I came home yesterday after a long day and walked in the house to see my two year old daughter run out of the bedroom, but this time she looked different. He shirt was bulging out from her belly to her chest with the outline of a stuffed bear. I asked her "what is in your shirt"? She replied "bear"! "Why is bear in your shirt" I asked. She responded simply... "He's eating". To fully comprehend this story, you need to know that "bear" is her baby. She plays with him and kisses him and carries him around. About 15 minutes later, bear's head was poking out of the neck of her shirt. "I'm wearing bear" she said.
It was cute. I laughed and kissed her and took photos, but then I started thinking about this incident. Where did she learn to "feed bear" by placing him under her shirt? Where did she learn to "wear bear"? She has been watching her mama and what her mama does with her little sister. That might not seem like a profound thing, but it does have profound implications. Our two year old is learning from watching her mama and papa.
The Beauty of Admiration
It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Why do kids imitate their parents? Why do they watch them and then mimic their behavior? I believe it's because they love and admire their parents. They look up to them and want to be like them. Admiration causes us to imitate. Why are there cover bands? Why does Pinterest exist? We see the beauty in something and then want to recreate that beauty. We admire the beauty and seek to make something like it. We were created this way. We were created to see beauty and seek to reflect beauty.
Cal Ripken and Baseball
I have seen this play out in my own life. We lived in Maryland for a while at the height of Cal Ripken Jr.'s career. He was the premier shortstop in the game, and I loved watching him play. He made spectacular plays look effortless. There was a beauty in how he played the game. So I would watch him and as I watched him, I began to want to be like him. I wanted to be a shortstop. And I wanted to be a shortstop like Cal Ripken. So as I watched him, I would begin to observe how he played. How did he set up? How did he throw? How did he swing the bat? What was his routine at the plate? I studied him and mimicked him, and began to play like him. I played like him in the same way that Finleigh fed a baby. It was an imperfect shadow of Cal Ripken, but the more I watched him and studied him, the more I played like him. In other words, I grew to be a better baseball player.
One day I had a little league game and I caught a pop fly with one hand. That was a cardinal sin in our home. You always catch the ball with two hands. It keeps the ball from popping out and messing up the play. That night, my dad came into my room with a newspaper clipping that had a picture of Cal Ripken catching a pop fly. Both his hands were extended up and he was under the ball. I'll never forget what my dad said... "Cal Ripken catches pop-ups with two hands". That was all it took.
Observing And Admiring Eyes
Your children are watching you. They are seeing how you live your life. They are seeing what you value. They are seeing how you respond to adversity. They are watching how you relate to your spouse and how you relate to others. They hear what you say and watch what you do. Just as Finleigh "fed her bear", they will instinctively begin to reflect you more and more. They will reflect the good and they will reflect the bad. You are shaping your children by how you live your everyday, ordinary life. There will be no other person who has a greater influence on the formation of your children than you. The reason is simple. They admire you. They love you and that makes them want to be like you. You don't want to be like someone you don't admire. So what do they see?
Reflecting God Through Admiring God
We are made to admire. We are made to reflect. We reflect what we admire and love. Your children will see what or who you admire or love. The question is this... Does your life show them that Christ is who you admire and love? The Christian life is a call to follow and reflect Christ (Matt 4:19). How do we do that? We do that through being enthralled with admiration and affection for God. We look to Christ and in looking to Christ in loving admiration, we become more like him (2 Cor. 3:18 cf 2 Cor 4:4-6).
I've seen some of my worst traits show up in my daughter. I stand there wondering "where did you learn that"? Then I realize that they learned it from me. That should drive me more to Christ because I want to reflect Christ more and more to my children. I want them to see that I value and admire Christ above all else. We are children of God through faith, and as children, we need to look to God with loving admiration that studies him and reflects him. That is what we were created to do. We were created to reflect God. In Christ, the damage done by sin has been overcome and so through faith in Christ, we are free to reflect him as we were intended to. Our hearts are freed to love God with all of our being (Luke 10:27). As we love him more, as we look to him more, we will become more like him.
Finleigh imitating Carlee was honoring to Carlee. In the same way, our imitation of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit is honoring to Christ. Finleigh's imitation was imperfect. It was a bear, not a baby. The bear wasn't actually eating and she couldn't actually feed the bear even if it could eat. But Finleigh was showing that she wants to be like her mom and though it was an imperfect reflection, it was honoring to her. Likewise, our imitation of God will be imperfect. We fail. But even our imperfect reflection of God is honoring to him. As we learn more about who he is and as we love and desire him more, we will reflect him better. Do you have that kind of admiration and desire for God?
The Ministry of The Ordinary
Your children will see this through ordinary everyday life. They will learn the worth and value of Christ by seeing it displayed in your life in a thousand different situations and circumstances. What I am talking about can only happen if you are first transformed as a new creation through faith and if your exercise that faith out of a desire to know and reflect God more accurately as a means of honoring him. Ordinary life, everyday priorities, casual conversations, and regular interactions with our children display for them what or who we love and admire. As parents, we have a tremendous ministry with our children in showing them that Christ is of supreme worth in our lives (Col 1:18). In Christ, we have a perfect Father and His perfect Son to look to. The more we look to him and see his worth and beauty, the more we will admire and love him, and the more that happens, the more we will emulate him and reflect him to all around us.
If you feel like it's too late, it's not. It is never too late to reorient our lives around Christ. To grow in our affection for him. It's never to late to start showing your children his value. So the question is this... who or what do you reflect?
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”
1 John 5:2-3
Husband to Carlee, Papa to Fin and Ainsley, Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Arbor Drive Community Church in York, Ne., and co-host of The Pastor Discussions Podcast.