2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV)“Do you know where my mom is?”
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
This tends to be an unsettling question in most situations. Today it was asked of me by a boy, probably three, in the middle of the Cubs Scouts graduation campout. I was sitting in a chair, thinking about a nap, when the cute little guy approached from behind. I must have been the first adult he spotted, and he very politely asked his question.
There were two problems. One, I did not know where to find his mom. Two, I did not know his mom at all. I vaguely recalled seeing the kid earlier in the day, but there were at least 100 kids age 10 and younger scrambling around the 40-acre campground. Still, I was able to remain calm, much like the kid, and we tried to sort it out.
I pointed near a small group of people off to the right and said, “Is she over there?” She was not. So we looked to our left, and soon after shifting focus the boy’s mom appeared out of the shelter, said the kid’s name and asked, “Were you looking for me?” He ran toward her, not all that far away, and I didn’t even have to get out of my chair.
My thoughts turned quickly to two other good dad deeds from last weekend, both at the grocery store. The first happened in the pudding aisle, where another shopper was heading the other direction trying to keep up with her two kids. The daughter, maybe seven, was helping with the shopping. The son, around four, was sprinting off, turned a corner and headed up another aisle.
Having just a hand basket instead of a cart, and having my own experience with little guys refusing to stay close in a busy store, I stepped ahead a few paces and tracked the kid until his mom could re-establish a sight line. Again, it didn’t require much actual effort, but I was glad to help. The mom thanked me and jokingly asked if I could stick with her until she finished shopping. I told her I was only able to help because I’d left my three bundles of joy at home.
On another trip to the same store the same weekend (we don’t always plan well), I was driving home when I saw a dad getting his son, not much older than two, out of the car to head inside. As dad lifted, one of junior’s shoes fell off. I could tell the dad hadn’t noticed, probably eager to get inside because it was raining. But I stopped my car, got his attention and told him the problem. I very much would hope any stranger would do the same for me.
None of these acts warrant bragging. It’s the sort of thing most folks would do for a stranger, and especially so when it’s the case of one parent helping another. But I do keep going back to the words that little guy spoke to me this afternoon, and the look on his face. He wasn’t scared — at least not yet. He didn’t know me, but he must have sensed I could help. It reminded me a lot of the day last summer when Max went off toward the entrance to our subdivision looking for me after a garage sale, only I was in the kitchen the whole time.
In that instance, someone driving through noticed he probably shouldn’t have been where he was, talked to him from her car and followed him back toward our house. That whole ordeal was much more frightening than the kid I helped today. But in both cases the actions of the children reveal just how much trust kids have in their parents, not to mention other adults.
Once a child can accept a parent can leave the field of vision without disappearing from the planet, trust blossoms. It always feels better to actually see (or ideally touch) mom or dad, but parents who take steps to build trust are rewarded with kids who start to understand how a parent’s love and devotion can be eternal even if unseen.
When Max got lost, he didn’t wander off. He’d been told I was at the end of the road picking up a sign. So naturally, he assumed he’d find me as soon as he turned the corner. I hadn’t ever let him down in this regard. The kid today wasn’t scared because he knew his mom hadn’t left him, he just forgot where she was and needed a little help being pointed in the right direction. He didn’t lose heart. He believed in his mom, and he was right to do so.
It’s fairly common for new parents from most faith traditions to remark that becoming a mom or a dad gave them a new understanding for how God must love all of creation, even as we understand human love is only a fraction of God’s passion for us all. That was the case for me. But what I too often forget is the other side of the coin. If I’m going to teach my kids about God the father, God’s unfailing love and so on, I need to remember they’re going to frame that paternal relationship against the bond they have with me, their human dad.
Specifically, the idea of God as a loving father figure is going to seem pretty useless if the kids have a rotten dad. If they truly feel loved by their parents, I can say to them, “Just think how much more God loves you.” But if they don’t feel loved? Not only have I failed them, but I’ve failed the promises I made to God as well.
Fortunately, I do feel a sense of daily inward renewal. Taking time to read and reflect each night is helping me understand more and more the significance of the responsibility to which I’ve been called as a parent. Sometimes the troubles seem neither light nor momentary, but even so I know they pale in comparison to the eternal glory God provides.
A prayer for June 1:
Lord, I want to fix my eyes on you. I know if I look to you first, I will be able to see anything I need to succeed in my roles as a husband and father. I will not lose heart, I will not waste away so long as you are there to lead me forward. Please open my eyes to opportunities to be a blessing to others, and help me to show the way your love works to change me, day by day. Amen.