Discover more from Churchatopia
Just Use Your Funny Voice
Reflections from a New-ish Father
My wife tells me that I’m constantly singing. Regrettably, she’s correct. While I certainly don’t see myself as a good singer, I do sing a lot around the house. Actually, I sing most anywhere—at home, in the car, in the shower, and around the church. In short, I sing wherever I go.
How seriously I sing is an entirely different matter. Sometimes I’ll sing a lyric (often altering it) to make my wife laugh. Sometimes I’ll sing a lyric incorrectly simply because I don’t know any better. I’ve always had trouble identifying words from songs on the radio, which leads to some very bad misinterpretations on my part. My wife is quick to point this out, and so she should. No need to keep messing up a good song for another thirty years.
Having a son has created an interesting dynamic in my singing. I have a nearly irrepressible urge to make little Amos smile and laugh. He seems predisposed to do so anyway, but it’s the most endearing thing imaginable. This leads to a lot of efforts on our part as parents to elicit a smile or laugh.
Sometimes he laughs at things that don’t seem particularly funny to us, such as a yawn. For some reason yawns really crack him up. Then there are more obvious things, such as us smiling big at him, whether right up in his face or from across the room. He almost always reacts to that. But my great temptation has been to share with him some of my singing. It almost always gets his attention, and usually in a positive way.
What I hadn’t anticipated is how my tendency to alter song lyrics would be prompted by my delight in him. For example:
“I must tell Amos/I must tell Amos/I cannot bear my burdens alone.”
Those raised in a church tradition like mine will recognize this to be a take on “I Must Tell Jesus.” Of course, the obvious change is that “Amos” has replaced “Jesus.” I’ve tweaked other songs as well, altering them such that they end up being something of an ode to Amos, a fun little way of showing affection to him. Such songs aren’t just focused on him, but they’re largely sung in what a reasonably normal person would describe as a silly or goofy voice. But if I can get a little smile or laugh out of him, then my work is done.
It didn’t take many times of doing this for something to occur to me: this little habit is emblematic of a problematic approach to parenting. I’m not interested in how it manifests among unbelieving parents. Of course, they don’t see Christ as the precious and all-satisfying center of life, including family life. I’m concerned about Christian parents who tell their children “Jesus is everything” in one breath, then “You are everything” in the next.
This problem isn’t simply the standard way we divorce Sunday from the rest of the week, though that is no doubt a related problem. The problem is how we confuse our delight in our children with a way of life that says, “You are the center of our reality.” We turn affection for family into obsession with family. We turn children into objects of worship instead of objects of stewardship.
The problem starts out innocently enough. Parents feel blessed to have the children they have, especially the newness accompanying a first child. Perhaps the couple waited for years to have a child, and now, finally having tasted the joy of one, they have a surplus of gratitude. Even a precarious pregnancy can prompt such “child-centeredness” later, or early childhood illness may cause parents to hold their little one more closely. It’s not hard to sympathize with these situations. They’re common. They show emotional vulnerability, some of which is quite normal and healthy.
However, the human heart being what it is, even the sincerest of parents can reorient their life around their child in ways that are disordered, imbalanced, and unwise. In both word and deed, they communicate, “Your wants, needs, and very existence are the most important things to us.”
If anything, this is an overcorrection from a problem that existed in Jewish society around the time of Jesus. Children were often devalued, unimportant, seen as property. This mindset existed within an even more regressive Greco-Roman environment in which children could be and were exploited, abandoned, and killed for sundry reasons. It’s jarring to study ancient attitudes and practices concerning children.
Into both Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3). And “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:4). Jesus was reconnecting Jewish listeners with (and introducing Gentile listeners to) three foundational truths. First, God created all people in His image and likeness. Second, children are a heritage from the Lord. And third, parents have a spiritual obligation to transmit God’s truth to their children. Jesus was also going further by showing His own heart toward children, as well as the kind of humility and childlike trust that was needed to repent and enter the Kingdom.
What kind of emotional dynamic would such teaching create, then, in the typical Jewish parent of that day? In other words, if one took Jesus and other biblical teaching seriously, what kind of affection and attention could one expect? Jesus at least hints at this in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Remember how the father, embarrassed and abandoned by his youngest son, reacted when that son finally came home? “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Lk 15:20). Jewish men never behaved this way. It was beneath them. However, Jesus chose this example to show God’s heart toward sinners who come home. God’s heart is inherently compassionate toward His children. After all, this is the same Lord who corrects those whom He loves, as a father the son in whom he delights (Prov. 3:12).
Divine, fatherly care is clearly a basis for the father (parent)-child relationship. Built into the fabric of creation itself are bonds of natural affection between parents and their offspring. No doubt this is hindered and perverted by human depravity. For example, an unplanned pregnancy, sometimes the result of sin itself, creates circumstances that shape human loves and fears in ways that obscure God’s good design. But it then makes one wonder why the abortion-minded mother and father who see and hear an ultrasound often choose life at a much higher rate. It’s not just “life in general” or someone else’s child they’re hearing. It’s a child whom they have begotten.
Even once we’re playing with our children in the nursery, the tendency to idolize arises. Babies bring so much delight and pleasure, even amid the dirty diapers and sleepless nights. As my wife so often puts it, “It’s incredible that you’re more than willing to make all of these sacrifices for their well-being, even to your own detriment.” I think nursing mothers probably experience this acutely given the degree of embodied effort involved, but even after that season has passed the sacrificial love continues. The question then becomes, how does biblical truth foster healthy emotional boundaries such that our entire domestic experience doesn’t become one big love song to our children?
What I’ve been slowly learning to do is just to use my funny voice. How can I engage with my child in a way that is fun, joyful, and age-appropriate, without reengineering too many of our daily experiences around just making him happy? Naturally, this may not be as much of a risk at this early stage of childhood as in later stages, but even now we need to evaluate what patterns are forming in our home.
As to the example I began with, an obvious first boundary at this stage is probably not changing the words of songs of the faith! It may technically be true that, “Amos loves me this I know,” but it isn’t very spiritually helpful. I can just teach him, “Jesus Loves Me,” using my funny voice. As my son learns to pick up different sounds and tones, maybe just by singing the song an octave too high (or low) the various movements of my mouth will make him smile, while also embedding within his psyche the melody (and correct lyrics) of a beloved song whose meaning he will eventually learn.
For children at different stages of childhood, parents should do a regular inventory of the rhythms of their life, including rhetoric and practices. How might screen time help or hinder their child’s capacity to open a Bible and sit and read without distraction?How might learning to form their own prayers be useful devotionally, as opposed to praying a stock prayer over every meal until they turn 18? How might limiting the number of extracurriculars the child is involved in convey to them some important lessons about excellence, balance, focus, and priorities? Sometimes I think the odometers in our minivans tell their own story about who’s really in control of the family calendar.
How often I’ve heard adults complain about the self-centeredness of kids today, not realizing the obvious fact that they’re the grandparents and parents of these kids! Did depravity get worse suddenly in 1990 or 2000, or has the inherent selfishness in every human heart been uniquely nurtured by unthinking speech, routines, and family practices?
Sometimes we simply must restrain a sinful, parental impulse—the impulse to be adored by our children as much as we adore them. Sometimes we just need to “use our funny voice,” but stay on message. It may help us hold their attention sometimes, but as we use it, we must keep telling the truth about the One we most need, love, and adore: Jesus.