by John Ellis
Today was my eight-year-old son’s first official baseball game of the fall season. As the youngest, smallest, and least experienced kid on his team, he was excited yet nervous. I was excited and nervous for him. Expecting to play very little, he was happy to see the lineup, finding out that he was going to play three of the five innings. During the second inning, his first, the game was marred by an injury.
During the top of the second inning, a batter on the opposite team took a pitch squarely in the face. Sitting in the stands, I watched the pitch sail in high and way inside and thought to myself, “duck, kid.” Unfortunately, when the batter flinched, he turned directly into the ball. Learning how to protect yourself at the plate is a skill that must be learned, like throwing and catching.
The crunch could be heard in the stands; screaming, the poor kid collapsed with blood streaming from his shattered nose.
Watching it unfold – the injured player’s distraught parents rushing to the field, the pitcher sobbing at the realization of what he had just done, the injured player’s teammates crying at the sight and sounds of their buddy who was in pain, the whitened faces of Hayden and his teammates as they weakly took a knee at the hushed commands of their coaches – memories came rushing back of Hayden’s feeble cries for help as he lay on the ground with an angulated fracture of his arm last October.
During that moment this morning, I thought, “Take Hayden out. He’s too young. He’s too unskilled; he doesn’t know how to protect himself at the plate. He’s going to get hurt.” The feelings of helplessness and anguish for my hurting boy that I felt rounding the corner of the house last fall and discovering him lying in pain on the grass, feelings that made an unwelcome reentry into my mind this morning, tempted me to make decisions that would insulate my son from harm and pain. But, as badly as I wanted to pull him from that field, I knew that would be bad parenting and worse theology.
The bad parenting is easy to see, I think – children need to be taught that the threat of obstacles, even painful obstacles, isn’t a reason for quitting or not doing something to begin with. As The Princess Bride’s Westley says, “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” Most of us understand that being too protective of children is doing them a disservice. The bad theology, though, may not be as apparent.
Our Heavenly Father doesn’t insulate us from pain; we’re not promised a rose-colored existence in this life. We are promised His unfailing love, the unwavering sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, and an eternal home with our great Savior, enjoying the blessings of God for all eternity. In this life, as we look ahead to the next, Christ followers are called to love God and love our neighbor. A life characterized by righteousness by the power of the Holy Spirit. Desiring and pursuing holiness.
Pursuing holiness is often a path of pain and loss, but that is the path that ends with our final and full salvation. As Romans 8:28 promises, everything God’s children experience and go through in this life will be used to conform us to the image of the Son. Hiding in a corner with the goal of avoiding the pain and loss that is frequently the earthly reward for being a gospel light in a dark, fallen world is not the life our King has called us to.
As Hayden’s father, my job is to be the best metaphor for God the Father as I can be. If I teach Hayden that the best way to navigate this life is to quit and hide from the things that are tough, uncomfortable, and cause pain, what would I be teaching him about God? I would be teaching him that the ultimate reality, the best reality that I want for him, is in taking the path of least resistance. I would be teaching him that as his father, I believe that never taking a risk and never suffering pain is a greater reward that what’s on the other side of the hard part. As a bad metaphor for God the Father, I would compose a story that teaches him that salvation is found on the wide, smooth, and easy road.
Parents, don’t fail to see the importance of your role as a metaphor for God the Father. Often, parenting decisions are rooted in pragmatism and have a transactional bent. Understanding the value of stories and how metaphors are a powerful tool in God’s Story that He has written us into is sadly lacking among many of us. Just because we can’t quantify the results from a parenting philosophy that prioritizes embracing our role as a metaphor for God the Father doesn’t mean that the consequences aren’t eternal in nature.
As parents, with each and every parenting choice we make, we need to ask what we are communicating about God to our children.
I left Hayden in the game. Of course, as I continue to work with him on baseball skills, I’ll help him to learn to recognize things like which direction the pitcher’s fastball tends to cut and the proper way to turn away from a pitch to minimize the pain and damage if and when he gets plunked. Those things aren’t unimportant. However, by God’s grace, I will strive to prioritize making parenting decisions that best communicate to my children whom God the Father is. My most important task as a parent is to be a metaphor for God the Father not to protect my children from all possible bumps and bruises.
Soli Deo Gloria