Be Exalted, O Christ: A Requiem
Unless you become like a little child, our Lord once said, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Since the beginning of time, fathers have been expected to instruct their children in the ways of life and God. In Proverbs, Solomon exhorts his son to heed his instruction, and the Torah commanded fathers to teach their children the fear of the Lord and commandments of Moses.
I was very much looking forward to teaching Daniel the ways of life and God, such as how to read a topographical map, how to preach, and how to marry a woman who epitomizes Proverbs 31—three things at which I have excelled. I also looked forward to instructing him about football and backpacking and Bible study and how to write three books in the time it takes to get your oil changed.
But in the last few days, I’ve realized that God intended Daniel to teach me a few important things, rather than the other way around.
When Sara went back to work when he was three months old, it fell to me to play dad on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays. For nearly two years, it was just me and him on those days, and though I often griped about all the things not getting done, I enjoyed playing daddy to him a little bit more than I wanted Sara to know.
I could talk all day and night about what my son taught me in his brief life, but I’ll mention three.
1. My son taught me a lot about joy.
I remember how elated I was as I rushed to the hospital when Sara was admitted for him to be born. I remember the rush of adrenaline when he was born. I remember how we sang and rejoiced over that little bundle. Little did Sara and I know, but within that little bundle lay God’s great plan to bring unspeakable, unprecedented joy into our lives. It seems Daniel learned to laugh just weeks after his birth. His giggle quickly became the most infectious, most adorable expression of happiness one can imagine.
Daniel found rapturous, delirious joy in M&Ms and Thomas & Friends and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and books and Legos. Daniel also found joy in hugs and kisses, in smoothies and milkshakes, and secret sips from Daddy’s coffee mug when Mommy wasn’t looking. Since March, he took great joy in his baby sissy, Audrey. Daniel was a proud big brother, and he had no problem showing affection to her.
Daniel found rapturous, delirious joy in going to Bible class and in his Mommy’s embrace when she came home from work. Daniel was a joyful child. When my dad died unexpectedly in 2004, a great deal of my personal joy in life died with him. Only when my son was born was that joy restored and nurtured.
Daniel taught his daddy that Christ-glorifying joy is not found in secular achievement, financial security, or cheap popularity. No, joy comes from spending time with those who love you most. There is no doubt in my mind that my son knew without question that he was loved, and this gave him his joy that he spread to others. This past Father’s Day, he and I celebrated our bond by breaking out the kiddie pool in our front yard. I lay in the pool, relaxing, while spraying him with the water hose. His squeals of delight will remain a wonderful memory the rest of my days.
One recent night, while mom and sister attended a holiday party at a friend’s house, Daniel and I went out on our first Guys Night Out. I surprised him by taking him to Chick-fil-A, by far his favorite restaurant. As he got closer, I started building it up to him—Do you want to go to Chick-fil-A? And get a milkshake? And meet Santa Cow? And play on the playground? I saw his two tiny fists lift in victory as he shouted, “Yes!”
As Sara and I chose a name for him, I insisted (and had always known) that I would name him after my father. But we chose a middle name that we felt also honored my father’s memory. Isaac. It means laughter. Little did I know just how much my son would live up to his name in less than three years of life.
2. My son taught me a lot about love.
Daniel was such a loving child. Of course, he loved his mommy. He loved her so much. He adored her. And though I at times was miffed being his #2 favorite, I knew Sara rightly deserved the bulk of his affection. I’ve never known a woman who adored a child as much as Sara adored our son. Daniel learned love from his mother, and he then in turn taught it to me.
Daniel didn’t understand the concept of personal space. He would hug another child a little too roughly sometimes, but he always had the best of intentions. When his sister was born, I bought him a special book called, “I Love Dogs.” He quickly adapted the joyous shout of the book to others. “I love mommy!” “I love daddy!” “I love sissy!”
Only in the last few months did he begin expressing his love in the most tender of ways. I can’t tell you how much my heart melted when I would tell him, “I love you, BooBoo,” and he’d reply “wuv you daddy,” often with a sippy cup in his mouth. In recent weeks, motivated by his love for me, I would sit him on my knee, make him look me in the eye, and tell him I loved him and that his mommy and I were so proud of what a good boy he was.
Daniel taught me that Christ-glorifying love for those around us needs to be expressed, especially verbally, or else it is cheap and practically non-existent. Daniel taught his daddy that expressions of love are most critical on the terrible horrible no good very bad days when he’s torn something, broke something, spilled something, scribbled on something, and produced the foulest diaper you’ve ever known. Daniel taught me that expressions of love are most critical on those days.
3. My son taught me about courage.
Daniel didn’t have cancer, nor was he asked to battle a dreadful disease that is visited on so many other children. But Daniel was fearless. I like to think it’s because I would hold him often, even from birth, and tell him, “You’re daddy’s little man. You’re my little tough guy, and I’m not gonna let anything bad happen to you.” I think on some level, he took that to heart, as well as a little too far. He was always scaring his mother to death (as well as me, if we’re being honest) by crawling or walking too close to the edge of the porch, climbing on top of tables and chairs, spinning around in chairs, and the like. Daniel was a fearless explorer.
About a week or so after we moved to Keller, Daniel walked right out the front door without Sara’s or my knowledge. Our hearts leaped from our chests when we realized he wasn’t at home. I ran outside and down the sidewalk, only to find a nice neighbor herding him back to our door. “Does he belong to you?” the neighbor asked. Daniel’s joyous shriek of “Daddy!” as he ran into my arms gave it away.
A few weeks later, and this time at 6 in the morning, I had already left for work and thought I had locked the door. Daniel simply unlocked it, walked outside, and made a mad dash with a destination firmly in his little mind. His mommy and I had been promising we’d take him to the playground, but had been lax about fulfilling said promise. So Daniel took matters into his own hands. After a frantic search in the dark in our neighborhood, we found him near the playground. He was scared a little bit (his mother and I more so), but he was determined to play on that playground. My son was fearless and was eager to explore the world around him. After all, his father called him a tough guy and had promised nothing bad would happen to him.
I do not believe that courage is necessarily the absence of fear. As I administered CPR to him early Tuesday morning, and as the medics tried to revive him, I was afraid. When my father died, I was afraid. I’m been afraid many times in my life. But Daniel taught me it’s ok to be afraid as long as I know that my heavenly Father will never actually allow spiritual harm to befall me that I am incapable of overcoming. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, the apostle writes, but against evil spiritual powers in the dark places. The very powers that Jesus triumphed over and humiliated thru his death and resurrection. Daniel taught me the meaning of biblical courage, that there is nothing we cannot overcome through Him who has loved us since before the foundations of the world. We are, after all, more than conquerors as God’s children.
Unless you become like a little child, our Lord once said, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
Sara and I solicit your prayers as we walk this valley of death. We mourn a life that was much too brief. But we celebrate also, for God saw fit to bless us with a joyful, loving, courageous little boy who taught us so much. We could not have asked the Lord for a better son. And though our hearts are heavy, we greet the dawn of an uncertain and bereaved future confident that our hands are held by He who works all things according to the counsel of his will. As confident as we are that we have 10 fingers and 10 toes, we also believe that God works all things for our good and his glory. We rejoice and give thanks and bless the name of the Lord, even in our pain, for we know that in our tragedy, Christ will be glorified to the ends of the earth.
Be exalted, Oh Christ. Be exalted. Both now and forevermore.
Mommy and daddy will always love you, BooBoo. And we will see you again.