The whack of her head striking the edge of the table put an end to her innocent laughter and brought everyone in the orthodontist’s waiting room to attention. Instinctively, we turned toward the commotion. Silence followed. Everyone anticipated the release of her pain, and when she let loose our ears rang. Out of such a small body came a piercing scream, followed by a gasp for air and then uncontrollable crying.
Hastily, the little girl’s father knelt down to free her from underneath the table. Even before he completely dislodged her, she grabbed hold of his neck and clung tightly to the safety of his strong arms, throwing him off balance. He steadied himself with one knee and protected her head with his hand as he pulled her out and gently sat her down on his lap. Immediately, she turned and buried her red face firmly into his chest; her small heaving torso rested against his as she sobbed.
While he spoke softly, offering words of assurance, he pushed back her mussed-up curls from the injured spot on the back of her head and, on close inspection, found just a good old-fashioned bump—thankfully no cut. The receptionist came over to see how the little girl was doing and offered a cold pack wrapped in a cloth. He gladly accepted it and thanked the woman, saying that although his daughter was more scared than hurt it would help with the swelling. The little girl didn’t resist when he gently placed the cool compress on the bump. After a few minutes, the sobs faded into whimpers until she fell limp in his arms from fright and exhaustion and drifted into sleep.
Just a few minutes before the accident, I couldn’t help noticing this father and daughter out of the corner of my eye. You know how it is when you’re in a room full of strangers, waiting to be called for something—your flight or the doctor or the next number. You create imaginary walls in your mind. You pretend the people next to you and across from you aren’t there. All the while, you try hard not to intrude on their personal space and hope the same for yourself. Well, it was hard to pretend this father and daughter weren’t there; she looked about three-and-a-half, with soft, flaxen curls and chubby cheeks and dimples and chuckles, and he looked like a gentle giant sitting there on a pint-sized stool leaning his back against the equally small table.
When I first walked into the room, she was bouncing on his leg without a care in the world. “Giddy up, horsey, giddy up,” she commanded, giggling in perfect syncopated rhythm. Then he began to swing her up in the air. His oversized hands held her securely under the arms as he swung her high. His tender strength offered safety.
“Again, Daddy, again,” she squealed breathlessly. Again and again he swung her high in the air, her feet landing safely on the floor each time. He’d let go, and she’d run a few steps and then bolt back to his embrace. Relaxing in his grasp, she clearly expressed that her trust in him was certain—belly laughter freely offered as thanksgiving. This was Daddy’s little girl.
After some minutes of this play, she crawled back into his lap facing him. She snuggled into the crevices of his jacket, squeezed his arm, and proudly announced, “Daddy you’re SOooo strong!” with yet another chuckle. He quietly smiled; only his eyes revealed his pleasure.
Eventually, she wiggled down from the safety of his lap, settled onto the stool next to him, and started haphazardly turning the pages of a Winnie the Pooh coloring book. Satisfied with a picture of Pooh and Piglet walking hand-in-hand in the Hundred-Acre Woods, she picked up a fat, pink crayon and with a firm grip bore down hard on the page. She hurriedly attacked everything on it—Pooh’s body and vest, then Piglet, and finally the sky and clouds and trees and grass—all with big, thick, pink strokes. This was when the accident occurred. Done coloring, she turned to show her father. She had the coloring book in one hand and the pink crayon in the other. In her excitement she moved too quickly and lost her balance. Her father reached to steady her but was too late. She tumbled backward off the stool and hit her head on the table as she went down, somehow winding up lodged underneath.
The look of surprise on her face was directed toward her father and brought those earlier moments into focus. One moment she was delighting in her father’s strong, playful, safe, and sure embrace. The next moment she was experiencing the pain of this fallen world, literally. She was clearly confused. Her father’s strength hadn’t protected her from a simple accident—falling backward and banging her head.
As much as this father might desire to protect his little girl and keep her safe, moments like these are bound to happen. Accidents are reminders of how little control any of us has in life. Eeyore put it this way: “They’re funny things, Accidents. You never have them till you’re having them.” While this father might desire to keep her safe from all of the brokenness and danger lurking in this fallen world, he cannot. No matter how hard he tries to be a good father, at some point even he will be the direct cause of her pain by his finite and fallen nature. There will come a time, and most likely this is already the case, when he will speak impatiently, or even harshly, out of fear or anger or frustration or fail to speak when she needs him most. I say this, not because I’m cynical or because I myself am guilty of being the cause of pain and disappointment in my son’s life, but because God tells us this in His Word through the apostle Paul in Romans 7:18b, 19 ESV: “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
This father, like all of us, will find himself, “failing to do what he ought to do and doing what he ought not to do,” and this includes his relationship with his precious daughter. She is still too young to recognize these complexities, let alone understand them, but not too young to experience them or to use them as fodder for ideas and beliefs about life and thereby to formulate a stratagem for living. “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child…” Proverbs 22:15a ESV. What she experienced that day—letting go of her father’s hand of protection, venturing off on her own, and learning about gravity the hard way—is only one of countless hurtful and disappointing experiences she will encounter in her lifetime.
No matter how devoted we are to the children we love, what they need—what we all need—is infinitely more than any earthly relationship has to offer: hope in a sure and steadfast anchor. The author of Hebrews gives us good news of this sure and steadfast anchor found in the accomplished work of the One who suffered and bled and died and rose from the dead that we might live—and live with hope. He wrote, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters…where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf…” Hebrews 6:19a, 20a ESV. King David in Psalm 139 cries out to God, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence…,” ultimately realizing that wherever he goes, “…even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” We are held by the hand of Christ—the fulfillment of our hope.
Therefore, as we all wait expectantly for the fulfillment of this hope, let us offer our children tastes of the banquet feast that is yet to come, when their souls’ hunger will be completely satisfied and their thirst quenched. Let us diligently and purposefully seek to love our children by guiding, teaching, and disciplining them. Let us offer our lives as living examples of people who are trusting in Christ, the One and Only sure foundation, so that our little children might look to Him as their sure and steadfast anchor who securely holds them, keeping them from succumbing to the treacherous waves of this fallen world and being swept under by its current, not by our efforts or theirs, but because they are anchored in Christ—held by His Hand.