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On Being a Parent

May 5, 2010

A friend of mine just found out that he and his wife are pregnant.  I loved seeing the mix of terror and excitement in his eyes when he told me!  I wasn’t quite sure if he was going to burst into tears of joy or vomit down his shirt when the words came out of his mouth.  We all exchanged hugs and asked the standard questions:  How far along?  Are you going to find out if it is a boy or girl?  yadda, yadda, yadda.

But then after all the excitement died down, my friend asked me a great question.  It was one of those questions that you secretly wish someone would ask you just so you could give your answer.  He said, “So, what’s the best thing about being a dad?”  After a theatrical moment of quiet reflection, (because remember I already had my answer, I just needed the question) I told him that the best thing about being a dad is also the most difficult thing – that being the responsibility of it all.

It seems to me there are four aspects of life where parents have a huge responsibility for shaping growth in their children.  Furthermore, it seems to me these four pieces build upon themselves –like a good conversation.

My daughter is not even one, so she can’t quite carry on an engaging dialogue, but I often find myself imagining her sitting at a coffee shop in twenty years, talking to someone about her story.  It plays out in my mind like the final scene in a movie.  I imagine her being passionate, reflective, and listening intently to what the person sitting across from her has to say.  It is a good conversation, and good conversations are always propelled forward by good questions.

It almost always makes me sad when I hear the question, “So, what do you do?”  The question itself is not bad, but it is almost always misplaced in the conversation.  We throw it out right at the beginning, using it to size up the person.  We want to identify them, but we label and categorize them instead.  A better inquiry at the start of a conversation might be, “So, tell me about who you are.”  In my imaginary movie scene, my little girl starts the conversation off this way, and she learned it from me.

As parents we have the great responsibility of helping our children learn who they are.  We do this by loving them unconditionally, and as a result we teach them that they are worthy of being loved.  We learn about them, so we can encourage them in their likes, dislikes, preferences, and passions; challenging them to confront the difficult moments when they are standing at the crossroads with, as Dan Allender says, “a legion of legitimate choices” in front of them.  Ensuring children have a strong sense of self is a key part of being a parent, for once they gain an identity they can then establish a purpose.

This is where my beautiful daughter asks her friend, “What do you do?”  More specifically, “In light of who you are, what do you spend your time doing?”  Twenty years from now, it will be a question she will have answered many, many times, and now in my movie scene she is challenging her friend with it.

In order for a child to succeed in this world they need a purpose that transcends their own existence, and a child learns this by watching and joining in on the purpose of her parents.  My purpose in this life is to be of help to those that are hurting.  As my daughter grows she will be given many opportunities to serve alongside me and my wife as we live out this calling.  Being her parent, it is my responsibility to ensure that she participates in this greater purpose, so that when her storyline reaches out and grips her heart she will have the courage and the experience to chase it with reckless abandon.

As the coffee shop scene continues to unfold, the warm rush of caffeine only adds to the excitement in my girl when she poses the third question she learned from me:  “As you live out your story, what amazes you?”

When a parent helps a child define an identity and find a purpose, the next great responsibility is keeping the childlike sense of wonder alive.  Here is where we are more in the business of maintaining rather than creating.  Children come equipped with a standard sense of awe.  It is our job to make sure this light never goes out.  The greatest way I can do this is to be authentic and humble in the midst of my own experience.  A parent that owns mistakes, doesn’t have all the answers, and stands in admiration at the world around them, is a parent that keeps wonder alive.

The final question in the conversation comes after my daughter and her friend let their minds wander into the comfort of the unknown.  They sip their coffee, perhaps looking out into the coffee shop around them.  They see paintings of homeless people.  They see an old battered green piano sitting in the corner begging to be played.  They see a tatted up dad gently cradling his sleepy six month daughter.  The smile on his face stretches for what seems like a million miles in a thousand years.  My daughter thinks of me, and then poses the final question: “Where is there beauty in your life?”  *pan out, framing the entire coffee shop, Hadley sips coffee again waiting for her friend’s answer, cue B. B. King song…and fade to black.* (Good movie, huh?!  Yeah, I like the open-ended ones.)

You see, when we ask, “What questions are still unanswered?” it has a way of slowing us down.  It is as if it prepares us to be safely stopped in our tracks by beauty.  Indeed, when we have a sense of wonder, we can have a true appreciation of beauty.

As parents we do this by pointing out beauty to our kids.  Unfortunately, our tendency is to take beauty for granted.  We drive into a remarkable sunrise, more concerned with the day’s activities than taking a moment to suspend our thoughts and feel the warmth of creation.  We mentally neglect the song playing in the background rather than closing our laptop and our eyes, letting the hope in the hook touch our heart.   We just kiss our wife goodbye as we hurriedly walk out the door, rather than stopping to admire her as if it was the last time we would ever see her again.

As a parent, I must allow myself to be stopped in my tracks by beauty.  I am responsible for showing my daughter the unfathomable beauty around her, so that she can learn to appreciate it for herself.  For it is when she learns to pause before beauty, gazing at it with wonder and amazement, and understanding how she has been given this experience by following her purpose – she will be reminded of the very thing that started the conversation in the first place – who she is.  She is worthy of love.  She is capable.  She is beautiful.  She is my daughter, and I delight in her.

“Tell me about who you are?”

“In light of who you are, what do you spend your time doing?”

“As you do this, what questions are left unanswered?”

“Where is the wonder and beauty in your life?”

Powerful questions for a parent to be led by… powerful question for us all to be led by…

Perhaps you could take the time today to live your own movie scene where you ask someone in your life these very questions.  We would love to hear about how your scenes play out!

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