Last night I was laying down with my two year old daughter as she fell asleep. Sometimes, this time of my evening tortuous. She’ll be fighting sleep, elbowing me in the face, begging for water, and I will want to pull all my hair out. But other times, like last night, true magic happens and I get to witness some of her most profound and adorable little thoughts as her brain fires out last attempts to stay conscious.
The conversation went like this. She looked at my suddenly, put her hands on her chest, and asked, “My daughter?” I knew that what she meant was, “Am I your daughter,” so I told her with a big smile,
“Yes! You’re my daughter and I love you so much!”
She smiled, and then she said, “Daddy’s daughter?”
“Yes! And he loves you too!” She smiled again.
“Do you remember who else’s daughter you are?”
“Ummm, Rocky’s daughter?” (Rocky is the dog).
“No, remember you are also God’s daughter. And he loves you very very much too.”
“Oh yeah, God’s daughter.”
Then my sweet little girl smiled one more time and said “Mommy’s daughter, Daddy’s daughter, God’s daughter.” And she finally let go of her need to think and question and be active in the world and let sleep take her over.
I have a daughter. And that daughter is trying to understand what that means. I think she understands it as much as her development allows, she knows that she has a special relationship that is unique to me and her dad. Of course, there is more that I understand about her being my daughter that she will discover some day, but for now I think we’re all content with her knowing that she belongs to us, and we belong to her.
But what about this other crazy concept that I’m forcing on her? How is she processing me telling her that she’s also “God’s daughter,” when she’s never seen God or hugged him or kissed him and he’s never changed her diaper? I mean I am basically telling her that she belongs as much to a vague entity as she does with the two most constant, present, and solid presences in her life. That’s a lot for a little brain to handle. And honestly, it’s a lot for a big brain to handle too.
The Bible mentions the concept of being God’s children several times: Galatians 3:26: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 4:7: “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” Romans 8:14: “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” 2 Corinthians 6:18: “‘And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ Says the Lord Almighty.”
For some reason, God chose to identify himself to us in a way that will make us think of our earthly parents. He did this, fully knowing that everyone has parents that make mistakes, and many have parents that are downright abusive and damaging. So even though he knows that many feel pain and confusion even at the mention of words like “father” and “mother,” he still insists on referring to himself that way. He also insists on referring to us as “sons” and “daughters.”
I’ve recently had a small glimpse at what it means to be the daughter of a great man. Of course, I’ve known my whole life that both my parents were exceptional people, but since my dad died about a year and a half ago I’ve been amazed that hundreds of people also recognized and benefitted from his kindness, wisdom, and generosity of spirit. I have several times been stopped in the street by a stranger and asked, “Are you the daughter of Robert Hughes? He changed my life.” Very few things bring me as much pride as being able to say “Yes, I am.” Usually they will ask to shake my hand, just because I am his daughter.
And then of course I’m left reeling. Someone felt honored to shake my hand just because of who my dad was. Not because of anything I have done, or any involvement I have had in their life, but because of who he was, what he had done. Somehow, his actions and just his very being have given me a status in some people’s eyes that is completely unearned by me.
But if I’m perfectly honest, there are aspects of being the daughter of Robert Hughes that people would not want to come up to me and shake my hand for. Growing up, he had a father who would display a huge and mighty temper over seemingly small things. He watched this as a little boy, learned that behavior, and grew up to act in a similar way.
There were times when I saw him big, loud, and angry. And guess what? When I feel overwhelmed, I get big, loud, and angry too. And as much as I’ve tried to hide it from my girl, there have been one or two times where she has seen me this way. Against all my best efforts and intentions, the generational legacy of rage has trickled all the way down to her. Time will tell if she displays it as well (really hoping her dad’s cool and steady manner makes a bigger impact), but the reality is that she’s been exposed to it. Just like I was, just like my dad was, and I’m not sure but probably just like my grandpa was too. Maybe it would be there even if it was never modeled, maybe it’s a genetic thing, but either way it’s part of our family’s legacy.
So, as children of earthly parents, we belong to them, for better and worse. Because I belong to my dad, some strangers hold me in higher esteem. Because I belong to my dad, I have trouble keeping my voice down when I’m angry. I don’t get one without the other.
For some people this may be an incredibly painful idea to accept. Some parents are flat out awful, and it’s hard to see any good or any positive coming from them at all. Some people have complicated relationships with different forms of biological, adoptive, foster, step, or somewhere in between all of those type parents. Some people (like myself) shudder at the idea that a parent can be so powerful since it means having that much more responsibility as a parent.
But here’s the best part. God, knowing all of this about earthly parents, still claims to be our parent too. He knows how our identities are shaped by our parents, both internally and in the eyes of others. He knows that no matter what, we cannot distance ourselves from belonging to our parents, and from us as parents belonging to our children. And so he uses that language, the language of inseparability, to identify his relationship to us. We belong to him, in a way that we belong to no one else.
2 Corinthians 2:14-15 says “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” Just like our parents leave a mark on us we can’t shake, God does too. We literally reek of him.
To be a child of God means that we get to take on His identity, totally unearned and undeserved like us. Not everyone will want to come shake our hands in the street for our new identity, in fact for many people our “aroma” is revolting. But we know that this new identity is one that is forged from grace, giving us the ability to be so much more than we would be without Christ.
For every negative trait that I pass down, God will be able to help her overcome it and put on a new character.
Here’s what I haven’t mentioned about my dad yet. Yes, he had a temper problem. But in his early adulthood he turned his gaze a child not towards his earthly father, but to his Heavenly Father. Over the years, I saw his anger less and less, and never once did I see it directed at me (though I certainly deserved it). He truly adopted his identity as being a Child of God, taking on his sonship and surrendering himself to the character transformation that this relationship made possible. Everyone around him benefitted from it.
This is why I insist on confusing my daughter by telling her that she is God’s daughter every single it comes up. I love that she belongs to me. I love that she has my eyes and her dad’s hair. I love that she falls asleep safe and secure knowing that she belongs to me and I belong to her.
But even with that, I want her to know that she belongs to someone who can give her a far greater identity than I can. Yes she’s my daughter, but also she’s the daughter of the King! In every way that I will hurt her, God will be able to heal her. For every negative trait that I pass down, God will be able to help her overcome it and put on a new character. And when I eventually leave her and go join him and my own earthly father, God will still be there with her in exactly the same way he was before.