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The Joy of Parenting

At the show

I’ve seen A LOT of Shamu shows. Living as we do in San Diego, we often find ourselves stopping in at Sea World to feed the seals and sea lions, check out the sharks, and of course, see the orcas.

Both my sons love orcas and thrill to the sight of these majestic black-and-white creatures swimming and flying into the air and yes, splashing the crowd. One of the highlights for them at every show is the “Sham Slam.” This is when the trainers all line up in their black-and-white wetsuits and lead the crowd in holding our hands high, hooking our thumbs together, and moving our arms up and down in imitation of the orcas’ tails, all while yelling, “Shamu! Shamu!” as the whales use their powerful tails to splash salt water all over us.

It’s a pretty silly thing to do. Yet it invariably brings tears to my eyes.

Not because of the orcas or the splashing, but because of the boys next to me enthusiastically throwing their arms up into the air and beaming as though this arm-waving madness is the most fun they could ever even consider having.

There’s just something remarkable about watching your child thoroughly enjoy himself. Time and time again I find, to my surprise, that it’s so much more fulfilling than actually enjoying an activity of my choice.

It’s the greatest insight I’ve ever had into why God might have created us in the first place.

What pleasure God must get from seeing us when we’re at our best, when we’re enjoying all that we’ve been given (and forgetting to complain about what we feel we lack).

What joy it must give God when we experience delight. I know I would do just about anything to see that expression of unadulterated joy on my sons’ faces. (Even though this joy often overflows in  tears I try to hide from them.)

How lucky we are, those of us who are parents, to have these little creatures who are so good at experiencing joy and delight.

A friend of mine tells me her baby is referred to within her family as “the happy box,” and that his services in this area were especially appreciated by all when the family recently experienced a painful loss.

Even in the midst of sadness, children remind us of the “gigantic joy of the Christian,” as G. K. Chesterton puts it, referring to the fact that in the larger scheme of life–eternal life, to be precise–we Christians have every reason to be joyful.

Having children has increased my capacity for joy, even when life feels difficult.  As much as I often wish for an infusion of the seemingly boundless energy of my boys, when they are experiencing joy it transfers to me perfectly.

And we don’t have to go to Sea World to experience it. At 4 and 7, my boys love to dance in the kitchen and make crazy jokes in the car and they aren’t even embarrassed by me yet when I do the same.

Listening to music is, for us, a quick route to joy. This week, the boys are in VBS and one of the theme songs is a dance-pop version of “This Little Light of Mine” that is way better than any version of the song I ever heard as a child– complete with electronica and even a rap at the end. (A touch that brings me back to my very first Christian concert–DC Talk, and the thrilling realization that yes, Christians could rap.) Every time we play this my younger son does his crazy 4-year-old fist pumping dance and my older son lipsyncs and tries out some more complex dance moves.

Today I aim to experience joy with my boys as perfectly as I am able. So we’ll be the ones driving down the street blasting “This Little Light of Mi-i–i-i-i-ine” with my older son pretending to rap in the backseat.

I’ll be the one singing along and trying to blink back the tears of joy. All the while seeking to remember to give thanks to the author of all joy.


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