You’re 35 years old, or 40, or 45, but there you are, crawling on all fours and barking like a dog, while your little toddler howls hysterically and tries to hoist herself up onto the back of the barking monster. Or you’re pulling and eager three-year-old onto your lap, her favorite “blankie” wrapped around, comfortably settling in for another episode from the exciting saga of make-believe Ratfink or for a tenth re-reading of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Or you’re out on the driveway, modeling the perfect lay-up for your future star basketball player. For the moment you’re a child again.
And that’s why parents need children – to remember who they were and what they did before they grew up, to revive and perpetuate the playfulness and imagination and fantasies of childhood days that were magic then and are magic still.
You’re late for church, so you’re pushing the pedal a little harder than usual; after all, it won’t do to come in after the introit for the fourth Sunday in a row. But Little Eagle Eyes in the back seat hardly needs a megaphone: “You’re going ten miles over the speed limit, Daddy!” It’s as effective as any siren.
That’s when you learn to pray
Or you’re sitting around the dinner table, just after Bible reading, when some perversity entices you into a heated argument with your wife over the consequential issue of whether boiling water should steep for two or three minutes before pouring over the Lipton tea bag. Out of the corner of your eye you catch the confused look on junior’s face, and at once you remember the words just read: “Does anyone think of himself as a religious man? If he does not control his tongue, his religion is worthless and he deceives himself.”
Children are acute observers: they spot your slightest defect and inconsistency a mile away. That’s why we parents need children; to see ourselves through the eyes of our children is to squirm uncomfortably and guiltily sometimes, but it is also a stern and much-needed corrective – for our growth as Christians and for our modeling as parents. After all, our children learn most from their observations of the actions, words, tone, and looks of those with whom they live.
You’re in your teenager’s bedroom. You suspect her of drug use, of hanging out with the wrong crowd, of going to the wrong parties, of compromising or even losing her faith. But your probing and pleading meet only sullen silence.
Or you’re sitting by the hospital bed of your oldest; you know from the medical reports that you’re in danger of losing him. You hold his young hand on your own, and you want desperately to never let it go.
That’s when you learn to pray. Children can bend the straightest knees and humble the proudest hearts. They can teach us in painful ways our absolute need of God and make us discover, even and maybe especially through tears, the grace that comes from the adoption of God as Father.
You’re old now and living alone with many other aged in one large building. The care is good and the companions are nice, but they are not the friends of your youth or of your adult life; those are mostly gone now, as is your life’s partner. What gives you most delight still are the visits of your children – their cheerfulness, their touches of thoughtfulness, their presence, and all the memories they embody of years that slipped by so quickly but still are relived in the mind on many a long evening when the shadows push the present back into the past.
Or you’re bedridden now and gradually learning the last lesson: to let go of life. Doctors and nurses come and go; some people from your church do too. But what matters most in these waning hours of life is the presence of your children. They hold your hand now, they feed you and read to you and pray for you; and sometimes they sit in silence, but they’re there, and you need them, especially on this last journey. That journey is easier in the company of your children, in the presence of their care and concern. They’ve always been part of you as you’ve been part of them, and they sustain you now with the strength of their love.
Do children need parents? Of course they do. But parents need children too.