Thursday, May 12, 2005

Relationships Are More Important Than Rules

We have a lot of bedtime rituals in my house. One of my favorites started with my oldest daughter Anabel but now includes all three of my girls. I go into their room just before lights out and say, "I love you, but only this much." I hold my fingers apart about an inch.

They say, "No, Daddy."

"Oh, you're right," I say. "I probably love you this much." Hands about six inches apart.

"No, Daddy."

"This much?" Hands getting wider now.


And on and on it goes until I stretch my arms out as wide as they will go. "Daddy loves you thiiiiiiiiiisssss muuuuuuuch."

"And more and more and more."

It's like a liturgy in my house. Every night the same thing, and every night we go through the whole thing.

One afternoon, my wife desperately needed some time alone, so I told her I'd watch the girls. She looked skeptical. "Are you sure you can handle them all by yourself?"

"Jill, I'm a grown man with a Master's degree in Theology. I think I can handle three kids. Besides, the small one is asleep."

She left, and I told the girls to play quietly downstairs. Then I settled in on the computer up in our office, leaving them to their own devices because I have a Master's degree in Theology and am, in fact, a moron.

After about 20 minutes, I realized that it was really quiet downstairs-- too quiet, if you know what I mean. I came down to find that my three-year-old Eliza had taken an aqua-marine crayon and colored on every flat surface on the first floor of our house. The stove, the refrigerator, the bookshelves, the fireplace. When I entered the living room, there she stood -- on the sofa -- back to me -- coloring the wall in big, broad strokes.

She felt the weight of my stare and slowly turned. She knew that she had sinned and that the wages of sin is death.

She suddenly threw her arms open as wide as they would go and said, "Daddy, I love you thiiiiiissss muuuuuuuuch!" What are you going to do?

Sure, there were consequences -- she had to clean it all up (and...yeah...I helped her), but here's the point: Sometimes relationships are more important than rules.

Eliza knew what she had done was against the rules. She didn't need me to yell at her or send her to her room for the next 90 days. At that moment, what my daughter needed most was to know that our relationship was too strong to be broken -- by sin, by failure, by anything.

There's another part to our bedtime ritual. As I stand there with my arms open wide, I ask them a couple of questions: "How long will Daddy love you?"

The correct answer is: "Forever and ever and ever."

"What will ever make Daddy stop loving you?"

The correct answer to that is: "Nothing in the whole wide world."