by: Andrew Gale
A friend of mine, Art, told a story recently about going to a play about the life of Jesus years ago. He went with a friend who already had a ticket, but when they arrived the show was sold out. Art decided to just go back to his car and wait for his friend. On his way out a person caught Art and said he had heard he didn’t have a seat and invited him to have the best seat in the house. The next thing Art knew, he was dressed in a bathrobe wearing a fake beard backstage. He had become part of the action! At one point the cast was preparing to present the scene when Jesus says, “Let the little children come unto me.” Art was just behind the curtain with other cast members and the many children Jesus was about to address. As one could expect, the kids were all clamoring with excitement and talking with each other. Though there was an obvious sense of joy and anticipation, this was not proper theatrical etiquette, so Jesus looked at the kids and with more irony than he could realize in the moment yelled, “You kids need to shut up! We’re about to go on!”
The story is as sad as it is ironic. And though I would love to step back and say I could never see myself acting that way I would be hypocritical to think I don’t. For instance, I remember dedicating my little girl before the church. I remember promising to be a godly father. I remember people saying, “You represent Jesus to your child.” No pressure there, of course. But if that’s true I find myself to be much more like the Jesus in the play than the compassionate Christ I have read about in scripture. Certainly not like the joyful Jesus in paintings who has happy kids sitting in his lap. Before becoming a parent I had all these expectations of how things would go. I had plans and rules and schedules and goals and none of them were hampered by real life. Somehow my daughter did not receive those messages on how things should go. Needless to say her nap lengths and table etiquette left much to be desired.
I can’t count the times I have snapped, lost my cool, and been anything but Christlike towards my child. I regret everyday the welling up of frustration I feel when she just won’t stop crying at nighttime. The exhaustion is unlike anything I expected. I am amazed at how kind the Jesus of scripture is toward his catty disciples. He must have gotten a lot of sleep. Maybe lack of sleep could be blamed for his outburst in the temple turning over tables. I often blame lack of sleep for most of my actions, but the reality is I am just a terrible father. That fact used to bother me. Now I don’t use that as a way to get off the hook, but I am starting to learn there are times when we as parents need grace. It’s hard when we are constantly hearing how much better our children would be if we only did this new parenting technique, when often times what we need is to silence those voices and give ourselves a little grace. And while I’m doling out grace maybe give some to my daughter and my wife, as well.
The more I worked to be a perfect dad the lousier I felt about myself. I felt, like Art did, as though I had planned to see a show and now was expected to play a part in it. But when I started living in grace and offering that to others there was freedom. Freedom to be wrong and try to do better next time. Freedom to make mistakes and not be defined by them. Freedom to not be as Christlike as I would hope to be. And freedom to close the curtain and know the next show starts in a few hours and there is always room to grow.