NOTE: Chapter 8, Joy in Gratitude, was posted November 26 and November 28, 2013 in celebration of Thanksgiving. Please click on the archives to read that chapter.
A great man never ignores the simplicity of a child.
People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
–Mark 10:13-16 NIV
Being a dad has opened my eyes to a plethora of truths, but three points in particular stand out: 1) children have a natural propensity toward joy, 2) it’s okay to have fun and enjoy life, and 3) boogers can be considered a sixth food group. Okay, I’ll admit the third point may be a stretch for most of us above the age of 12, but if you really want to know what joy is, if you truly desire to embrace joy and live life filled with trust, wonder, mystery, fun, curiosity, simplicity, and power, embrace Jesus’ challenge to “receive the kingdom of God like a little child.”
My daughter is a walking guidebook to what joy looks like, and every day she proves God has an unfathomable sense of humor. Hannah demonstrates the Kingdom of Heaven in living color, and her innocence, playfulness, trust, and ability to live in the moment have effectively chipped away at my rigidity, OCD, and caring what others think about me. Her giggle is enough to chase away demons of self-pity and anger, and her constant singing replaces them with angels of calmness and clarity.
Art Linkletter, prolific author and motivational speaker, was best known for the segments on his early television show “House Party,” where he asked kids questions and got back candid and sometimes hilarious responses. Mary and I have discovered since Hannah’s birth more than six years ago that we have a “House Party” every day; how can you not when you’ve got a rug rat zipping around your legs and tugging on your heart!
The girl makes us laugh, from her perpetual silliness (mostly eruptions of random noises, whistles, and eardrum-busting squeals while imitating various animals, especially guinea pigs) to her rabid independence when dressing herself (in leopard-print tights, polka-dot sweater-shirts, and neon-glowing socks) to her spontaneous creativity with Elmer’s School Glue, construction paper, Scotch tape, scissors, and imagination. But what continuously amazes us is her capacity to sling hysterical one-liners that can sometimes outdo the best stand-up comedians. If a sense of humor is a sign of intelligence, Hannah’s IQ must be 200.
One evening I sat at the kitchen bar while Mary finished prepping sides for dinner. The grill was heating up outside, and I was waiting for Mary to tell me when to throw the steaks on. Suddenly a knock came from the foyer and Hannah ran into the living room, announcing someone was at the door. By then Mary and I had gotten pretty proficient at identifying fake knocks from real ones (especially because fake knocks don’t sound at all like the doorbell ringing, but the dogs have yet to figure that out), so Mary hollered “I’m not opening the door for anyone, except the Christ.”
Hannah scampered back into the foyer, turned around and ran back. “Yep, it’s Jesus, all right!” she announced with a huge smile. If Mary had had water in her mouth she would’ve spewed it all over the mashed potatoes.
One afternoon Mary drove her sister Laura, brother-in-law Scott, and Hannah into Fort Worth to do some shopping in preparation for Laura’s 50th birthday party. While in the Texas Christian University area they decided to stop and grab a bite of lunch at a Mexican restaurant. After they finished, Mary pulled the car onto the busy four-lane street with the intention of doing a U-turn at the next intersection, but after turning and moving all the way over to the left-hand lane, she realized she couldn’t pull a U-turn at that junction. She voiced her opinion of the situation loud enough for Hannah to hear, and Hannah quickly defused the situation: “Mama,” she said, “I’ll keep an eye out for cops while you do a U-turn.” Hannah was four at the time.
As I mentioned, one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from raising a child is that it’s okay to have fun in life. Having a child gives you all sorts of excuses to act like a kid again. For instance, our whole family still goes trick-or-treating with the neighborhood at Halloween. We go to the theater to watch kids’ movies, and we take Hannah to the circus once a year (Hannah thinks we go to the circus mainly to eat cotton candy an hour before bedtime). We ride the kiddie rides at fairs and theme parks, and we play all sorts of board games, from Chutes and Ladders and Candyland to Parcheesi and Sorry. Hannah’s now learning how to play the Star Wars edition of Monopoly, after acing her Monopoly Junior game. We hunt for bugs. We go on twilight toad hunts. We play Putt-Putt. But all too fast she’s growing up, getting serious, losing her little-kidness one eye roll at a time. It makes me sad, but it also makes me realize I don’t have to let go of fun even if Hannah seems to be growing out of the more juvenile stuff. We all have the capacity–and freedom–to hold onto that childhood sense of wonder, mystery, playfulness, and joy. Indeed, we have the obligation.
Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes