Monday, September 8, 2008
Many apologies to those who might have taken me at my earlier word about writing more frequently than I ended up doing so over the past couple of months. All I can say is: summer happened. On with the show!
Over the summer I took our daughters, ages 2 and 3, to the public kiddie pool quite often. On one occasion, there was only one other group there when we arrived: three young women and a little girl. Immediately, upon entering the pool area, the little girl latched on to us and started talking to us. She told us that she was 4 years old and continued to chatter at us while I was getting our family situated. The three young women just sat at the edge of the kiddie pool and talked with each other, occasionally barking at the girl for some infraction. Probably a little starved for attention, I thought to myself. But she’ll get bored with us.
But the girl didn’t get bored withus. She played with my daughters in the pool, but she constantly tried to cross my radar screen, saying things like, “You can’t splash me!” and “I bet you can’t squirt me with your squirtgun!” A little awkward, to say the least. After all, she wasn’t my kid, but she apparently was desperate for some attention, especially since the young women with her–one of them obviously her mother–were giving her no attention at all.
When I overheard the girl’s mother’s friend talking about how excited she was for her upcoming 18th birthday, it hit me–a moment of insight, or at least perceived insight: this little 4-year-old girl had no father figure at all in her life–let alone a decent mother figure–and she was crying out for a little male, father-figure-type attention that she wasn’t getting at home. She was “flirting” with me, desperately trying to win the three A’s from me that every kid wants from his or her father: attention, affection, and approval.
Awkward, indeed. I was counting down the minutes until it was time to leave, trying to be polite and focus on my own kids for the duration of our pool visit. When the mother announced that it was time for them to depart, the little girl cried and threw a fit, insisting that she needed to stay just a little while longer.
My heart aches for situations like that. Because dynamics from early childhood tend to repeat themselves throughout a person’s life. Chances are decent that in ten years that little girl will still be throwing herself at men, still desperate for a little attention. And we all know what kind of trouble teenage girls can get into when they look to teenage boys for love and attention. Unfortunately, dynamics like these are powerful, and they tend to pass along from one generation to the next, sustaining the cycle of broken relationships. Not to downplay the importance of mothers, but every kid yearns for the unique love that only his or her father–biological or adoptive–can offer; there is something about a father’s love that can’t be faked.
But this post is not meant as some kind of psychoanalytic case study or as an opportunity to stand over dysfunctional families in judgment, while shaking my finger at them. The point is that sometimes our human dimension can tell us a lot about our spiritual dimension, as well as the reverse.
Because every person–whether he or she is aware of it–yearns for the Father’s unique, unparalleled love. Everyone has a God-shaped hole in his or her heart, aching to be filled with God’s love and presence. We all want to know the satisfaction of being loved unconditionally by our heavenly Father, to experience the attention, affection, and approval of our Creator.
But we don’t always know where to turn to for such fulfillment. We chase after all sorts of empty sources–the temporary rush of risky behavior, the numbing effects of alcohol, the narcissism of false religions, the fleeting contentment found in faulty relationships–seeking that elusive joy that we all crave. Not even aware of what drives us, we bounce from one thing to the next, like bees searching for precious nectar.
But there is only one way to know the love of our Father: to become his child through faith in Jesus Christ his Son (Galatians 3:26*). When we acknowledge that he loved us enough to send his Son to live, die, and rise for our benefit, and when we surrender to his perfect love, then we can cradle in our true Father’s arms, content with his love, fulfilled by his protection, and affirmed by his approval.
Some of us have good earthly fathers, while others have bad fathers, if we have any father at all. But all of us are equal in our opportunity to become one of God’s own precious ones.
* “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (Galatians 3:26 TNIV)