Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.
Every Saturday morning this Fall, I have a happy obligation. My daughters (5 and 4 year old respectively) are in consecutive dance classes.
Thankfully, the dance studio is three doors down from the best bagel shop on planet earth as well as an outstanding coffee and smoothie place. At 9:30AM, we rush out of the house and get the youngest to ballet just in time. Then Eliana, the older one, and I walk down the plaza for coffee, smoothies, and 45-minutes of iPad time. A little while later, we switch offspring, order another smoothie for Adalie (the younger), and wait for tap class to end.
We have traditions and habits that we’ve embraced in our family. One is the expectation that there will be books, songs, and prayers before bed. Books run the traditional favorites and include selections from my childhood like Socks for Supper or Runaway Road as well as new favorites like Pirates on the Farm (confession: I often shed a tear at the end of that one). Songs are a bit more eclectic. When your Dad is a baptist pastor’s son and a U2 fanatic, it’s not uncommon to hear Wild Honey and Little is Much in the same bedtime routine.
The night always ends in prayers. We thank God for the blessings in our lives, ask Him to be close to those who are sick, hurting, or lonely, ask Him to make good use of the ways He’s blessed us to be a blessing to others, and ask that – everyday – we would get to know a little bit more about who He is.
We’ve also taken to praying for a friend who’s been ill for most of her life, a little girl and the daughter of a dear friend and colleague. For over a decade, their family has been dealing with a rare neurological disorder known as Dravet Syndrome. Anna is an amazing, strong, resilient little girl, and her family is equally so. When we experienced a serious seizure event in our family, they offered the most gracious and practical advice, never dismissing our (relatively) minor issues as insignificant to the genuine reality of their family life.
We’ve been praying for Anna for years now, and my kids are no dummies. It didn’t take them long to start asking the questions we all have.
“Dad, if we keep praying for Anna, why hasn’t God healed her yet?”
I’ve grown to love and embrace these moments as a parent, because they offer a chance to teach something real about who I’ve experienced God to be. They also offer me a chance to show my kids who I am and learn from them.
Most importantly, they let me share three of the most important words my kids can hear me say in relationship to my faith.
“I don’t know.”
Cre and I have been thankful to have many of these teachable moments with our kids, being honest about what we’ve each learned in our faith journeys as well as being transparent about the areas in which we struggle.
We believe that God is in control of everything and so we shouldn’t have to be afraid, but sometimes we are anyway. More often than not, we know when there’s a “right thing to do,” but sometimes, we fail to do it. Sometimes we miss the mark in how we interact with each other, and I quickly learned how to apologize to my kids when I lose my temper, say something I regret, or say it in an unkind way.
My 5-year-old has gotten used to forgiving me.
“That’s ok Dad. I know you get frustrated sometimes.”
…and a teachable moment in the car today
Another one of these moments happened on the drive to dance class today, and it got me thinking about these teachable moments. For your (hopefully) benefit, I’ll recount the scenario. It started with us in the car, listening to a new song that talks about God’s faithfulness.
Me: Guys, what does it mean when we say that God is faithful?
Eliana: Does it mean that God always makes the right choices?
Me: I don’t think so. I think it means that God keeps His word. Everything that He says He will do, he does. Everything He says will happen, happens; and no one can stop it if He says so.
Adalie: Except Anna.
Me: No sweetie. Even with Anna. For whatever reason, God hasn’t chosen to heal her yet. Hopefully, someday, He will.
Eliana: He must have a different plan.
Me: I guess so. I wonder what it is?
Eliana: I don’t know.
Me: Me neither.
Adalie: Dad, play that song about miracles.
So what did I learn on the way to dance class?
So what’s the point of sharing this story, besides an excuse to post a cute picture of my kids? I’ll be brief. Hopefully, there’s something here worth receiving.
It’s not about one moment. It’s about all the moments.
This thing that happened today; it’s not a unique or rare occurrence. We don’t have times where we sit down and now talk about God and life and how it all relates. Cre and I are really trying to put into practice the command from Deuteronomy 6:7, talking about it all the time. Not in a forced way, but by being intentional. Listening for the moments and the questions, and engaging them as they happen naturally.
Sometimes, that involves us seeding the conversation (like today). Other times, the moment comes because of something the girls say, do, or ask. All of the moments are important, but because they’re a natural part of our life and conversation, none of them are the moment. They happen. They pass. Sometimes there’s a learning. Sometimes seemingly not.
With all of them, we’re believing what God said through the prophet Isaiah nearly 2800 years ago, that His word always has the effect He intends.
I wasn’t expecting my oldest to offer that insight, “He must have a different plan.” It just happened. Somewhere along the way, something that I believe to be true about God – that He does know the end from the beginning and that His intentions towards us are good – started to take root in her. That’s cool… and not something Cre or I did, yet it is something that we got to take part in.
That is a blessing.
Trying and not having all the answers
Somewhere in my mid-twenties, I got over having to have all the answers, and I confess (for good or bad) that I never really suffered from feeling like I owed it to my kids to have it all figured out (or pretend like I did). But today, I got a glimpse into what a blessing it has already been to be clear about that with them.
Our girls are getting two really important impressions from Cre and I. They go hand-in-hand. I think that one without the other is harmful; but – in my experience – both together are so, so valuable in leading and loving well.
- We’re really trying to work out our faith. We’re not perfect or pretending to be so; but we’re really trying to figure what it means to know God and live life well, the way He says it can and should be lived.
- We’re honest (and intensely aware) that there’s a lot we don’t know and can’t explain.
Those two things together are influencing the way my kids relate to life and God. I can’t know where, when, or if either of them will choose the path that Cre and I have chosen, to submit our lives to God and trust that Jesus is who he said he is; but I’m grateful for the foundation God is laying in their lives… and that He’s somehow kept us from getting in the way of that by what we’re modeling as their parents.
We didn’t plan that. It just happened. In my book, that means God gets the credit.
So here’s hoping there are many more rides to dance class over the next decade or so. The conversation is even better than the coffee… and the coffee is pretty good. 🙂