Last week, we took our daughters to Disneyland for the first time. Indeed, this was a trip of “firsts” for our family, including my wife’s first time on (Hyper)Space Mountain and my first time hugging a wookie. By the way, hugging a wookie is something you should immediately add to your bucket list.
Normally, the thought of going to Disneyland makes me feel like sticking a plastic fork in my eye; it’s hot, crowded, and overpriced. But watching my five-year-old meet Cinderella and Kylo Ren in the same day made me feel entirely different about the whole thing, and it taught me two important things.
1) We can rejoice in another’s joy, even amidst our lack of pleasure.
2) “Love is caught, not taught.” (Not original, but true, regardless).
I’m a big roller coaster fan. I like fast rides with tall drops and big loops, which is why Disneyland has never really appealed to the roller coaster lover in me. I mean, Hyperspace Mountain was a thrill, but by and large, the roller coasters seem like they’re little kids’ rides. It turns out: they are little kids’ rides. And I loved them.
But I didn’t love them because the rides somehow seemed better than I remember. I loved them because my little girl loved the rides, and I love her. For the record, my daughter is five years old, and she is already a roller coaster pro.
Watching her face on Big Thunder Mountain, listening to her shrieks of delight almost made me cry. For once, I was less concerned with what I would find fun in a day, and my thoughts were directed toward her joy, participating in it fully and receiving it as my own.
As I reflect on this reality of sharing in joy, I realize how this isn’t usually my instinct to consider theologically. After all, the Lord shared our suffering with us, but it also made me think that He shares our joy with us as well. At the wedding in Cana, after all, He supplies the partiers with more wine, which “gladdens the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15).
Our gracious Lord delights in His people, and He delights in His people delighting in Him and one another. Being at Disneyland, sharing in my daughter’s joy opened this reality to me. Our lives and hearts are meant to be shared, whether they are hearts replete with suffering or with celebration.
But being a parent is about more than simply making your kids happy; it is also about teaching our kids what and how to love. But the way we do this is not simply through telling them what to love, but by showing them what we love, and this happens all the time, often in moments we don’t even expect.
When she and I met Chewbacca, she was afraid. And why wouldn’t she be? He must have been at least 7 feet tall, and he was covered in hair. Sensing her discomfort, Chewbacca tried to demonstrate that he was friendly by stroking his own hand and speaking to her through reassuring grunts in Wookiee, but it was to no avail.
It wasn’t until I asked Chewbacca if I could hug him myself that my daughter warmed to the idea of interacting with a walking carpet. I could have told her until I was blue in the face that she should hug Chewie, that he was safe and a good guy, but when she saw that I loved Chewie, she knew that she could love him, too.
Kids learn what we love from watching our lives. They watch what we “embrace” and then they, too, feel safe to embrace those things. The kicker is that we may even tell them that we love different things than we embrace, but they’re smart enough to see where our true love lies.
As I reflect on this in the days following Disneyland, I find myself wondering, “What else does my daughter see me loving?” If my daughter learns to love by catching love from me, I should probably be pretty darn intentional about what (or Whom) I spend my time embracing.
Does she see me embracing the Lord? Does she feel, too, that she can embrace Him? Or does she see me spending my time chasing fleeting loves, hugging things other than Christ, longing after kingdoms other than His own?
As my daughter sees me loving the Lord, she, too, will begin to love Him. She will catch me loving Jesus, and she will grow into that love as well. And as she grows to love Christ, she will delight in Him, and then I will have the joy of watching her face as she falls ever more in love with the Lord.
This really is a wonderful feedback loop. It is a feedback loop borne not of a magical kingdom of happiness, but borne of an eternal Kingdom of joy.
Big Thunder Mountain: mag3737 via Compfight cc
Chewbacca: *maya* via Compfight cc
Christian is a Young Adult Ministries Coordinator for Y2AM. He is a husband, father, mover, shaker, coffee drinker, sandal wearer, and CrossFitter. Christian has his MA from Azusa Pacific University in Marriage and Family Therapy and is working toward a second MA in Children, Youth, and Family Ministry from Luther Seminary. Christian and his family live in Phoenix, Arizona.