The greatest influence on a child’s life is their parents. More than all the thousands of books offering parenting philosophies and strategies, my children will be shaped most powerfully by the way I live my life. That can be scary. It takes a lot of courage to be a parent.
When my daughter Phoebe was baptized, her godfather Jason gave us a beautiful watercolor painting with this portion of a prayer from her baptism: “Give her an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.”
It’s a beautiful prayer that sums up just about everything I could ever want for my children. Inquiring and discerning hearts. Courage and perseverance. Joy and wonder. Spirits to know and love God. I want all these things, especially that my children will know they are loved in a profound way by the source of all things who is love. And I want to embody that love in their lives by the way I am as their father. But sometimes I blow it.
There are days when I lose my temper and my little daughter crumples into tears because I raised my voice. There are days when the last thing I want to do is have an epic pretend battle with my son in the living room. And there are days when I’m tired and would rather veg out on a screen or in a book than become the mediator in a conflict resolution process between two warring factions over who had the red crayon first. These are the bad days. And I don’t want to give the impression that these types of days are few and far between. Sometimes I’ve blown it in all these ways before breakfast.
Embody the love of God to my children? There are moments when I’m just trying to find the nearest hole into which I can crawl and hide.
My first instinct is to hide because I feel like I’ve blown it by failing to embody the love of God. But I’m beginning to learn that the greatest example I can give my children is to say, “I’m sorry,” and to seek to reconcile with them when I have hurt our relationship. “I’m sorry.” Maybe that’s the greatest thing we can ever teach our children: how to say sorry and to seek reconciliation.
What we are trying to teach our children is how to live into the good news, and the good news is not about being a perfect parent. The good news is that God has reconciled us back to Godself through Christ. I will never be like Christ to them at all times. I am a flawed human being that will disappoint them. But by owning up to my mistakes and seeking to make amends, I hope my children will see the gospel embodied in my life: that, at its core, our existence springs from love and hums with the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Stooping down, looking into my children’s eyes, and saying, “I’m sorry. I don’t want anything to get in the way of our love for one another.” More than anything else I could try to tell them about faith, maybe this dance of reconciliation will teach them everything I could ever want for them.
Inquiring and discerning hearts. Courage and perseverance. Joy and wonder. And a spirit to know and love the God in whose kingdom of love, forgiveness and reconciliation are as natural as the air we breathe.
How do you begin again on the days when you blow it?