Raising children is a great blessing. That God would bestow upon man the ability to share in His creative power is a wondrous example of His generosity; or, depending on your viewpoint, this procreative ability is proof that God has a sense of humor.
Can you imagine what else might have been said in Heaven during Creation week that is not recorded in Genesis? After God said “Let us create man in our image…” I like to imagine there might have been a comment like: “This will be great! Just wait until all those dads have to try to change a diaper for the first time!” Or “Now, we shall create in these children an unprecedented capacity for destruction.” Or even better, “Let us impart in children the desire to do things repeatedly and thus drive their parents crazy.”
Lest anyone accuse me of heresy by adding to Scripture, allow me to be the first to admit my wittiness is indeed lacking (thankfully my kids aren’t old enough to realize that yet).
All jesting aside, in God’s masterful design He does not simply give parents children pre-formed in virtue and discipline. No, He gives us what are essentially blank canvases; child-sized nuggets of clay. Our task as fathers (and mothers!) is to mold and guide these impressionable young people down the path of goodness and righteousness in much the same way God molded and guided the people of Israel, His sons and daughters, into the Promised Land.
Thought of in these terms, the privilege of being a father is a daunting task. All the more so if we recall the words of the Gospels: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Mt. 18:6)
In order to be the best fathers we can be, and to direct our children towards Heaven, we should not only be passing lessons to our children but receiving lessons from them too. Of all the lessons we parents can learn from our children some of the most important are the lessons about God and eternity – if only we have the ears to hear – because it helps to have the proper perspective on things of this passing world. Modernity tells us to live in the fleeting present. But as Catholics we strive for an everlasting “present” in Heaven. Three lessons in particular from my children help me remember that fact.
- God is eternally young
The youthfulness of our children should remind us of God’s youthfulness. G.K. Chesterton once wrote:
“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun… It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” (Orthodoxy, 1908)
- “Memento Mori”
One of my fatherly traditions (which began quite by accident) is to attend Mass every day for the 30 days leading up to my wife’s due date with each of our children. Prior to the birth of my third child it occurred to me – during a Requiem Mass of course – that I should pray for my son’s death. Not that I should pray that he would die, as he most surely will someday, but rather pray for his death, that it will be holy and happy. I realized this was my solemn duty as a father. By God’s providence I will not live to see my child die, but that also means I will not be there, physically at least, to encourage them in their final moments. However, if we have raised our children well and prayed that they might have a good death, then in his final temptation my son may be able to persevere precisely because I prayed for his death before he was even born. That is an encouraging thought, and a somber reminder of this fleeting world and the length of eternity. Pray for your child’s death because you may be the only one who does.
- For every first, a last
Watching your children grow is filled with firsts: from their first steps, to their first skinned knee, to their first heartbreak. And yet, the things of this world are fleeting. For every first accomplishment you will encounter a final moment of some sort, and most likely it will pass without recognition. When was the last time your daughter fell asleep on your shoulder? Or the last time you fed your son? Do you remember the last time you combed your daughter’s hair or tied your son’s tie? Each of these final moments will happen for all of us fathers, and they may come sooner than you expect. Even on your worst days, when the children are most obnoxious and the rhythm of life is the most monotonous, recall how some day will be the last time you wipe a tear from your child’s eye or tell them to stop hitting their sister. The “world without end” is a long time, but remembering that our current world is full of finality will help us to better appreciate the present and to consider eternity.
One does not need to be a father to learn these lessons; yet they should be abundantly clear to any father upon a moment’s introspection. If more fathers learned these lessons and lived more appreciative of eternity, then modernity’s siren calls to indulge in every passing fancy would cease to hold so much sway over so many. Recalling eternity is the bulwark against worldly temptations. If you’re a father, be sure to thank Our Father in Heaven for His generosity in providing you reminders which are so readily accessible.