As a fan of finding illustrations of spiritual truths in everyday life, being a parent is a goldmine. And for me, nothing has so effectively illustrated the concept of discipleship for me than being a daddy, because nothing says “DIE TO YOURSELF” better than interacting with a needy toddler that can’t be reasoned with.
Being a daddy hasn’t really taught me anything new about discipleship. But seeing what I already knew illustrated in a fresh context has really helped me to appreciate what I did know, such as:
#1 – Some things are only learned by constant reinforcement.
There’s some things that Calvin does only because my wife and I taught him. And when I say “taught him”, I mean modeling it for him constantly every day over the period of several months. Sign language, for example. Oy. We probably signed “eat” and “more” a trillion times before he finally started doing them. It took long enough to make me wonder on several occasions if we were just wasting our time. These days it’s me trying to teach him what I never thought I’d have to teach another human being to do, which is spitting after brushing his teeth. Oh, he mimics the sound of spitting, but the only saliva in the sink is mine.
#2 – Lots of things are learned without you trying to teach.
This sank in when I observed Cal taking his giant, colored keys over to our front door and putting a key in-between the door and the frame. How the heck did he know what a key is for?! Oh, because he sees my wife and I using them every single time we leave. Another example was when we started putting our iPhones up to his ear and saying “Hello”. Considering how much we text and how little time we actually spend talking on the phone, I was pretty amazed he picked up on this.
Recently, he began using one of those really long bubble wands as a baseball bat and got me to pitch to him. We rarely have baseball games on in our house, so I have no freaking clue how he knows about how to play baseball. But at some point my genius prodigy of a son saw it and picked it up.
I don’t think about my son picking up on this stuff, because they’re activities I do so routinely that I’m not even aware that I’m doing them. Yet while I’m absent-mindedly answering a call or unlocking a door, he is constantly watching and learning. And this terrifies me.
Again, these two observations don’t provide anything new to my understanding of discipleship. But they’re powerful reminders about how discipleship works. For one thing, it’s a reminder that formal instruction in the Christian faith is necessary. By “formal instruction” I’m referring to teaching someone doctrine, how to read their Bible, scripture memory, even just sitting down with someone and reading the Bible together. Our knowledge and understanding of these things takes time to develop but are critical.
The other reminder is that the way I live my life is teaching others far more effectively than my words are. If I’m formally teaching someone about the sovereignty of God yet get uncontrollably anxious every time life takes a turn I didn’t expect, I’m undermining my message. On the other hand, if I rely on the sovereignty I’m teaching in those difficult moments and allow my doctrine to calm my heart, I’ll give serious weight to the reliability and goodness of Scripture. My actions and attitudes are constantly teaching. The only question is what they’re teaching. By God’s grace, they will give weight to what he says in his Word.
Oh, and I’m assuming that the only thing that says “Die to yourself” more than having a kid is having two of them.