinquished to the escapism of bottomless scrolling on Instagram.
I can’t help but wonder if there’s a connection between my often faltering devotional life and the lack of intentionality I show as a father. How much does my inability to enter my children’s world correspond to my inability to inhabit the reality that I am truly God’s child?
Children’s ambivalence to this way of being is instructive for those of us longing for deeper, lasting joy—their way both a guide and key to heaven’s gate.
Dr. Stanley wrote in his Handbook for Christian Living,
“God, in His marvelous wisdom, has the divine fine line of seeing us as servants and as children. Of demanding obedience. Of heaping love. He doesn’t call us anywhere in Scripture ‘adults of God.’ He calls us ‘Children of God.’ There is no verse that says, ‘Why don’t you just grow up?’ Plenty of verses encourage us to grow, some verses push us toward maturity, but we’ll never fully grow up spiritually. Our loving Father hangs in there with us, assuring us of our value and bringing in the necessary discipline—never too hard or too easy—to help us to grow to take on the family attributes.”
Children aren’t concerned with the things of this world—the business of adults with all its machinations, the showmanship so many of us devote ourselves to perfecting. Their ambivalence to this way of being is instructive for those of us longing for deeper, lasting joy—their way both a guide and key to heaven’s gate.
Of course, not everyone experiences family life as a married person with children. But for those of us who do, if we have eyes to see, their presence among us is not just a reminder that this other world exists but also a doorway into it. An opportunity to step further into discipleship by heeding their invitations to join in the game. What, I wonder, could God teach a heart willing to give up getting ahead for just a little more playtime?
I deeply admire the adults who seem to already have found their way back: those who possess a wisdom and maturity enviably full of innocence and wonder. A kind of dependence, curiosity, and even light-hearted take on following God. I want to be like them, for my own sake and for that of my children. Because each day I feel it more and more—time accelerating. I see it rolling down my son and daughters’ cheeks. I hear it in the gleeful shrieks ricocheting off the fences as they play into dusk’s shadows. And I don’t want to miss another moment—not for the false assurances of the world or to seem lesser in the eyes of capable and accomplished adults. I want, each day, to be closer to them. And heaven.
Illustration by Adam Cruft