December 21, 2017

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” Luke 1:34

Parenthood is a surprise party waiting to happen. Except most of the parties end up with at least one person crying. Elliot was a few months past one and had just started walking. The exhilaration of that milestone lasted a few minutes as a grim reality set in for Sara and me. Our boy was now a mobile alarm clock.

So early one Saturday morning, my son took a bat to my so-called Shabbat. Either Sara had been a saint or I had been a sinner, because on this particular morning, it was my turn to keep the morning watch.

I stumbled into the living room and reached for my guitar. It was simply meant to confuse Mr. Weepy. That’s one thing I learned from my mother-in-law. Why confront when you can distract? It worked. Elliot was intrigued. He started raking his minuscule fingers over the strings. A smile began rising on the horizon. I switched the chords and, much to his father’s delight, he eventually hit a rhythm. This synchronization combined with guilt over writing so many more tunes for his sister ended up in a musical composition:

Took out a guitar and started strumming
Suddenly my boy was playing along
I gave him the chords he supplied the rhythm
Next thing you know we’d written a song

My boy, my boy, my boy is a shiny new penny
A bullet shot right out of a gun
A hailstone bouncing off a rooftop
And every morning he’s a rising son

I’m a big fan of pleasant surprises like that Saturday morning. I like going into a new restaurant with my wife, without the pressure of reviews, and finding something absolutely delicious. I like watching a movie with my daughter, untarnished by a trailer, that ends up making both of us bust up on account of a great pun. I like tossing a ball to my son without actually expecting anything to happen and seeing him grin gleefully as that bouncy orb lands in his sticky hands. In my opinion, the lack of expectation allows for a feeling that isn’t as easily grasped with the burden of high expectations—delight.

Expectations can be draining, because anything short of them results in disappointment. That’s one thing that makes Mary’s reaction to her surprise announcement so impressive. She’s perched atop the highest of stakes: bringing the Savior into the world.

However, she is one cool customer. Granted, when Gabriel first appears to her, she is “greatly troubled.” But her consternation seems to be mainly suspicion directed at a strange angel man telling her she is “favored” without getting into the specifics. Then Gabriel tells her she will be mother to “the Son of the Most High” with “a kingdom that will never end.” Her reaction? Mother of the Messiah, no biggie. She’s concerned about the biology. “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

After Gabriel explains the womb arrangements, she responds with this: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Mary is cool as ice, unshakeable, a total baller. The next thing we hear is Mary dropping her demo track of the Magnificat. Unburdened by expectations, this teenager was excited about her place in history.

Perhaps, even before her son was born, Mary knew something that it took me nearly 40 years to figure out. Why expect when you can discover? There’s a quote attributed to Michelangelo when he was carving David out of marble. It may be apocryphal, but I believe it contains truth:

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.”

I heard this quote on a podcast. The host, Rob Bell, was talking about raising kids. Instead of trying to chisel them down to a preconceived image or worse, a reflection of himself, Bell’s idea was to simply remove the layers so that his son and daughter can reach their potential.

At the time, this was like manna to a starving parent. Elliot was on the tail-end of three, and it had easily been my most difficult year as a dad. I had gone to places of frustration, despair, and anger that I didn’t think I would ever go to. It was an ugly side of myself. And it all really stemmed from a desire to control him. To tame him. To chisel him away.

This desire to control is antithetical to the idea of love. I think Jesus’ birth, life, and death highlight this fact. When Jesus arrived on Earth, the religious establishment had boxed God into a handy set of rules that they could use to control people. Jesus shattered the box by emphasizing the freedom that comes with love. In trying to control him one last time, through death, the establishment exposed their ugliness. And because of this, love will win.

Love allows for choice, and with that comes a willing abdication of control. But with that release comes the possibility of my wife surprising me with a book of lullabies. It comes with the hope of my daughter outpunning me at the dinner table. It comes with the thrill of my son writing me an unexpected song. Love allows for the possibility of delight. The possibility for pleasant surprises. Every morning, a new rising sun.

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