Well, I’m down to one, one child at home. Nicole just started at UNC and David just went to Job Corps. It hasn’t been easy. In addition to the bittersweet joy and sadness, moment-by-moment mood swings, I suppose it’s natural to have moments of regret; at least I know I do. “I could have done more.” I could have done what I did good even better.” “I did things wrong.” “If I could do it again, I’d…”
Last week, I was reading in Matthew 7, and verses 9-11 took on a radical new meaning for me.
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”
As a father, I have reflected on this passage often over the years. Of course, we sometimes get confused about what “good gifts” are and focus on giving things to our children which may be ‘good’ in one sense, but perhaps not the best sense, but I think most Christian parents understand “good gifts” to be: food, nurture, spiritual formation, acceptance, love, shelter, medical care, character, education, and the like.
Sinners that we are we often fail to give the good gifts in good measure and unfortunately we sometimes give ‘stones,’ though I hope I’ve never given a ‘snake!’ ðŸ™‚
What struck me the other day as I reflected on this in light of children leaving home and some of the regret one naturally feels about not having given good enough gifts often enough–and all parents have to face this, but it doesn’t mean wallow in it or think one can’t continue to give good gifts–was this insight from God.
What is the best gift? What meets the true definition of Good each and every single time without fail? Jesus Christ, of course. That’s when, for the first time, I linked the above passage with Communion.
In John 6:48-51, Jesus said: “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
In Luke 22:19 we read these words we hear proclaimed each Sunday: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”
Even before they know it, our children ask us for bread. Even when they don’t understand what they are asking for, they ask us for bread. This includes the literal nourishment of food and drink, of course. A baby’s first cry after “Whatever that was that just happened to me, it hurt like crazy,” is “I am hungry.” Nor do I believe it is a coincidence that the last words the Incarnate Son of God spoke on the cross before he said “It is finished” were “I am thirsty.”
But like so many things in the flesh, our children’s first cry for food and drink points towards God and a spiritual hunger and thirst. They are also asking for the true Living Bread of Life and the Living Water.
I often tell people about how I loved feeding my children their bottle when they were babies. When I did that I knew with absolute clarity and certainty that that was exactly what I was supposed to be doing at that moment. Nothing else had a claim on my time. Nothing else could take priority. It was the perfect peace of knowing that whatever else in life was confusing or stressful or conflicted, this moment was pure.
As I reflect on my children growing up and leaving home, I now know that when Kerri and I brought them to church, when we brought them to the Lord’s Table, we were still giving them their bottle–which is both food and drink.
There is no better good gift we can ever give to our children than to take them to worship and celebrate the sacrament together. As God’s child, when I have asked my Father for good gifts for my children, He, as always, has faithfully responded by giving them Himself, even when I haven’t seen it because I was looking for a different answer.
I give thanks to God that whatever else I might do differently if I could do it over again, this one thing I would never change. Like us, they are really His children anyway. The best good gift we could ever give to them is Him. When I take them to worship, it is exactly what I am supposed to be doing. Perfect clarity. Perfect certainty. Perfect peace.