This is one of my favorite pictures of me and the girls. It was December 2013, and we were just getting ready to go on a "date." As you can probably tell by the picture, I always seem to underdress for our dates, but that's another story. Anyway, I love how my 3-year-old is looking at me here. Even as I stare at the picture right now, it melts my heart and reminds me that little girls are built to adore their dads.
One of the most humbling aspects of fatherhood is that I do not have to earn the love of my girls. Love for their dad is innate. They crave my attention and my affection. They long for my affirmation and my love. The reality is, at this stage, I really do not have to do much to win their hearts. Their heart is ripe for the taking. Two things come to mind when I think of this:
1) May I never forget that they are offering their heart to me freely with the hope that I will take it. This is a battle for me every single day. On my good days, my heart is overwhelmed with the fact that I am their dad. I enjoy them. I soak up the moment with them. I give myself away to them. I remember that it will not always be this way ... that they will not be in our home forever. On my good days I remember that they will not always jump up and down when I walk through the door, so I try to show them that I am just as happy to see them as they are to see me. On my good days I remember that my lap will not always be the most fought over seat in the house and I let them sit on it until I can't feel my feet anymore. On my good days I remember that they are freely offering their heart to me and that alone is a responsibility I must never take for granted.
On the not so good days I act as if I have all the time in the world with them. The words "How 'bout later" will often fall from my lips and then, after an hour or two, I realize that "later" never happened. On the not so good days I take out the worries or frustrations I have on them. I let the tension I feel inside pour over to the outside and I get short with them or I don't listen to them or I act as if there are so many other things I'd rather be doing than spending time with them. On the not so good days, as they stand there freely offering their heart to me, I look right past them to the things that need to get done or to whatever I think is more important at the time. It leaves them there wondering what they did wrong and why I'm not accepting what they are offering.
I will never have an opportunity to win a heart so easily. May I always remember this and may it move me to protect and nurture this gift they offer me every single day.
2) I must work incredibly hard at nurturing their heart. One of my primary roles as a father to my two daughters is to nurture their hearts. The word "nurture" means to "care for and encourage the growth or development of." One of the questions I must ask as a father is "How can I care for and encourage the growth of my daughter's heart?"
Solomon, in the book of Proverbs, reminds us to "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." (Proverbs 4:23) There will come a day when my girls must take responsibility for guarding their own heart. But, until that day comes, the responsibility is mine. Part of my role as a father of young girls is to guard their heart, to do all I can to set their heart up for success, to nurture it tenderly and passionately in order to help them grow and develop and come fully alive in their womanhood. With my prayers and my love and my attention and my affection and my grace and my hugs and my words and my patience and my discipline and my laughter and with countless other things, I can begin the process of guarding, nurturing and cultivating this treasure they offer to me every single day ... all with the desire that they will ultimately give their heart to the only one who can transform it ... Jesus. I may be called to nurture their heart, but only Jesus transforms.
When I think of guarding and shepherding and nurturing my girls' hearts, wow, it is such an overwhelming thought! What I have discovered, though, is that the more I look to Jesus and allow Him to continue His work in me ... the more I mature into who He says that I am and the more I'm able to give to my girls and care for the greatest treasure they have ... their heart.
I have more "not so good days" than I care to admit. But, I am so thankful for the grace Jesus offers every single day and how He continues to make up for my shortcomings. The more I look toward Him, the more I find myself becoming the man He has created me to be and becoming the dad my girls need me to be.