~by Corey Fields
I can hear them in the next room. Are they wrestling? Maybe they’re jumping on the furniture again. Maybe they’re just trying to get my attention. I wouldn’t doubt it.
It’s an all too familiar scene. I’m tucked away, staring at my computer again. Too much to do. Have to finish this article, have to answer that email. Oh, and if I don’t get that document typed up today, the committee will think I’m a slacker.
I’m consciously aware of it, and that makes it worse. They walk in the door from school, and I think to myself, “Ugh, I was working on something else yesterday. They must think all I do is work on the computer.”
So as they play, they only see or hear from me when they’re doing something wrong, so I go back and forth between the two states of working and being annoyed with them. “That’s no way to be,” I frequently say to myself later that night.
The other day, I missed it. I had had a long and stressful day. A day of decisions, uncertainties, and long conversations had started to take a toll on this introvert. With the errands and evening activities still to come, it felt like the day would never end. My oldest child, who struggles with self-esteem, had come from school with a poster board full of compliments that his classmates had written about him (something they do for everyone by year’s end). He badly needed this encouragement. He was showing me and reading me some of the messages. “That’s great,” I said in what was probably a monotone voice. I was barely paying attention. It didn’t dawn on me until later what it was and how significant it was.
The other day, they hadn’t even been awake for an hour before I lost my temper. It was a school morning and we were going through the routine, one that they should supposedly know by now. But this was left on the floor, that hadn’t been done, he had spilled his milk, and on top of it, they were bickering. It lasted all the way until they were out the door for school. “I’m not wearing a coat!” “Yes you are!” If only persistence and defiance were spiritual gifts. Off they go…the last thing they got from me was not a hug but a harsh word. No matter how much they “deserved” it, it always feels crummy.
The moments and patterns I describe above sometimes feel like the norm. I told my wife in a conversation yesterday, “I know what a good dad looks like in my head, but I can’t seem to pull it off in real life.”
…we sit down to watch a show. They both snuggle up to me. My daughter puts her arm around me.
…she made a video with her friend. She thinks it’s hilarious and wants me to see it and laugh with her.
…my son still doesn’t want to go to sleep without telling me goodnight. My daughter will sometimes want to stay up until I’m home from a meeting.
…we go to swim practice and she looks to see if I saw her awesome backstroke.
…we go to baseball tryouts and he wants a fist bump for having the fastest running time (still needs a lot of work on hitting, though).
But no matter how often I fail or am not present…an amazing thing happens. They still keep coming back, wanting me to be their dad.
Somehow, still, they show me grace.
There’s no sugar-coating or idealizing this thing called parenting. It’s exhausting. They’re strong-willed. There’s no fairy-tale ending to the day. And doggone it, they bring so much of it on themselves.
But the Bible has a word for what they show me: grace. I’m convinced that this is one of the primary ways God continues to teach me what grace looks like. I emphasize “looks like” because that’s a key piece we all need. We might be able to explain grace in the abstract; “unmerited favor” or whatever your word choice would be. But it is conveyed, taught, and received in real life. I receive grace, and am convicted to be more generous in giving it, when I see my children return again and again, asking me and giving me another chance to be what God has called me to be: their dad.
I’ve written in other places about the tremendous truths that children seem to live out effortlessly that adults seem to have forgotten. As parents, I believe we discover more and more depth to passages like Jesus saying that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as the children, or like Isaiah’s vision that “a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).
I previously wrote on this site about another time that I learned a lesson about grace around the time of my son’s baptism. Hi there, it’s me again…I’m still on the journey. Slowly but surely, I’m learning grace. Still, they show me grace.
Now if they could just listen the first time I tell them something….