Every once in a while an event occurs in our lives that teaches us something about the true meaning of life and offers us a glimpse into the eternities. For my wife and me, one of those events occurred earlier this year when, after more than three years of trying unsuccessfully to have children on our own, we were able to adopt our sweet baby girl. More than anything else, becoming a father has helped me gain a better understanding of the nature of our relationship with God. So, while I certainly realize that I am only at the beginning of this great adventure called parenthood (and have a LOT more to learn), here are just three of the lessons I have found most meaningful during my short time as a father.
Lesson 1: God wants us to succeed, and He is thrilled when we do
When my wife and I first started to talk about having children, one of my biggest worries was that I wouldn’t know what to do with a baby. I’ve always enjoyed babysitting and playing with my nieces, nephews, and other children who were a little older, but I have never felt very comfortable with newborns or very young babies. To be honest, I’ve always found them kind of boring. Now having my own child, I can think of little that brings me more joy or excitement than spending time with my baby girl. Practically everything she does and every new level of development fills me with utter happiness—from gaining the strength to hold up her own head, to learning to pull on the trunk of her musical elephant toy, or learning to roll over on her own. Each new thing that she does is met with a “That’s so good! What a big girl!” or a “Honey, come and look at this!” Every one of her little successes is a success for Dad, too.
The great sense of pride and accomplishment that I feel in my baby’s little victories represent a parallel for me of the joy that God must have in our successes. If God’s “work” and “glory” are indeed to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39), then He must have that same sense of excitement when He sees us progressing. Each time we learn or internalize a true principle, or overcome a temptation and stay true to our faith, or reach out with love to serve one of His other children, I’m sure He rejoices. As a loving Father, what other response could He have?
Lesson 2: God knows us better than we know ourselves
Through watching my little girl grow and develop, I have come to know her so well that I can anticipate both her behavior and her needs. Like any other parent, I know her patterns and her cries (whether indicating a true need or just letting out some little-person frustration); I know how and when she likes to be held and snuggled; I know when she needs to sleep (even if she doesn’t agree); and I know how I need to respond to her little noises and facial expressions to prevent, well, anything unpleasant. Along those lines, I was quite pleased with myself the other day when, while doing some work with her on my lap, I heard a little rumble and was able to grab a nearby burp cloth and catch some spit-up before it could make a mess of things. In general, I know what she likes, wants, and needs, and probably more importantly, what she does NOT like, want, or need.
My knowledge of my little girl and my ability to anticipate her needs has come naturally by observing and providing for her over just a few short months. How much more, then, must God know us after observing us throughout our premortal and mortal existence? Just as the Lord told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly, I knew thee” (Jeremiah 1:5), so also did God know and observe us before our time on earth. It’s no wonder that God knows us so well and knows what’s best for us, even if we don’t know ourselves.
Lesson 3: God loves us more deeply than we can comprehend
Like other Christians, I grew up constantly hearing the phrase “God is our loving Father.” As a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I even used that exact phrase to teach others about our relationship with God. Since I have been blessed throughout my life with a strong relationship with my own father, I thought I knew what that meant. While that may have been true from the perspective of a son, it wasn’t until I became a father myself that I began to understand what that really meant from His perspective. My love for my little girl and my desire for her happiness rivals only my feelings for my wife—when she’s happy, I’m ecstatic; when she’s sad or in pain, my heart aches; when she’s being active and playful, I’ll put down whatever I’m working on to play with her; and when I see something excite her or ignite her mind, I will do all I can to encourage her learning. For instance, just a few weeks ago, we went on a little family outing to the pet store so our little girl could see some animals. (Before I continue, you should know that my wife has been working on me to get a pet since even before we were married, with little success. Not that I don’t love animals, but I can’t see the practicality in owning one at the moment). Watching our baby’s face light up and seeing her wiggle and giggle with excitement especially at seeing the turtles and colorful fish, I immediately turned to my wife and said, “She’s so excited! Should we buy her a fish?”
My great love and desire for my daughter’s happiness have given me a taste of what God must feel for us and how much he desires to bless us. To quote my wife “He’s probably up there just waiting for any excuse to bless us!” Of course, this concept is consistent with the Savior’s own teachings: “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:9-11)
I will likely never fully understand the depth of God’s love for us in this life, but I am so grateful for the increased understanding that fatherhood has provided. And I so look forward to letting my little girl teach me more!