I stood leaning against the doorjamb in the pitch-black darkness listening. It was late night or early morning in January of 2016 and I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t what I saw, or didn’t see, that woke me. It was the assault on my ears and the erratic breathing that was my concern. Seth was once again snoring away. He sounded like an 80-year-old, overweight man desperately in need of a CPAP machine. He was only 7 years old at the time. Stephanie and I had noticed the lack of energy and dark circles under his eyes over the previous months. The poor kid couldn’t breathe at night and I had a front row seat to the sound of a logger ruthlessly assaulting a forest of trees coming from my second grader’s room. We had to do something and my dad-guilt was spiking by the day.
A couple years prior, during a regular check-up, the doctor mentioned something about Seth’s tonsils. I wasn’t really paying attention as I tried to manage Seth’s two very busy siblings while the doctor spoke. “You may want to think about getting these things removed,” the doctor said, “They may get in the way of his development and Seth seems to be in here a lot with strep throat.” Apparently, Seth had huge tonsils that were prone to infection and the doctor foresaw the inevitable. At the time, I didn’t see the need to operate and really didn’t want to think about voluntarily putting my son under the knife, so I brushed the comment aside. Seth continued to suffer for two more years because of my inaction. I leaned against the doorjamb listening to my son fight for breath and regretting my cowardice. The next day we scheduled the appointment with the surgeon to discuss Seth’s tonsillectomy.
A month later we showed up to the surgical center where we checked in and waited in the room for the surgeon. I cracked jokes with Seth as he wore his operating gown, trying to lighten the palpable anxiety in the room. Seth smiled the smile he uses when he’s trying to let me feel like I’m making a positive difference when in reality I’m not. To say we were terrified was an understatement. I knew it was the right decision to make but it was the hardest decision I had ever made regarding the welfare of my son. I looked into his eyes, prayed for him and watched as he bravely climbed on the gurney to be rolled into the operating room. I walked back to the waiting room to sit, wait, and pray for my son whose fate was no longer in my hands.
Surprisingly, I held it together for a couple minutes. My dad was in the waiting room with me reading a magazine and Stephanie, who went with Seth into the operating room hadn’t yet returned. I excused myself, went to the nearest bathroom, locked the door behind me and proceeded to weep uncontrollably. The feeling of helplessness and guilt consumed me. I couldn’t protect Seth. I had made a decision to ignore a problem two years prior and he had paid the price. The “helpless lamb” look in his eye as they rolled him away kept flashing across my mind. I wanted to run into that operating room and save him but I knew it would be wrong of me to do so. I had to choose to put him in harm’s way for his good even if he didn’t understand. I had to be his father. I had to love him in this way.
As I sat on the ground of a hospital bathroom with my back to the door I felt God speak very softly to me, “This is what it means to be a good father.” This is what it means to love. Seth stayed on that operating table because he knew me. He knew his dad wouldn’t make him suffer for no reason. He trusted me with his life and the power of that trust was more than I could imagine. This is fatherhood. God reminded me of my identity with respect to Seth. He reminded me that the façade of control is a lie. He forgave me for my inaction before and assured me He loved Seth more than I ever could. No matter what happened, Seth was a son of God before he was a son of Jason and Stephanie. Seth was a prince in God Kingdom.
I washed my face and walk back into the waiting room realizing it’s really difficult to hide bloodshot eyes. I held Stephanie’s hand as we waited for Seth to get through surgery. He was soon released back into our care and bombarded with as much ice cream as he could possibly eat. God showed Himself faithful once again. He’s the best Father any of us could ask for.
My job as a father is to remind my children often of their true identities. There is enough noise and chaos in this world to confuse and distract. It’s far too easy to allow our circumstance and situation to define who we are. That’s not what the Father says about us.
I cannot begin to imagine what it was like to have been one of God’s people as he rescued them out of Egypt. They had been slaves to Pharaoh for generations and then Moses showed up with a shepherd’s staff. God’s people had front row seats to see wonders upon wonders. Water turned to blood. Flaming hail fell from the sky. The angel of death came through and killed every firstborn of Egypt. Not to mention the walk through a sea that was parted long enough to turn around and find the waters decimated the relentlessly pursing Egyptian army. God’s people must have been in awe as they marched out of their bondage as their captors threw treasure and wealth to them on the way out. God has a knack for story.
Not much longer after that God’s people found themselves on the edge of the Promised Land, their new home. Remember, they had just seen the hand of God move in miraculous ways. Moses sent 12 men go to spy out the land that God said was “flowing with milk and honey.” That may not mean much to us today but for a slave nation that spent generations in a desert land, milk and honey is a promise seemingly too good to be true.
It’s not long before the twelve returned with their report of the land, and proof that the land was as good as God said. But something happened that seems peculiar for a people who had seen God move in such a magnificent way. The guys admitted that the land was good, but with the same breath confessed that there were giants in the land. In a moment, they went from singing praises of God’s goodness to doubt of God’s ability to fulfil His promise. Their environment screamed failure to them while God was telling them to go into the land and take it. They had a choice to make, and they chose to believe their circumstance over what God said about them. God called His people sons and daughters in His house, and instead they chose to name themselves “grasshoppers”. It’s easy for us to look back and criticize their choices. We would have made better choices, right? The hard part is realizing we do the exact same thing today.
I heard this whole idea of naming ourselves grasshoppers from a talk with Gerry Breshears. Where, in your life or circumstance are you believing the grasshopper lie? Before we can truly understand our story, it is essential that we accurately understand how God views us—our true identities. It’s really easy to believe that what we do equals who we are. In other words, your actions, your past, your roles and performance do not define who you are. What should define us is what God our Father says about us.
What we believe about ourselves and our circumstance, and what we believe about what God says about us alter the course of our story. It’s so easy to believe we’re grasshoppers, especially when it feels truer than anything else. What would it look like for a people to walk in the truth that we are royalty in God’s Kingdom? If we truly believed He was a loving Father who provides and protects us? If we believed He had sent us to advance His Kingdom by good works He’s already prepared for us. What if we were willing to suffer as servants in the advance? What if we believed He was our friend?
I remind my children often that the only identity that matters is the one God the Father gives them. Their ability to believe in that is only a result of their trust in Jesus and His perfect life, sacrificial death and triumph victory over sin and death. He is our true anchor. He will never fail. It’s tragic when we allow the lies we believe to lead us to misconception of who God is and how He really truly feels about us. It ruins me when my kids believe something incorrectly about my heart toward them and it breaks God’s heart when we do the same. True transformation doesn’t begin until we recognize and choose not to believe the lies that shade the views of how we see life, God and each other. True freedom can only be realized after the Spirit of God comes and opens our eyes to His truth, driving out the lies we believe. Light defeating dark. It works, every time.
Seth began to thrive after his surgery. He was like a plant which was root bound in a tiny pot that was transplanted into an environment with no constraints. His voice changed, his rest got better and he hasn’t had strep throat since. By God’s grace, and through trusting in His goodness and what He says about us, we can make hard decisions for the betterment of those we are charged with loving. He doesn’t ask us to do what He hasn’t done Himself. I’m forever grateful to a God like that.
One of my favorite things to say to couples I hear are having their first child is to remind them of their future of sleepless nights. I know it’s annoying. I’m fully aware they hear the same thing from every parent they talk with, but it’s my right and duty to remind them. Stephanie and I get to sit back from the not-so-safe distance of adolescence and remember the days when all we worried about was who could pretend they were asleep longer than the other when the baby started to cry in the middle of the night. Maybe I was the only one playing that game but I usually won. Stephanie is way more empathetic and servant hearted than me. Plus, I don’t mind the sound of crying babies. Sorry about that honey!