A few weeks ago my wife and I had the good fortune to celebrate Father’s Day with my son and his family. The day was made more special because it coincided with 2 recent birthdays. It was a great day with lots of fun and laughs. Of course in time the youngsters, having spent the requisite amount of time with the adults, grew restless and were eager to pursue their own interests. I especially enjoyed listening to the various pleas and individualized approaches each of the children used in asking permission for this or that. I recognized many of these scenes from the past; they had been acted out when I was a parent and when I was a child myself.
I believe that I became a better parent when I became a grandfather. As a grandparent I am more a spectator than an active participant and now have the luxury of being able to sit back and watch and listen to how these scenes all play out. Sure, I know some of the challenges my son and daughter-in-law face in rearing children are the same as the ones we and our parents faced, but the world and our culture are more complex today and the pressures on parents to manage these challenges are greater than the ones we faced. As a “spectator” I am in awe as to how our son and daughter-in-law work through the endless requests and issues that pop up on a daily, if not hourly basis, and I ask myself, “when did he learn to do all that; where did he pick up all the skills to handle this? I don’t think I would have done it as well.” I have learned so much about parenting in watching them and while it makes me feel good to think that there’s probably some imprinting going on, they are far ahead of where I was then.
Life, wrote Kierkegaard, can only be understood backwards. But it must be lived forwards.
Along those lines few years ago I saw an interview with actor Michael Douglas on a late night talk show. He spoke of his relationship with his father, Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas; I’ll paraphrase the story he told.
Dad called me the other night. He said, "Michael, I was watching myself in an old movie earlier tonight and I didn't remember making it."
"Well, Dad, you made over 70 movies and you are 94. Don't be so rough on yourself."
"No, Michael, you didn't let me finish. I realized halfway through that I was watching one of your movies."
Wouldn't it be wonderful if certain aspects of our lives and ways of relating to others were all but indistinguishable from Jesus? If they reminded others of Jesus, just a little bit? We seek, every day, in every place, to be emissaries of Jesus: representatives of Jesus who welcome others as if they were Jesus and who relate to others in the spirit of Jesus?
Our task (Matthew 10:40-42) is to consciously attend to the Christ in everyone. Christ in the stranger. Christ in the enemy. Christ in the friend. Christ in the spouse. Christ in our sibling. Christ in the politician who makes our blood boil. Christ in the one who believes differently than I do.