We survived 40 hours together in the van across 11 different states, which is no small feat with three kiddos five and under. That time together in close proximity affords you a few opportunities and lessons. For example, it doesn’t matter if your toddler just used the rest stop; she’s going to need to go potty as soon as you hit the highway again. Also, when your child says her stomach hurts, you should probably immediately listen to her and find a stop or you’re going to be cleaning vomit out of your vehicle with water bottles and wet wipes. Sitting in the driver’s seat for extended periods of time, I discovered for myself the physical toll of stiffness and tightness that would not have been exacted even ten years ago. Then, there are the joys of listening to and watching three little ones interact with one another through contagious laughter. There are those cherished quiet moments where everyone has fallen asleep and, though you need to keep your eyes on the road ahead, you cannot help but watch them through the rear-view mirror.
And, all of it is quite enjoyable—yes, even the potty stops and the vomit and the stiffness—because we’re on vacation, and we’re together.
But, then, something shifts.
I want to blame it on the fact that it was a long trip. I want to tell you that it was because I was tired and sore—probably even a little hungry and dehydrated. And, you all know the kind of drivers we deal with out there on the open road! (Seriously, do people not know how to use their blinker?) I want you to know just how difficult it is to deal with the the chorus of screaming and crying and fit-throwing children. I want you to understand and sympathize with my outburst when these things all coalesced. I want to try to convince you that the problem was everything around me; but, honestly, that’s not true. No, the problem is me.
See, on our trip, I was confronted with the reality of exactly how impatient, harsh, angry, and loud of a man I am. Pastor and author Paul David Tripp once said, “If you want to experience depravity, go on a family road trip. You won’t just experience your children’s; you’ll experience yours.” There, somewhere between the joyful moments of our trip, I found myself confronted with the realness of his statement.
If you want to experience depravity, go on a family road trip. You won’t just experience your children’s; you’ll experience yours.Paul David Tripp
I think my voice even cracked.
My face was red, and my blood pressure boiled.
I wanted them to know that I now had a headache but really it was brought on by my own rage and volume.
As my children threw their tantrums, I broke down and threw my own 30-year-old version of one. It was embarrassing and rather pitiful, to be honest. But, when I had a chance to sit back and reflect on my outburst, I caught a glimpse of what the Father sees. He sees all my tantrums. He sees my every fit of rage. He sees my kicking and screaming. And because He is a good Father, He does not respond with outbursts of His own. He responds in grace. His love is patient and is kind. His love does not grow irritable or resentful toward me. His Spirit is one of gentleness. His love endures all things.
How humbling it is that my love fails to endure the fits of three small girls. And, yet, how beautiful it is to know that His love and grace is sufficient for someone like me.
In that moment, I realized just how drastically short of the Father’s love I have come. How humbling it is that my love fails to endure the fits of three small girls. And, yet, how beautiful it is to know that His love and grace is sufficient for them, for me, for you. Paul Tripp would go on to say, “If you’re honest as a parent, there are few things you’ll ever identify in your children’s lives that you can’t find artifacts of in your own. That’s the gospel in parenting. Every moment that I’m parenting, the wise heavenly Father is parenting everybody in the room, because everybody in the room still needs to be parented. Forget that, and you’ll have shockingly self-righteous things to say.”
Every moment that I’m parenting, the wise heavenly Father is parenting everybody in the room, because everybody in the room still needs to be parented.Paul David Tripp
So, yeah, we survived 40 hours together in the van across 11 different states, which is no small feat with three kiddos five and under… and a dad who is still learning how to love more gently and patiently and kindly. I am a dad who is chiefly in need of parenting. Thankfully, my Father meets me at my weakness and shows me a better way. My outbursts can fix absolutely nothing. The wrath of dad is unable to produce change in my children, but His grace can accomplish this. His grace can change them, and it can change me. Oh, God, may it change me!