Christine is about 4 months old now and although she's not talking yet, I love talking to her and for her. Yes, I said for her! You only have so long before they start talking for themselves! One of the unique things I've always done is talk for the babies, eventually Amelia and older kiddos have adjusted to the little game I play and now they even expect it! Sometimes the other kids will talk to Christine and ask me to "make her talk". It's one of my ways of playfully engaging between the baby and others. Baby says some outlandish things sometimes, but it's all in good fun!
Baby talk. It's adorable for any parent when the baby finally says "momma" or "dada" or whatever else they manage to get out. We make a big deal out of those first words, we're so proud!
Babies talk, babies grow into toddlers and learn more words. I've always enjoyed this part of being a dad - word play with my kids. Silly songs, stream of conscious nonsense - it's fun! Naturally this translated into one of my favorite things back when I was a pastor - children's sermons. I found them to be one of the most difficult aspects of being a pastor but I loved the challenges and the times when something seemed to click for a child.
Children's sermons were difficult because only the Lord knows what a child might say and they always felt like a disruption in the flow of the liturgy, even though I enjoyed doing them I still had to switch gears, as it were. But I remember waiting eagerly for the children's sermon when I was little and then enjoying listening to them from the pew when I was too old to go up myself. You never knew what some kid was going to say and sometimes it was really funny!
The challenge as a pastor was to be concise, engaging and let the kids talk too without letting it get out of control. Brevity is not always a pastor's strength (ahem...), but the reality is you only have so long before you lose the kids (and sometimes the adults too!). I have always admired the pastors and teachers who do fantastic children sermons - it's not easy.
Recently I heard someone describe the Bible as God's Baby Talk to us. The more I reflected on it, the more the comparison resonated with me. As a father explains things in a way his children can understand, so God considers our limitations in what we can handle about things divine and expresses them to us understandably in human language. The Bible is God's baby talk to us. He loves us and so He comes to us where we are at to communicate to us.
Regarding things divine I think we are always like babies. How childish even the wisest and most eloquent theologian must sound in God's ears.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Those words from the Prophet Isaiah occur in a marvelous chapter in the Book of Isaiah all about God's compassion for his people. Indeed, God is more compassionate towards us, His children, then we can even begin to imagine. In the same way that a child never really understands the love and sacrifice that a parent makes for them so we do not really begin to know the depth of God's compassion and love for us.
Father's Day is coming up this weekend. My greatest joys and frustrations with my own kids revolve around communication with them. I can be too easily and quickly frustrated when what I ask isn't understood or when it's ignored. And my greatest joys are when something I said brings them delight and joy or helps them understand the world a little better.
My own experience as a Father makes me marvel how good my heavenly Father is. I can never approach His goodness and compassion and yet His goodness towards me is an example I aim and strive for. I don't think of my calling as a father to imitate my heavenly Father as a burden I can't attain. I think of my calling to imitate Him in my own fatherhood as growing into what it means to be truly human and truly a father, accomplished only by the grace that He gives me. May He continue to give me the humility I need for that process, the courage to admit my failings and ask my kids forgiveness for when I'm too impatient with them.
I think that's one of the greatest gifts a dad can give, teaching kids humility and forgiveness and to seek God in every moment of the day. What does it profit a child if we give them the world but they lose their soul? The recent and tragic slew of celebrity suicides is a reminder to us that from outward appearances someone might seem like they have everything but they feel like they have nothing to live for.
The nihilism of our wealthy society shows that largely our culture is seeking for meaning in things that cannot and will not deliver in a lasting way. What is of true value that I can give my kids as their father? I pray that through my own Baby talk with them that God will help me to give them the one thing needful and the tools to navigate the world and their life always seeking for Him in every moment of every day.