The castle was mangled. With just a glance, you could tell it was bad.
The main gate was completely exposed. The chains that once lowered the intimidating drawbridge were now severed. The drum tower, which had weathered the most obvious destruction, had its battlements crushed — so crushed that you could almost recreate in your head the sound it must have made the moment the blow came.
This thing must have been thrown down the stairs, I thought to myself. It was too obvious. Aside from its appearance, the wooden castle I held in my hands had been lying just a few feet from the last step leading down to the basement — the basement which functions as the kids’ main play area.
Yeah, for sure, this thing was tossed down these steps, I said to myself again, not wanting to believe it was true. So I called for the kids and asked them.
“Did you throw the castle down the stairs?”
“Yes, we did,” volunteered the five-year-old spokesman.
“What? You threw the castle down the stairs?” I stammered back, examining the toy closer now, noticing the bent piano hinge. “You threw it down? How many times?”
“Four or five,” the spokesman answered, more sheepishly this time.
I still couldn’t believe it. These kids are savages. Animals.
Too angry to say much, I expressed my displeasure and sent them away for an impending judgment. I sat there on the bottom step, still looking at this castle and wondering if wood glue could help at all, feeling right sad about the whole thing.
See, this castle was the first substantial gift my wife and I got our kids. There are, of course, cheap toys and trinkets kids get from the start, but then there are the legit toys — the ones that parents shop around for, that you feel especially good about your kids having. Investments. This was the first toy of that kind. And on top of that, we had given it to them only a few Christmases ago, purchased back then on the meager family budget of a full-time seminarian. So it wasn’t really anger I was feeling at the bottom of those steps. It was hurt.
Thanklessness can do that to you. It is painful. And to make it worse, I sat on that bottom step with an unsettling premonition. My children will do this again. It may not be toys, or ingratitude, or bratty recklessness, but something. It will be something.
Once, a wise experienced mother told my wife that children break your hearts. She didn’t mean to be Debbie Downer, just honest. That, after all, is part of love, at least in human terms. C.S. Lewis writes that “to love at all is to be vulnerable.” Sure, we hope that our kids will never make a mistake. We hope that their lives will turn out as perfect as the bumper stickers and stick-figured decals seem to promise. But even if it does, parenting is never a safe investment. Read the Bible. Children can cause parents pain. Joy, yes, lots of joy. But pain, too. And in most cases, it’s a combination of the two.
Better Than New
Sitting at the bottom of those steps, I can’t say what pain there might be down the road. I pray for God to lead our kids on the path of wisdom and truth and life. I pray and point and posture my family in that direction as much as I can. But I don’t know what they will do. The only question I can answer is what I will do. What kind of father will I be? And as for me and my house, I’ll rebuild the castle. There will be discipline, no doubt. There’s nothing okay about what they did. But before long, I’ll get the wood glue, and the screws for that hinge, and I’ll put that thing back together.
Because I once took gifts and didn’t say thanks. I took all that God gave me and didn’t honor him as God. I trashed my life down a flight of stairs, four or five times, or more. And he took my broken pieces, darkened as they were, foolish as they were, and he held them in his hands. He took me, obstinate as I was, in his sovereign hands, his merciful hands, and he spoke over me, “Let light shine” (2 Corinthians 4:6). He put me back together. Like brand-new, and even better. Redeemed and made whole. Because that is the kind of Father he is.