Copyright © 2007 by Ralph Couey
I’ve been watching my grandson for the past few weeks, marveling at his exploration of his still-new world. One of the things that fascinates me is the speed at which he learns. Of course, every grandparent thinks their grandbaby is brilliant. And I’m sure they all are. But, every day, he has learned something new.
Human children are unique, in that they are born completely helpless. But they have the capacity to rise to the position we all hold as the most advanced lifeform on the planet. To me, that is an amazing thing. Even a monkey is born with far more strength, agility, and independence, but at the end of his life the only thing he’s accomplished is to swing from trees and eat bananas. And although I’ve had days where I wished all I had to do was swing from trees and eat bananas, I know that we humans alone of all of teeming life on Earth, have the intelligence, capacity and the ability to change our world.
As a father, I am familiar with the sensations of holding a new baby, that moment where we look at this tiny little human and ask, “Where will you go? What will you do? Where will your life take you?” And in that moment felt the weight of heavy responsibility.
Once, when I was very young, I was walking through some woods near my house in Independence, Missouri. I found one of those “helicopter” seeds that flutter down from Maple trees. On a whim, I broke open the seed cover, poked a hole in the ground with a stick, and put the seed in the hole. I ran happily off and promptly forgot about the seed. About 11 or 12 years later, I was home during spring break from college, and decided to take a walk around my former stomping grounds. As sometimes happens, that little snippet of memory forced its way to the surface, and out of curiosity, I began to look for that spot. I knew that it was just down from the crest of a low hill, not far from an “S” bend of Mill Creek. I crested the hill and looked down the slope and was astonished to find that my seed had grown into a fine, beautiful tree, about 15 feet tall. I stood there for a long time, staring at this tree. In a moment of whimsy, so long ago, I had started the process that resulted in something beautiful. I realized that, in a very small way, I had changed the world. Through all those years that tree had sprung from the ground and had steadily grown, defying the heat and wild storms of summer and the fierce cold of winter. And all without any help from me.
When I look at Jaden, I know that we can’t just plant his feet in the ground, walk away for a few years, and expect him to grow tall and strong on his own. Throughout his life, he will need love, caring, nurturing, teaching, from his family, and from everyone else as well. I’ve heard that children are like sponges. While I acknowledge the truth of that adage, I think of them more in terms of mirrors. Whatever he sees in the lives of those he loves and respects, will be reflected in his own life. This places a grave responsibility on us all; especially for those of us he will come to know as “family.” He will look to us for guidance, for the example of how to live, what to do, how to behave. And whether he admits it or not, he will need that direction. We must never let him down.
I know that when I was growing up, I never understood why my parents would obsess about the things I did. I was forever puzzled why, when I would return home at…substantially after midnight, why they would be so upset. I wasn’t worried; after all I knew where I was. Didn’t they realize I was old enough to take care of myself? Of course, once I became a Dad, it took me about 15 seconds to understand.
All of us are born with two buttons. One is what I call the worry switch. The thing I never understood as a child was that once a person becomes a parent, that switch gets stuck in the “on” position. The other control is the love button. These two controls become active with the onset of parenthood, and will run in overdive for the rest of your lives.
As a parent, you see the dangers in life and it makes you absolutely crazy that your kid is at times utterly blind to those dangers, and their consequences. I’ve come to understand this as God’s greatest message. For once we become parents and we feel the awesome responsibility for this tiny little human, we get a little glimpse of God’s relationship with us. Imagine the power of the love you feel for your children, and then multiply that by infinity. Imagine how we feel when we see our kids embarked on a path that we absolutely, positively know is only going to result in pain and suffering. And despite our best efforts to warn them off, they go right ahead and do it anyway. And then in the throes of their disaster, they look back towards us and ask for help. Although we are powerfully tempted at times to shrug and say, “Dude, you cooked the soup; you gotta eat it,” the love we have for them compels us to swoop in and clean up their mess. Again, and again. Oh yeah, and experience the guilt that if we had been better parents, this whole thing never would have happened.
Do we get tired? Oh, yeah. Do we get exasperated? You bet. But we continue to do these things because we remember what it was like to be them; to feel their insecurities and anxieties, that powerful curiosity about the world, to feel that powerful desire to stand on our own two feet; to chart our own course and take over the helm of our lives. And we also remember the helpless feeling when we know we really thrashed it up good, and the relief when we looked back and saw Dad and Mom riding to the rescue. God knows what it’s like to be us. That was one of the big reasons for the life of Jesus.
It’s not until we become parents that we understand even a little part of the power of God’s love for us and the true nature of forgiveness.
I would council young parents to make sure your child is surrounded by people you want him to emulate. If you’re going to hang out with friends who are people of good character and unchallenged integrity, take them along, for once they see the kind of behaviors you honor, they will strive to earn your respect by emulating those good qualities. Never engage in activities or behaviors you don’t want them to do. Honor your marriage. Treat each other with respect and love. Because what they see in your relationship, they will seek also.
As grandparents, we understand that we are here for life’s wisdom and unconditional love. We are not here to get between child and parents. It’s also up to us to communicate the heritage of our family; where we came from and who and what we have been. And to help them appreciate the long line of ancestors that stand behind us. In so doing, we can convey a sense of belonging to family lines that stretch back at least two centuries on at least 4 different continents. We will help them to take pride in that heritage and give the gift of that history to pass on to the generations that will follow.
Like the generations of family before him, Jaden will be a traveler. He will always seek far lands to explore, for the restlessness and curiosity of an explorer is in his blood. He will see the horizon, not as an end, but as the beginning of his next journey. For any congregation of God’s people, even for the brief time they may be in our lives, we owe it to the children to help them grow. We will teach, not only Jaden, but every child that passes through the life of this congregation in the ways of discipleship and the message of the gospel. We must, and will support their parents in their mission of preparing these children for a lifetime of discipleship, and doing whatever we can to give them the support they need in anticipation of that moment when they leave our midst and take up the path of their own lives.
“All the precious time; like the wind, the years go by.” That line from Bob Carlisle’s song “Butterfly Kisses” reminds us that we must never forget the value of each day and how we can use them. They are truly precious, because once they pass, they are gone forever. Such passage of time is especially priceless where children are concerned. I think all of us have, at least once, been face to face with a grown adult whom we last saw as a spindly little knobby-kneed 7-year-old. Always the question comes, “where have the years gone?” For Jaden, and for all the children of our church family, those years are now; it is in this place and at this time where their lives are being shaped.
Let us joyfully take them by the hand and walk with them for the few short steps we share along their path.