I stood behind the door wanting to fly in with my red cape, but I can’t this time.
She was crying. A lot. And with the passion of her future self at a One Direction fifteen-year reunion concert, she showed now signs of stopping. The experts told us it was time. I thought it was stupid. What could possibly be healthy about letting my eight month-old daughter get comfortable with the idea that her tears no longer yanked the superhero out of her daddy? Were the sweet nothings I whispered in her ear every night that damaging? Did my rocking arms really constrict and stifle her budding development? Did the tears, now welling up in my eyes, somehow communicate more love than leaping into her room and saving day (or night, I guess)? You don’t have to be in the game very long to realize that being a dad is hard.
I stood behind the door counting down the seconds until I could fling it open and scoop her up. But I had to wait. Four minutes I was told. It was time to ween my little girl off of her daddy’s bedtime affections. My wife, who is the most incredible mother I know, had read an article or a blog post or a tweet or some other form online communication that explained if we wanted a well-balanced child, and desired to be well-balanced ourselves, then it was time to change Glori’s sleep time routine. I trusted my wife. But I didn’t trust the internet. Nevertheless I stood behind the door, listening to my daughter grow up.
Just the day before I could love my daughter the way I wanted. I could swaddle her like a little caterpillar in its cocoon, waiting for new life as a butterfly to dawn. I was allowed to rock her in my arms, lulling her to sleep while singing what I’m convince is her favorite song. And I could tip-toe out of her bedroom as she drifted into another blissful sleep. But that was yesterday. Tonight, I had to shield my heart from her tears. Apparently they only stay in caterpillars form for eight months. It was time for my little butterfly to start flying.
As a person who thinks what the Bible says is real and true, one day I’ll have a lot of explaining to do. Especially in light of the fact that my wife and I are raising our daughter to think and believe this way too. I can see it now. After one of those epic boy-band concerts my sweet, by that time teenage butterfly will have a question. With her first black streaks of mascara slipping down her cheeks, she’ll ask, “If God loves me so much, then why did he let Candace and Tiffany tease me so much about Zayn?” I’m sure she won’t wait for some eloquent, pastorally seasoned explanation. I could just imagine what the door I was standing would sound like when it slams shut. (By the way if you ask me that Zayn guy sounds like a jerk; what kind of name is “Zayn” anyway?)
Maybe it won’t be after a concert. But someday she may be confused by the idea that God is describe as wonderful and generous and yet many of her friend’s fathers treat them horribly. Or maybe I’ll do something to break her heart and the contradiction will be standing right in front of her. Maybe it won’t be because she was teased. Maybe all of her girlfriends’ dads will be awesome. And I hope I never put that kind of doubt in her mind. But it’s inevitable. One day the message of a loving God will collide with the reality of the sadness around her. Kind of like the collision happening in my heart behind the door to her room. Whenever it happens, I’ll have a lot of explaining to do.
If and when my daughter asks me such a question, she won’t be alone. In fact I think it is one of the most difficult aspects of being a person of faith or believing in such a God … reading an idea or promise or story in Scripture and finding it contradictory in comparison to our everyday experiences. For instance, when my wife and I experienced the miscarriage of our first pregnancy I found the stories of Abraham and Sarah as well as Jacob and his wives completely aggravating. In both cases women were faced with infertility and God opened their wombs. They celebrated. How was I supposed to harmonize those stories and principles and celebrations with the pain my wife and I felt? In other instances when the end of the month rolls around and Mint.com tells me things aren’t exactly flush, verses casting God as the ultimate provider are bit difficult to stomach. Jesus even instructed his disciples to have faith by highlighting the lack of anxiety a flock of birds had because God always provides for them.
I stood behind the door and I wanted to be a sparrow. It was a desire that welled up from deep down within me. It felt like grief and anger and complete annoyance wrapped up into single contradiction of faith and life. My daughter kept crying. I kept reassuring myself this was normal, no big deal, but I still hurt for her. I started whispering under my breath, coaching her to sleep. I even started praying that God would help lull her to sleep in my stead. Just another sixty-seconds.
Since becoming a dad I’ve paid much closer attention to the numerous places in Scripture where God is describe as Father. There are many. Jesus talked about God and to God as his Father — which makes sense since he was the Son. Jesus’ famous payer, the Lord’s Prayer, begins with that address … “our Father who is in heaven.” Actually this is one of those images as well. One of those difficult aspects and places to find harmony between Scripture and the reality of life. Many people, as I imagined of my daughter’s future circle of friends, don’t have good dad. And one of my greatest fears is that I’ll give my daughter a misguided picture of fatherhood. To think of God as a father or dad … let’s just say it can be complicated.
Another story comes to mind. Jesus asks a group of men, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” I bet the crowd was a little confused, but nevertheless understood that the answer was none of them. Jesus connects the dots. “If you then, know how to give good gifts to you children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”
The point Jesus was making was that the Heavenly Father desperately wants to give good things to his kids. He loves them and freakishly desires their well-being. Like every loving father he knows what they need and desires to give generously, and even rescue them when necessary. Ah, but it also means he knows when it is best to withhold something, or to let his son or daughter experience something difficult that will instill qualities in them that can’t otherwise be produced. Perhaps even like the ability to sleep through the night.
Just as I was about to open Glori’s door with my red cape flapping behind me, the unthinkable happened. She stopped crying. In fact, as I remember it, she started sleeping a lot better and crying a lot less every night after that. And so did I.
One day the tears will come back. Mascara will run and she’ll be wearing a t-shirt donning the mug of some British-Irish pop star. And I image she will want to ask me a question before she slams a door. She’ll want to know how divine love and tangible sadness can coexist. I don’t know everything I’ll tell my daughter that night. But I do know I’ll start by telling her about that night I stood behind her bedroom door. The night I found out the internet wasn’t so stupid after all.
Photo credit: Flickr/TheStaceys 1