Toddler reins, they're a beautiful thing. Especially when you've got a strong-willed toddler at one end and a busy road nearby. As I walked my dog, sorry son, to the park recently I made sure he didn't walk too close to the road. Then, as we got close to the park I thought to myself 'what the heck, I'm faster than he is, let's see what he does...' I let go of the reins and said toddler was free. I saw a look of recognition flash across his face as he realised he was free. He began to walk away from me, (what had I done?!) and then, just as he was about to break into a full on sprint and make a mad dash for a life beyond the tyrannical regime of dad. Just as he was about to make full use of his freedom, he stopped. He turned, walked back to me and held out his hand inviting me to hold it. He had the option of freedom without rules, freedom to do whatever he pleased - and it pleased him to walk next to me, to hold my hand.
I can't tell you how much my heart leapt with delight.
'He loves me' it screamed 'he LOVES me! He had the whole world to choose from, and yet he chose me.' I've made it, I've arrived - I'm a successful dad. I created another person (albeit with some help from Amy), raised him (again, a little help here) but now having come 'of age' he has recognised my value to him. 'I must have this parenting thing all figured out,' I thought 'maybe I should write a book about it, hold conferences or run courses on it: how to give your child freedom to choose and be the object of their choice.' I'm accepted by my son and it feels great! Maybe it was because he knew that fun at the park without dad wouldn't be much fun at all, or maybe it was because he knows that experiences shared are experiences fully experienced.
Maybe he just needed someone to stop him falling over. No, it can't be that.
I know I'm overreacting just a little bit (out of character I know), and I know I've got a few years to go yet until he's fully free (just a few) but being an object of choice rather than being an unchosen ruler, is surely one of the long term goals of parenting. When your children are free to choose, and choose to use their freedom to be with you, you know you've done well. When your children free as they are still come home, still call (albeit not as often as you'd like), still enjoy your company and still choose to choose you, I imagine is a great moment for any parent of grown up kids.
An insight into Christianity:
As I walked with Zach a voice inside me also said, 'this is how the gospel works.'
As a Christian, the Bible teaches me that I have been set free for freedom (Gal 5:1) and that everything is now permissible for me (1 Cor 6:12) since I don't have to live morally upright in order to be right with God (Ro 6:14). Jesus is the fully-faithful-to-God One and I'm living before God, hidden in him (Gal 2:20, Col 3:3). So, I'm free as Zach was free, to go off and do as I please, to please myself on the things of this world. I'm free to live independent of rules and restraints, regulations and commands. I'm free to choose. That is Christianity.
For people outside of the faith however, experience tells me this isn't their understanding of Christianity. They have been sold a caricature of Christianity that looks markedly different from what I've just described. For many people God is more like the toddler reigns that restricts our freedom than he is the loving Father who permits it. That simply isn't true.
In the Bible's message of Jesus we're finally free, free indeed (John 8:36). But now, as a freedman I've learnt that the most exciting, satisfying and fully human way to live is to take hold of the hand of God and to walk with him through life. My life lived in relationship and friendship with him is rich and full. I don't get to avoid pain and difficulty. I don't get all of my confusion resolved, doubts dissolved and frustrations worked out but I do get to share everything with the one who rules everything. I live with the one who loves me, leads me and who enables me to make it through this life with my eyes fully open. I don't have to hide from the world or escape from reality, instead I get to hold his hand and engage with him in every step of the journey.
God has revealed himself as Father and now I, as a privileged Under-father to the Chief Father get to appreciate how his fatherly affection works towards us. If he experiences anything like the same emotions I do (and I can deduce from the New Testament that he does), then I can gain valuable insights into how he feels towards us simply by walking my son to the park and experiencing the delight of being the one he chooses to walk with.
That is how we bring pleasure to our Father's heart. That is how we make full use of our freedom.
You're free, to choose.
Choose Life himself.