Yesterday, my son turned three years old. I am so delighted with Nathan, and I’m so proud of him. It is such a gift to watch him grown and develop as a person. It is a delightful, surprising and humbling process. Much of the delight comes from the surprise. It is amazing to observe all of the unexpected and unpredictable things he comes up with. As he was opening his presents yesterday, he let out a completely over-the-top inhale of joyful shock with every gift he opened. It was particularly amusing to watch him swoon dramatically when he pulled back a layer of wrapping paper to reveal… another layer of wrapping paper. Of course, once the actual gift was removed, he was just as likely to drop it and move on to the next present. But he was enthralled with every one! Where did he come up with that? I don’t open gifts that way (many apologies to my wife). And Becca doesn’t open up gifts that way. Who knows? Or a few days ago, I was shoveling sand to work on our backyard patio tiles (the one-year-long project) and he informed me he was ready to help. As I shoveled sand into the wheel barrel, he earnestly added scoops from his little plastic trowel. It was the best smile I had that day. It really is fun to watch him grow.

And it is humbling precisely because he is so surprising and unpredictable. He is a unique and independent little person. Though I have been given a period of time of special authority in his life, I am inherently limited in what I can control. There is only so much I can do for him, no matter how much I love him and long for his best. I pray that God gives us many years together to grow and teach and learn. But I’m keenly aware that his most important need in the world puts me in a necessary place of dependency and faith. As highly as I value and cherish our relationship together (and I hope he does too), I know that the most important and fundamental relationship he has a need of is with his Heavenly Father. And I know that I am ultimately incapable of ensuring that relationship. So last night, as with every other day, I prayed that God, being rich in mercy and because of His great love, would breathe life into Nathan’s spirit and make him alive together with Christ; that he would hear the gospel and respond in faith and thus be changed forever. It’s a humbling situation but, having seen God’s rich mercy and great love so many times, I have a lot of hope.

Now I mentioned that I’m ultimately incapable of ensuring this vital relationship in Nathan’s life, but God has not left me empty-handed. So one of the Bible verses I’m trying to implement is Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” I confess I’m a bumbling young father and this is really hard to do. In the midst of all the stresses of life, coupled with my inherent selfishness, it’s a real challenge to make sure my discipline is “of the Lord” and not “of Paul’s convenience”, which may end up being nothing more than provoking him to anger. I suspect he will become increasingly savvy at recognizing the difference between the two as he ages and matures… so it’s as easy now as it will ever be. And bringing him up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord takes a ton of tenacity, creativity and time. Even at this tender young age there is a tremendous difference between sitting down with him to play with Lego’s and trying to chat about God. He puts up an active resistance to address such spiritual matters. I’m praying that God will grant me the wisdom, creativity and plain dogged determination to reach his heart.

So my boy is three years old now. He is an amazing little guy; full of energy, excitement, curiosity and love. Like every other human being, he can be a pain in the rear at times. But I am so delighted in him. God has been wonderfully good to us and I can’t thank Him enough. But I’ll keep doing it all the same, both for Nathan and Lydia. (And, of course, everything I just wrote applies to her as well… but her birthday is coming in August.)