We live in a day and age that has literally stripmined our use of the word “like.” It seems to have been cheapened somehow. We have this insatiable need to be liked. Where does this come?
Seven years ago I took a handful of teenage guys and their dads to a place called Pioneer Plunge. It’s a 40 year old pioneer camp in the Appalachian Mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. There is no running water, no electricity and no cell phone service to speak of. Meals are prepped and cooked in a covered outdoor kitchen on the side porch on a vintage gas stove. In the winter you chop wood to keep warm, heat food and survive bone chilling cold. In the summer you shower in a man made shower that runs in a network of handmade wooded troughs. Bone chilling does begin to describe the temperature of the water.
On a weekend in the late fall of 2006, a handful of 7th grade guys and their dads gathered in a parking lot in our community to pack up SUV’s, trucks and trailers to load in gear and food. As we were pulling out of the parking lot my cell phone rang and it was my wife. She was relaying a conversation she had just had with my 3 year old son Sam. It went something like this…
Sam: Mommy, where is Daddy going?
Ruth Ann: He’s taking his guys to Pioneer Plunge.
Sam: Mommy, when do I get to be one of Daddy’s guys?
That conversation absolutely took my breath away. It brought tears to the forefront that I was not expecting. There was a tinge of gratitude meshed with guilt. I sensed a sudden sorrow and some shame. It was a sweet question that I confess has haunted me ever since. His question touched on a silent fear. It has been my deep desire for my own son to know how much I enjoy and take pleasure in his company, how much I treasure the sound of his voice, how utterly crazy I am about him. It has been my hope to have very special and deliberate conversations that communicate this deep love in a non-smothering way. I not only love this boy. I really like him…a lot. More than any other.
Sam’s question is not an uncommon question that all boys will ask of their fathers. Most may never verbalize their question with those words as clearly and innocently as Sam did that afternoon but every boy asks that question. “When do I get to be one of Daddy’s guys?” Every dad also answers that same question for their son either by intention or by default. Many boys sadly may never hear their father tell them I love you. That is a form of soul violence. However, even more men will never be truly certain that their dads really liked them or genuinely enjoyed their company.
How we demonstrate a loving presence in the lives of our sons and daughters helps or hurts their ability to conceptualize the love of God. It also impacts our sons’ concept of the deep “like” of God. Sure, we might get that He really loves us. Most men, even the ones who may have never heard the words ‘I love you’ from their fathers can conceive that their dad’s really loved them. But the haunting question, “Does my father really like me?” may be the even more potent question. Like assumes love but loving does not necessarily equate to liking.
So this past weekend, seven years later, I was planning to take a handful of the same guys from my small group back to Pioneer Plunge to wrap up an amazing 7 years of life together. This time though I invited my son Sam along with us. Sam has been counting down the days for months from the moment a date had been selected. As days clicked past it looked like we might have as many as 15 of our senior guys going to Pioneer Plunge with us. BUT in the last 48 hours numbers were quickly dissolving. One by one we received word that all of the guys had essentially bailed for a number of legitimate reasons.
My thoughts? “Even if we cancel this trip for our small group, I am still taking my son Sam to Pioneer Plunge.” And that is exactly what I did. The two of us spent 3 days and 2 nights totally alone at Plunge and it was the best time I have ever spent in this sacred place. What a perfect opportunity to enjoy the opportunity to communicate to Sam again that he truly is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.
The entire weekend was devoted to listening for God together, sitting quietly on the back porch listening to birds, frogs and rushing creek water. Looking for signs of wildlife. Feeling the cool rain and smelling the familiar scent of a camp fire. We rocked in rocking chairs and took a nap under the lull of rain on an old tin roof. A rhythm of rest was softly woven into the afternoon by way of a much needed nap. Walking together in the woods. Taking shelter under the dense tree line as rain rolled through. Hopefully Sam will not only continue to hear how much his dad likes him but also that His Heavenly Father takes great delight in him also.
My hope for Sam is that he will know with the greatest of confidence the truth that Paul so eloquently writes the young church in Ephesus. That Sam might then also take great delight and enjoyment the communion and companionship of God.
“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” -Ephesians 3:14-19 (The Message)
God’s invitation is to rest in what’s most true about us. We are His beloved. He longs to hear the sound of our voice. He likes us. Really, really likes us. Through and through.