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Just Thinking

I Was Just Thinking … About Fearless Happiness

Just for Fathers Day

We bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable [secure], undefiled [satisfying], and unfading [stable], kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3–5

Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. Ephesians 5:1

I think a good way to illustrate God’s fatherly love for us is with a story from my own experience as a father:

All of the members of our family of six like to cook; both the men and women find pleasure in the process of putting together a meal. My son is a good cook, but it took him a while to achieve this level of competence. Many years ago, when he was still in Middle School, we gave each of the kids a portion of the Thanksgiving dinner to prepare. He was assigned the green bean casserole. I thought I had taught him how to read a recipe card correctly, but I forgot that he sometimes transposed numbers when he read. So I didn’t monitor him too closely. Because of this he learned that to succeed in preparing this dish, it’s critically important to know that a small “t” on the card stands for “teaspoon,” while the capital “T” represents “tablespoon” (tablespoons contain three times as much volume as teaspoons). And he learned that transposing the digits in the fraction 1/8 compounds any other decoding errors. So that year’s casserole had twenty four times more black pepper than it required.

Since then he has become a very good cook, in part because he understands the concept of the teaspoon measurement. He no longer consciously worries about it, because it’s become a part of the way he thinks. He’s fearless in the kitchen; so he’s very happy cooking meals. He knows that the relationship between the teaspoon and the tablespoon is stable: one tablespoon will always contain three teaspoons; he’s not afraid this correlation will change. He knows that this truth is secure: he’s not afraid that anyone can take this information away from him by force, or that he will ever forget the lesson he learned so powerfully in the eighth grade. He also knows that he will always be satisfied when he uses this knowledge: he’s not afraid when he prepares food using this information that his recipes will ever fail to be tasty.

Fearless happiness requires having a sense of stability, security, and satisfaction. When my son finally made permanent space in his cooking lexicon for the related concepts of teaspoon and tablespoon, he began to discover that these qualities of stability, security and satisfaction described more and more of his culinary experiments. And this connection goes way beyond cooking. Advertisers of the most successful products have convinced us that these qualities will describe the experience of everyone who uses their merchandise. Leaders of the world’s successful organizations create environments in which their followers experience stability, security, and satisfaction. Dads of the most fearlessly happy children have done this as well. Often, we accomplish this unconsciously, just by relating to them in ways that cause them to feel stable, secure, and satisfied. But all of us dads will be more successful in this endeavor by understanding more fully how the process works; and all of us as children (especially as God’s children) will be more receptive to what our dads are doing if we understand more clearly what they’re trying to achieve.

For fathers, the teen years are some of the most important in a child’s life because they are some of the most difficult. The difficulty stems from the flood of what my wife labeled “horrormones.” As these chemicals of maturation course through their bodies, the only constant they experience is change. Their reality will be lived in the extremes. Not all the time of course, but randomly and inexplicably. When they want to be strong, they’ll be brittle. When they want to be gentle, they’ll be a puddle. When they want to concentrate, they’ll be frazzled. They need their dads to be stable and to provide them a sense of stability. You will need to be the form for their ice cube, so even when they melt down, you hold them in place until they solidify again. When their world is coming apart, your patient, loving hugs of reassurance will convince them that the pieces of their planets will not be lost in space.

If your children need you to be a force for stability, they also need you to be a force for security. Fearless happiness depends on your not falling apart on them; it also depends on your always being there. I’ll illustrate this with a less significant example: On a hot day in July, you give your daughter a delicious blueberry snow cone. It has a limited amount of stability, so she begins to eat it right away before it melts into a yukky paper cup full of blue water. While she’s eating this, her irritating little sister (or brother) tries to get his hands on it and take a bite. The first word out of her mouth is “DAAADDY!” You quickly realize your mistake in not buying two cones, and rescue her by gently leading the hungry sibling over to the snow cone stand. Thus you secure her treasure; she is no longer afraid that she’ll lose it, and she is free to enjoy the happiness of snow cone heaven. Dads, the higher the stakes and the more you show that you are a force for security, the less your children will fear and the more they will be happy.

Let’s go back to the blueberry snow cone for a minute. On any ordinary day, this would be real treat. And the memory of this event will provide many years of joy as each of you looks back on this special moment. But let’s suppose that she asks you for the cone, even though you both know you’re supposed to get your picture taken with the family in half an hour. If neither of you has had a blueberry snow cone before, then you’re in for a surprise—as I was the first time I bought and ate one of these—because they turn your mouth BLUE! So here’s what I mean by the term “satisfaction.” The taste of the blueberry snow cone is very satisfying on a hot July afternoon. But when you sit down in front of the camera with a blue mouth, all of a sudden that sense of satisfaction vanishes faster than the snow cone did. Now both of you are stuck! You can’t go back and un-eat the shaved ice. There will be no fearlessly happy smile in the family photo. You’ve just realized that the kind of satisfaction your children need is the kind that allows them to look back on your actions a long way down the road and not regret acting. Dad, because you’re the older and wiser and more situationally aware individual, you can help them achieve this kind of satisfaction. You can demonstrate it in the choices you make, especially in the way you care for your wife; and you can teach your children to anticipate the consequences of their actions, so they will be fearlessly happy now because they know they will have satisfaction without regrets in the future.

One last related thought. Be patient with each other, as God is with you. You need stability, security, and satisfaction in order to be fearlessly happy people, but producing these qualities in your relationship will take time. So be patient with each other. One of my daughters and I learned this early in her childhood. When she was about 7 she decided life would be more fun if she had a pet. So we went to the pet store and told the owner that she wanted to buy an unusual pet. After some discussion, she finally bought a centipede (100-legged bug), which came in a little white box to use for his house. We took the box home and found a good location for the box. Then she decided she would start off by taking her new pet to school with her. So she asked the centipede in the box, “Would you like to go to school with me today; we will have a good time.” But there was no answer from her new pet. This bothered her a bit, but she waited a few minutes and then asked him again, “How about going to school with me and receive an education?” But again, there was no answer from her new friend and pet. Charissa was learning to be patient, so she waited a few minutes more, thinking about the situation. She decided to ask him one more time; this time putting her face up against the centipede’s house and shouting, “Hey, in there! Would you like to go to school with me and learn about biology?”

A little voice came out of the box. “I heard you the first time! I’m putting on my shoes.”

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