I went swimming with my family yesterday afternoon. This is a bold move for me considering how much I loath cold water, not to mention the fact that my particular shade of skin tone falls somewhere between paper plate and Arctic landsape. But it was hot outside and I was tired of sitting by the side of the pool so after buttering up my skin with sunblock and inserting an IV drip with more anit-UV serum just in case, I swam. But I didn’t really swim so much as I shuttled children around the pool on my back, their little hands and arms gripping tightly to my slippery, white-goo-streaked neck and throat. Since I don’t go swimming very much I can only assume that the novelty was too tempting for my kids to pass up, so they took full advantage of the lanky, new pool toy.
And we had fun.
After drying off and coming inside my son went to sleep on my in-laws bed. At three years old he looks tiny on a queen size bed, surrounded by a fortress of throw pillows, kicking at heavy blankets like they have waged war on his body, and contorting himself in the way that only kids can without post-nap consequences. When he’d been asleep for quite some time I snuck into the room and silently looked at him. While this might sound sort of creepy to people who don’t have kids, parents will understand. We look at our kids. And there is no better time to look at them than when they are still. And they are never still unless they are asleep.
So I looked at him. I looked at his little fingers, dangling from arms crossed underneath his back as if a sleep outlaw had tied them together before robbing the boy of consciousness. I looked at his hair, crazy and tousled, like a litter of blonde, baby Kraken’s had been place on top of his head for safe keeping. I looked at his mouth, open just enough to let air in but not enough to reveal the tips of his baby teeth. I scrutinized this little person and I loved him.
But the staring wasn’t enough. I shuffled over to the edge of the bed and gently kissed his smooth forehead, barely touching lips to skin so as not to disturb him, and in that moment I realized something important.
As a father, I do not love my children because of what they’ve accomplished, or how well they’ve obeyed me or even how much future potential for being great, obedient and helpful people they possess. I feel differently about my kids than I do about my car, or my computer, or a new pair of shoes, or a good meal. All of those have one thing in common: I am going to use them in order to value them. A new pair of shoes that I never wear is of no value to me, the same being true of a new car that I never drive. But my children are profoundly different because their value is not found in how useful they are to me, but in the fact of their identity as my children.
When I raised up from kissing my son’s forehead I realized that I didn’t kiss him to make him feel loved. He will never know that I kissed him yesterday. That kiss will not register in his memory as a symbol of his daddy’s affection, or as a mark of his acceptance in our family. That kiss wasn’t about me giving my son a reward. And this reveals an important aspect of real love: showing love may or may not be beneficial to the one receiving the affection, but it is always of great benefit to the Giver. I kissed my son yesterday while he slept and, despite the fact that I was the initiator and the one who did all of the “work,” I was still the greatest beneficiary of the exchange.
It caused me to feel thick-hearted as I walked out of the room yesterday as it became very real to me just how God loves me. He kisses us while we sleep, not because we’ve done anything remarkable or earth-shattering, but because He understands the benefits of giving love. Do we really not believe that God gains pleasure out of loving us? Have we worked so hard to carve Him out of unchanging, immovable, petrified divinity that we’ve missed His incredible fatherly affection? What would change in us, what would it do to us and for us, if we knew that He watched us while we slept, not just while we sweated for the kingdom, but while we slept and rested under the watchful gaze of the King who is our Father?