Her lip was bleeding. Blame it on Winter Solstice.
If December in Minnesota wasn’t hard enough on a three-year old’s playtime, throw in the shortest day of the year and a couple younger siblings cooped up in a two-bedroom apartment.
I’m not even sure how it happened. And it doesn’t really matter. At some point she got injured. My oldest daughter’s full-throttle energy in all things cost her.
Now, it was only a little cut. That’s all. I checked it out. But if her eyes then were telling the story now! She couldn’t eat. She couldn’t talk. She begged for a bandaid on her face.
And then she got all profound on me. . . .
Elizabeth taught me something about prayer.
She had cut her lip. I’m not sure exactly how it happened. It was just a collateral injury related her full-throttle enthusiasm in all things. I guess you could call her dramatic: Her lip was hurt, therefore she couldn’t eat. She couldn’t talk. She couldn’t go without a bandaid on her face.
And then she got all profound on me.
Tucking her in later that night, I knelt down by her bed to pray aloud for her and Hannah and Micah. I usually ask the Father for their rest in Jesus, both for the night and for forever. I want my children to rest in Jesus. So I began the usual…
“Father, please give Elizabeth and Han—” “Pray for my lip!” she interrupted just like this typeface looks, quick and bold.
Without missing a step I turned the prayer towards her little injury. “Father, please help Elizabeth to trust you in—” “My lip! My lip!“ now with more urgency she jumped in. She said it as if she was feared she was too vague the time before.
I chuckled inside and started again. “Please make Elizabeth’s lip to feel bett…”— “Ask him to heal it!“
This time she said it with a childlike impatience we often chastise. I didn’t say anything now. I just stopped. The only thing rebuked in this moment was how I pray.
It was a simple prayer request from my four-year old. Her lip hurt and she wanted God to heal it. And there I was appointing as many theological governors as I could. It seemed a good time to teach her about what really mattered — you know, not the healing, but faith and Jesus and loving him.
But the kid just wanted her lip to feel better.
She knew God could do it.
My reluctance to get to the point exposed my unbelief: Theological governors are great, but not when they’re used to disguise a lack of faith in God doing what you really ask.
I’m a footnote kind of guy with footnote kind of friends. We like clarity — what we’re saying and what we’re not and so forth. And then there are times when we just need to say it. Or in this case, ask it. Jesus didn’t make it that complicated. Why would we?
Elizabeth taught me something about prayer.
I think I’ve learned this in parenting.
My leadership as a dad would be so easy if my words effected instant change. If I could just say something and then it happened. No disobedience. No need for explanation. Just a simple, “Elizabeth, sweetie, please ____” and voilà!
But it doesn’t happen like that. Patience is essential to leadership. There’s no way around it.
Patience is essential to leadership because transformation doesn’t happen when we drop the one-line zinger. As much as we wished it did, it still doesn’t. Transformation or positive change happens by persistent presence, by being able to say that word and to step back and to wait. To say it again another time and then another time. Then Repeat.
This is how Elizabeth and Hannah and Micah will learn the gospel. The occasional sermon during my best moments in parenting are nothing compared to the daily, desperate, let-me-remind-you-again-about-authority-and-grace-and-Jesus stutters.
Without faith it is impossible to be a happy Christian parent.
“I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.”(Psalms 77:11-14)
Over the past few days my family and I had the joy of a good friend’s company. Joel Lind is back in the states after two years of gospel labor in Asia. Over the course of that time my family has anticipated the reunion we all just experienced. Elizabeth has drawn pictures of Joel and has heard us pray for him regularly when we tuck her into bed. She was seven months old the last time we were all together. She is getting closer to three years old now and over the past week she treated him like a hero–just like I hoped she would do. I could go on about that and about how Hannah greeted Joel with a lovely smile the first time they met… but I want to highlight something from Psalm 77:14, “You are the God who works wonders.”
The psalmist is battling doubt here. He questions the faithfulness of God. He is surrounded by uncertainty in regards to his present and his future. But then he “remembers the deeds of the LORD” (v. 11). He recounts God’s salvation of Israel. God has worked. He has expressed his power. He is the God who works wonders.
So at the brink of a new semester, a mile-marker in my graduate studies—nonetheless where my family is in seeking clarity for where to be in future ministry—grace is poured out on me to remember the wonders that he has worked. The wonder is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And flowing from that are the numerous shimmers of wonder that have been lavished upon me in Christ.
The connection to Joel’s visit: he is a monument to me of God’s wondrous grace worked in my life. What began as a group of guys who lived together and decided to do a Bible study is today what I look back on as one of the single most important things that has ever happened to me. I cannot quantify the grace that was poured out upon me during that season of my life, along with the other brothers. Joel’s visit is a means of grace to me in that I am reminded of that wonder in the past and given hope for wonder now and tomorrow.
In Jesus Christ alone, amen.
I thought that when I saw Melissa on our wedding day that my categories for beauty were maxed out. “This is it. Wow.”
And three years later I am surrounded by eyes like this. And smiles that put a frog in my throat. Elizabeth and Hannah have not surpassed Melissa’s beauty—they’ve actually amplified it. A white dress and a big cake and heavenly violin music in the background pales in comparison to Melissa as Mom. She only becomes more lovely.
One of Elizabeth’s favorite places to hang out is my study.
(which is cool, most of the time.)
Whether you wait to build a family after school or during school is a decision that each couple has to make on their own, before and unto God. But if someone is in the “take-in-info-from-both-sides” stage, then consider this to be my endorsement of being a Dad and a student at the same time.
“What’s Daddy doing?,” Elizabeth repeats with an inquisitive smile. We think that we are on the brink of entering her question-asking stage. She is putting things together. She is able to perceive a situation, detect a gap in her perception, and then formulate a question to fill the gap. What is most interesting to me is that all her questions deal with activity. She mainly wants to know what so-and-so is doing. And that so-and-so is mainly me. She wants to know what her daddy is doing.
A two-year old and her questions — you know we do the same. “What is going on?” We ask the question like issuing an order, “I’ll take my explanation with verbs, please. And a little adjective on the nouns.” We want to know what is up. What is happening? Life must have exegesis. We can’t go on without commentary. So it is with the nature of her question.
Now to whom her question is directed. Why, it’s me. She asks her daddy what he is doing. “She asks her daddy what he is doing” — does this sentence remind you of prayer? Have you ever prayed this way? You come to the Father and the only thing you can muster is the question: “Daddy, what are you doing?”
A variety of different circumstances can produce the same question. Maybe it is a painful blow that leaves us aching. Maybe it is goodness that makes us shake our heads in awe. Maybe it is both of those at the same time. Either way, we bring our Father a question. “Daddy, what are you doing?” This is a good question to bring him. We are not going the route of the postmodern glorification of doubt here. The goal of our question is not the question, it is the knowing. The goal is to know our Father and know what he is doing in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit, for his glory and for our good. The question constitutes a part of our faith. We ask because we are not afraid. We ask because we’ve been given grace to believe that he is working for the sake of his name and our benefit.
I’m not sure exactly what my daughter expects me to say when she asks what I am doing. She asks because she has a question. She asks because she knows I’ll say something. And I think she asks because she knows that whatever it is I say, it will be for her good. A two-year old and her questions — yes, you know we do the same.
Mark 3:31 And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. 32 And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” 33 And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34 And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.”
How we understand the covenant community will affect the way that we understand our own families, in particular, how our unregenerate children relate to us in a subordinate bond to that of our spiritual brethren. (I tried to be careful there–most people won’t like that).
Jesus has redefined “family” in Mark 3. “Family” are those who do the will of the Father (v. 35). Jesus is gathering a new community, a new family, that will transcend everything else. There is a bond that I share with a brother or sister in Christ that is superior to the bond that I currently share with my own daughter who does not yet have a new heart.
I am perfectly happy with saying this. The implication is even more glorious…
First, what it is NOT. The implication is not that Jesus has abolished the family. Absolutely not. There is just something sweeter now. And just because this one bond is sweeter does not mean that I choose Church over family. That is the worry, right? The supposed implication that makes us recoil at what I previously said is that we think it means that now I should choose the Church over my children. Superiority in bond does not equal importance, nor does it prioritize my efforts.
Quite the contrary, knowing that this superior bond is lacking between my daughters and I does not bump them down on the list, it puts them on the top! My home is currently a mission field. Do you get that? Giving the gospel to my children is the greatest calling on my life.
Mark 3:31-35 makes me love the Church more, and it makes me pour out my life for the sake of my children.