My Preschoolers' Interpretation of a 16th Century Saint

photo-9 Last week, I was driving home from the ranch with my kids in the back seat of my pickup truck. We were about halfway home when I heard my 22-month-old daughter in the back seat begin to say with gusto, "Uhh! Uhh! Uhh!" I looked back to see what she was talking about and saw her pointing out the window at our favorite place to get a burger (Whataburger, of course).

Me: "Do you see Whataburger?" Her: "Yes!" [Pause] Her: "Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat!"

The mention of Whataburger got my 4-year-old son's attention. The boy sincerely loves that place. Earlier this year, while on a trip to visit my wife's family in Missouri (where, regrettably, there are no Whataburgers), we were eating cereal at breakfast, and we had this conversation:

Him: "Hey Dad, how much longer til we get back to Texas?" Me: "It's still going to be a while. Our trip just started. How come?" Him: "It's just–I'm really missing Whataburger." Me [smiling]: "Me too, buddy. But it will still be there when we get back to Texas." Him [frowning]: "I just don't think I can wait that long."

So, back to the conversation after my daughter's, "Eat! Eat! Eat!..." When he heard her saying that, my son looked up from the toys he'd been playing with and realized with a sad resignation that–once again–we were driving so close to his favorite establishment, but instead of stopping we were continuing on right past it on our way home. Then came the memorable question/commentary:

Him: "Dad, why are we spending all of our time not eating at Whataburger?" Me: "Good question, buddy."

He had a good point. He's now been in this world four and a half years, and though (obviously) we're no strangers to Whataburger, he could see that he was letting his life go by, spending virtually all of his time on other things. Why, Daddy, why?

For a long time, I lived my life essentially asking the adult equivalent of my son's question. I had things that were pretty deeply-seated desires in me, but still I spent all of my time not doing them. For example, for years, I thought it would be great to spend a day alone with God–even to make a habit of doing so. I even attended conferences where I chose workshops that talked about doing it, and always left inspired. Yet I still never did it.

It applied to other desires too. I wanted to spend more time with my family. I wanted to spend more time outdoors and less time in an office. I wanted to spend more time in boots and less time in dress shoes. Perhaps most of all, I wanted to live more prayerfully than I was.

You probably have desires like those too, and my son's question about Whataburger applies just as well. Why are we spending all of our time not doing them?

St. Teresa of Ávila wrote about this in the 1500s:

If we have the hope of enjoying this blessing [communion with God] while we are still in this life, what are we doing about it and why are we waiting? What sufficient reason is there for delaying even a short time instead of seeking the Lord...? (From Interior Castle)

It was both a great relief and a scary challenge to me when I realized that the huge majority of the obstacles that were keeping me from living according to those desires were not nearly as external as I'd thought. When it came down to it, my lack of those things was not due to anyone else's fault, but simply to the fact that I had never really intended to arrange all of the parts of my life around them (and, perhaps that desperation hadn't yet driven me to make any drastic changes). It didn't take any nerve to keep living like I always had and continue wishing that things were different.

A huge step for me was my participation in a Transforming Community. I felt like it gave me permission to live the way I'd always wanted, but in the process I discovered that I had never actually needed anyone's permission in the first place. All I needed was God's invitation and some reliable guidance along the way. The invitation had already been given to me, just as it has to you, and good guidance is readily available to us.

(This is where the analogy breaks down, because in this stage of their lives, my kids certainly do need my permission to go to Whataburger.)


Something I've prayed this week:

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Easter from The Book of Common Prayer)

[This is the 27th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]