When it snows at our house the kids love to go outside and play. Inevitably, my wife or I have preceded them out the door for one reason or another – to shovel the driveway, get the mail, or just check out the beauty of God’s amazing creation. When we do, of course, we dot the previously pristine snowscape with giant, adult footprints.
When the kids first come out to play, it’s fun to watch them take abnormally large footsteps, trying their very best to walk in the footprints we left. It’s a different world than the one they knew the night before, cool, exciting, pretty, but just a little scary. So, when they first go outside, we think they like to walk in our footsteps until they become familiar with their surroundings,until they find confidence enough to venture out on their own, to make their own tiny footprints in the snow.
Of course, if snow covered backyards were the only places where kids followed the footsteps of their parents, parenting would be an easy task indeed. However, the frightening reality, at least for those of us who aren’t perfect, is that they follow our footsteps in life as well. In an age where the children of divorce (already roughly 50% and climbing) often end up divorced themselves, making footsteps in our marriages worthy of following is perhaps more important than ever before.
My son is nine, and the thought that he is learning how to treat women from the way he sees me treat my wife, his mother, is a sobering one indeed. The thought that children learn about marriage from the marriage that produced them should give us all pause. I wish I could say that I always do as I should in front of him, but I don’t, not always.
I’m not always kind. I’m not always considerate, polite, chivalrous. When we disagree, my wife and I sometime argue incorrectly and unproductively and guess what, our kids notice and they follow our footsteps by arguing incorrectly and unproductively with each other. Not only do our children inherit our sin natures, they often inherit our sins. The drunkard’s son is often a drunkard himself, and so on… Sadly, there are a million more examples.
Thankfully, if we purposely and lovingly give them footsteps worth following, they will do that too. Last month, I left on a business trip for four days. I don’t take many trips like this, so I’m not used to being away from my family, nor are they used to being away from me. On the morning of my departure I wrote several notes– one to each child placed under his/her pillow, and several to my wife, placed at strategic locations where I knew she would find them at various times during my absence. Each note was a personal, specific, attestation of love and appreciation. The kids have held onto their notes ever since. As Kim found hers, one by one, she not only read and appreciated them, but showed them to our inquiring kids as well.
The next week, after my return, Abby and Nathaniel (our two who can write) wrote notes to each of their siblings and both their parents, telling us, in their own special way, how much they love us, even putting them under our pillows for us to find.
When we spy some of our kids playing ‘house,’ calling each other ‘sweetie’ and ‘honey’ tenderly and lovingly, we know they’ve at least noticed some of the footsteps we’ve left, and are starting to walk in them. When our children know and expect to be in church when the doors are open, when they pray to Jesus as they hear us pray, we know those are footsteps worth following.
Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not writing these stories to build myself up as some sort of ideal husband, or our marriage as the best ever, because there are many times where we fall woefully short (as everyone does!). But they do serve as examples of how positive actions can replicate themselves, creating footsteps by our kids leading to places we want them to go, to lives we desire them to lead.
Whether we have children or not, we should all be ever mindful of the actions we take. Someone is watching us, looking up to us, waiting to walk in our footsteps. What path will they follow?