Imagine a beautifully-wrapped box lovingly set in front of you. Carefully pick up and examine this mysterious gift. Here are the clues: Your name is on the label; the person who has given it loves you deeply; whoever wrapped it did such a marvelous job that you are certain that the gift contained inside must be even more spectacular. Now, wait. Stop and consider the kind of anticipation this would create inside of you. Would it bring a warm rush of delight, an awe of being the recipient of not only a gift but of the love that motivated it in the first place? Are you with me? Can you imagine the scene? With all of that heart-warming delight and eager anticipation, imagine unwrapping the box and discovering what lies inside. Ooooooh! Aaaaaah!!
Now, while this image is fresh in your mind, picture each member in your family. In ways beyond comprehension, each of us is like that mysterious, beautiful box holding uniquely precious gifts inside. As parents, we are the recipients of such an amazingly cutting-edge, bundled gift—otherwise known as a child—that marketing companies with all of their merchandising hype are left in the dust. And most astonishing of all, these infinitely priceless gifts have been given to us from the One who is Love itself.
Just as we take the time to learn the features and benefits of our most prized electronic appliances, so must we take the time to learn as much as we can about the unique ways our children are wired, put together, designed. As you study your children’s learning styles, creative giftings, unique talents, passions and quirkiness, it is helpful if you will step back from the rush and pressures of daily homeschooling life (“Is your bed made yet?” “Who left the milk out?” “Why haven’t you finished your math?”) to look at the bigger perspective of who these little people actually are and will become.
To help get us started on this path, consider a golden lab puppy. Have you ever seen one? As the puppy awkwardly stumbles and falls, trying to figure out how to use its paws for walking, we recognize that, though the puppy’s paws are currently way too big for its body, it will soon grow into them. Our children’s development is similar! The gifts that God has set inside of them need time and nurturing in order to grow into fully functional adult usage. The gifts of a world-changing adult are awkward in a little child.
For instance, the famous Russian ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, had the giftings and potential of a world class dancer as a little boy, but it was undoubtedly at an awkward, immature level. Can’t you just imagine him fidgeting, bouncing, jumping around, slowly growing into his remarkable abilities—just like that golden lab puppy with its oversized paws? This is where the act of stepping back to gain perspective is invaluable. What would it have been like to be the parent of a child like Mikhail? If you are anything like I was, you would probably be more apt to tell him to sit down and stop fidgeting than to enjoy and appreciate this awkward, immature stage of an extraordinary gift! Learning how to enjoy, appreciate and honor the talents of our children while, at the same time, carefully raising up these immature and awkward little people represents both the extreme challenge and heady adventure of parenting.
I have often pondered what it must have been like for Barbara Walters, the famous interviewer, when she was a child. I can almost hear the comments of teachers when her remarkable ability to talk was considered something disruptive to the class, rather than a gift to the world—perhaps, because those are the kind of teacher comments said of me all of my life. And, yet, the One who gave this precious gift of gab had a plan and purpose for each recipient—to live a deeply satisfying life, full of meaning and opportunities to bless through the spoken word.
Not only are particular talents, like dancing or talking, awkward in childhood years, but so are the individual approaches to life and learning which seem to be hard-wired into us and our children. Why is it that some enjoy working with their hands—and they are quite good at a myriad of glorious artistic, mechanical, even surgical processes—while others thrive in the realm of philosophies, abstract concepts and highly regimented schedules? Why do some come to life when they are surrounded by people, while others light up when creating an artistic mess?
Have you noticed that we didn’t place an order for these traits in our children? As I recall, no one handed me a menu from which I could select particular talents, styles and passions in my kids. And I can guess why: since we don’t enjoy being uncomfortable or stretched, many of us would have happily settled for familiar, normal, even mundane characteristics. In our ignorance, we think that this would make us happy, but, in truth, this scenario would leave our lives and families colorless and insipid. Our Creator God, the One whose imagination and creative power runs the gamut from platypus to meerkat to manatee, loves us far too much to let us settle for anything less than a life-changing adventure.
As you ponder what this means in your life, as you reflect on each of your children and the particular challenges you face in dealing with their gifts, talents, passions and quirkiness, I’d like to share a thought from Scripture that sheds a powerful insight into this discussion. Proverbs 18:16 says, “A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.”
Carefully examine the mysteriously wrapped gift that is set in front of you—the one with your family name, given by One who loves you deeply and in such marvelously unique packaging that you just know the interior is even more spectacular. What anticipation this brings! The gift that is contained inside of your child will make room for him or her in a world desperately in need of the full expression of this particular gift. The gift may bear some similarity to the gifts of Bach, Michelangelo, George Washington Carver, Amy Carmichael, Mother Teresa, Steve Saint, Mikhail Baryshnikov or Barbara Walters, but whatever it is, as you diligently work to nurture and train your children, make it your aim to enjoy the puppy paws while they last.