Reverie on a Christmas tree hunt

Sixteen years ago I wrote a column about our 2-year-old daughter’s first Christmas as a mobile and independent-minded participant in the festivities. I thought about that time this year as she, the youngest of our brood, led her mother and me on our annual Christmas tree hunt. This will be her last Christmas as a full-time resident of our home. She seemed to know it and came alive as she strolled purposefully through the rows of trees at the farm. I gave her carte blanche and she chose the tallest and most expensive tree we’ve ever tied to the truck.

I know I could be all melancholy about the impending change and that day will doubtless come.
Inevitable change made the day a little nicer, though. Watching Maggie get happy about shopping for a tree was almost as much fun, though not as funny, as when she was two feet tall. It was delightful to give her complete say about what we picked out without her having to “negotiate” with her brothers or worry about the practicality of it all. I’ll remember the day.

Because it’s “hers” she’s the one who admires the tree every time she crosses the room. She keeps it lit every hour she’s home. It’s just a fine thing.

I take pleasure in the fact that our grown kids still love some of our family traditions. That’s true even as they move toward traditions and obligations of their own. In fact, it just seems right that they and we (the parents) increasingly move along different though parallel paths. I like it so long as those paths are
not very far apart.

It’s commonly noted that God gave us spouses and children and parents partly so we could understand his love for us. That point is driven home thousands of times over the course of raising kids. It’s very hard to miss at the two ends of full-time parenting, the mostly helpless little one and the young adult going out the door. They show two important aspects of our relationship with the heavenly Father.

Of course it’s easy to see ourselves as little children under God’s care. Our small knowledge and abilities just don’t compare with his boundlessness. The image of childlike faith also lives vividly in the hearts of those who spend any time with little ones. I additionally see myself in the petty things that frighten and frustrate small children. I’ve often been reminded of how small my vision must seem to the Lord who sees the whole picture.

Like little ones, we’re tempted to think we’re bigger than we are. Like a patient father, the Lord protects us when we’re ignorant and restrains us when we’re foolish. We learn about the Lord from being fathers and we learn how to be fathers by listening to the Lord.

The lessons of parenting young adults are real but more subtle, I think. I pull back from obvious parallels that show God as the old dad who hopes to hear from his kids?it’s really not that way at all. We are the little ones and the responsible beings all at the same time. The same Father who comforts and disciplines me as a little child also holds me responsible for the things he’s given me and the people in my care.

As a father of grown kids, though, I do understand the Lord’s desire that his children respond to his love as an act of our own will. When my kids call or visit, I’m glad to hear from them whether they are asking my advice (I really like that) or just want to chat. I take those contacts as expressions of respect and love.

While God’s ego needs no stroking, he is pleased that we turn to him in respect and love. He is the one who can meet our needs and who is worthy of our worship. I understand that better now that my kids have lots of choices in relationships and choose to put me on speed dial. It seems right that they do that.

And I believe that God takes pleasure in our enjoyment of him and his stuff. Earthly fathers enjoy watching their children discover things that have grown old hat to them. In a similar way, the Lord knows that we will find delight if we walk in his truth and his way. That parallel remains the same at all stages of our lives. As much as I loved watching my kids discover frogs and Gettysburg and Phil Keaggy, it’s just as sweet to watch them learn to study and be good employees and start homes of their own. Actually, it’s a deeper satisfaction to see your children do the right things because they’re expressing their own character and have made their own commitments to the ways of the Lord.

May our Father give you joy this Christmas. May you find joy in the loved ones he’s given you for the few years of this life as well as in the Lord who is the source of all these loveable things.

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