I am learning quite a bit about fatherhood these days, but I am learning even more about sonship. When I look at Joshua, it is like seeing myself in one of those mirrors that makes objects appear smaller than they actually are. I see myself, just on a smaller scale, because he is only 3. And I hear myself, too. Some of our dialogues sound familiar, like I have heard them somewhere before. Let me give you a few examples.
Back in April we went to the Azalea Garden at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and we found a little playground on the other side of Kelly Drive. When we got there, Josh managed to climb up to a place from which he could not climb back down, and he spent the whole rest of our time being too scared to let me help him get back down to the ground. When he finally gave in and trusted me enough to let me lift him down, I said, ‘There. Now, was that so bad?’ Josh told me that, yes, in his opinion, it was so bad.
‘That’s a bunch of baloney,’ I said. ‘That was easy-peasy. Hey, listen! I brought you to this park so that we could have fun together, but you ruined everything because you spent the whole time being afraid and not trusting me.’ When I had finished, I thought to myself, ‘Boy, that sounds an awful lot like what God said to Adam and Eve.’ God put his son and his daughter in a park so that he could walk with them in the cool of the day, but they ruined everything because they didn’t trust him (Gen. 2-3).
You see, we keep having these conversations in which Josh sounds like me talking back to God, and I sound like I am quoting God from Scripture. I am learning from this how to be God’s son as well as Joshua’s father.
Here is another example. A couple of weeks ago I wanted to take Josh to the mall north of the Liberty Bell to play hide-and-seek in all the archways. Josh had other plans. He couldn’t remember ever going to that mall before, and he couldn’t quite see the point. So I said something like this:
Look, I want to take you to a new park to play some new games together. It’s going to be great; it’s going to be even better than the Stage Coach Park, but you’re going to have to trust me. I know you’ve never been there before, but I’ve been there, and trust me, it’s going to be great.
Eventually, we did go the mall, and it was great. We played hide-and-go-seek, and tennis ball tag, and soccer, and basketball. On our way home we had a conversation that went something like this:
‘Thanks for going to the mall with me, Josh. We had the best time, didn’t we?’
‘Now, before we went, did you trust me that we were going to have a good time?’
‘No you didn’t! You didn’t even want to go, but I was right, wasn’t I? You have to learn to trust me.’
God the Son said much the same thing to Simon Peter after he took his little excursion on the Sea of Galilee: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ (Mt.14:31).
There is another little conversation Josh and I have had dozens of times. My big speech in it goes like this: ‘Have I ever let you down before? No, seriously, Josh, have I ever dropped you before? In your whole life, have I ever dropped you, even once?’ God has a speech like that, too: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Josh. 1:5b).
My other regular speech is even shorter: ‘Stop whining.’ That is what the Lord God said to the children of Israel when they were grumbling in the wilderness (Ex. 16:1-12), and what he said to the Philippians: ‘Do everything without complaining or arguing’ (2:14).
What I am learning from these conversations is that the basic problem with sons is that they want to be dads. They do not believe that their fathers know what they are doing, and so they want to be the dads of their own lives. Daughters have the same basic problem, by the way.
We came in from playing outside the other evening, and Josh didn’t think he was ready to go to bed yet, and so he said ‘It’s my choice. I can do whatever I want to do.’ That reminded me of Jeremiah 6, verse 16:
‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’’
Sons tend to be skeptical, argumentative, and headstrong. They are better at complaining than they are at trusting. In short, they are an awful lot like their dads. Their dads are having trouble being good sons to their Heavenly Father for the same reasons.
The only difference is that dads can see things from a father’s point of view. That means that they sometimes get a taste of what it is like for God the Father when his sons and daughters grumble, argue, and wander. It is heartbreaking.
What fathers want from their sons is trusting love. Every once in a great while, I feel as if I am getting through to Josh. ‘I trust you, Daddy,’ he said not long ago. ‘I know you won’t let me down. I can trust you because you love me. You’re the best daddy in the whole world!’
That is what fathers love to hear from their sons and daughters, and your Father in heaven is no exception.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2020 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org