As a parent, it's a beautiful and powerful moment when someone - often a complete stranger - will approach you, point to your child and say, "He looks just like you!" And of course I hear people all the time telling me, "Man, you look so much like your Dad." It's awesome to see that very visible evidence that you "belong" to someone - that you see your parent, cousin, grandparent, or child and somewhat feel like you're looking into a mirror in time.
And of course, this goes way beyond just physical looks and appearances. You watch your child's habits or personality traits and don't have to wonder very long as to where they inherited or learned them. I have a couple of mannerisms that I'm becoming aware of that were 100% my Dad. Ironically, one of them used to drive me crazy. How's that for paybacks?
Several years ago we started noticing my daughter (who's the firstborn) in a constant battle for control. She not only wants things done a certain way, she wants to do them herself. There's just no way you're going to pull it off in quite the right fashion. Better let her handle that. Not long after becoming aware of this behavior in her, I began to be mortified over the fact that I was actually watching myself in motion. Why is my daughter a control freak? Because her father is an expert! As your kids start getting older, you begin realizing more and more the extent of the personality traits and learned behavior that they've either inherited from you genetically or have soaked up like a sponge, watching you so powerfully model and put on display. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It can be a great thing! We just have to be aware that it's constantly happening and probably won't let up.
In light of this, the other night I had possibly one of the weightiest conversations I've ever had with my 8-year old son. He REALLY wanted something he saw at the store: a jersey of a very popular NFL player. You see, Nathan would wear nothing but wind pants and football and baseball jerseys if we let him. It's his thing. But for several reasons (which I will spare you in this post) I didn't think he should spend his money on this item. He had just shared with me the day before of something very special - something very selfless for someone else - he wanted to do with his remaining money. Now he's telling me that he "needs" this jersey. "But Dad! I really really want it!" We debated - and I use that word graciously - for quite a bit of time in the store. Finally I told him, "Son, it's your decision. But please understand, I'm not just trying to teach you how to spend your money. I'm trying to help you learn how to make wise choices. And I don't think this is a wise choice."
As you might have guessed, he bought the jersey. And of course, he wore it the next morning.
The whole way home from the mall and most of the evening I was incredibly agitated. And it seemed to be focused like a laser in Nathan's direction. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew it was something much bigger than just the jersey incident. If I'm being honest and transparent with you, I have a great struggle at times having grace, patience, and compassion with my son. He puts me to the test. And I sat there Saturday night, frustrated and distracted, wondering why I was in this condition. And then Sunday morning came and it hit me like a brick upside the head.
When I look at my daughter, I often see some of my quirks, personality, and mannerisms. But when I see my son - when I have to discipline him, teach him the same thing over and over, and sometimes feel like I'm not getting anywhere, I don't see my personality, my facial expressions, my love of laughter, or my easily-distracted zeal for life. What I see in my son is my SIN.
Please understand, this is not to say that my daughter always acts like an angel OR that my son is always in trouble. But my son struggles with the need for other peoples approval. Guess what? So do I. He is constantly at war with a pride that hates to lose and selfishly wants to be first. So am I. My son is often tempted to buy into the lie that if he just gets his hands on that ONE LAST THING...that happiness will arrive like a gift with a bow on top. That a new jersey or pair of Vans or one more game for the X-Box or an iPhone 5 (to replace this dinosaur relic of an iPhone 4) is finally going to bring the satisfaction and elation that will eternally sustain the sunshine of my heart! And of course you know, that's all a big, fat lie. Those moth-eaten, rust-destroying, temporary idols I place on the throne in my heart momentarily will never satisfy me. Only Jesus can. Only Jesus will. And I want my son to know this. I want him to see it so evidently lived out in my life, in my actions, in the way I spend and save money, in the way I value people, and as I intentionally and deliberately pray for God's Kingdom to reign in my life instead of my own. This will not only bring very painful moments where I have to confront his sin, but incredibly humble times I have to confess my own. He doesn't need to think I'm perfect; he needs to know that Jesus is.
This struggle - of seeing my own sin in my son's life - is not going to just disappear. But I'm reminded this morning of the opportunity I have to look at his life, the joy he brings me, the constant laughter he provides everyone around him, the bursts of selfless generosity that come flooding out of him, the passion he has for anything he sets his mind to, and the heart-wrenching love I have in my heart for him, and to remember that I've only seen or experienced but a glimpse of the Father's love for me. And because of the great love of the Father, I now know how to love my son. And now, as I look at him, what I see in my son doesn't have to be my own sin, but that overwhelming, grace-filled, life-changing love of my Savior. Thank You, Jesus.