“Joshua, you need to come home,” my wife said over the phone. She sounded scared.
For some reason, the previous owners of our home had installed a deadbolt lock on the master bedroom door, and my two-year-old had managed to lock herself and our one-year-old inside.
“Can’t you get her to turn it back?” I asked.
“No,” my wife said. “I’ve tried to explain it to her, but she just keeps turning the doorknob, and she’s starting to cry.”
I called my brother Caleb, who works much closer to my home, and asked him to go over and see if he could help. In the meantime, I ran to my car and headed home.
As I drove home, my wife called again, but this time she was in tears.
“Caleb’s not here yet, and the girls are crying hysterically behind the door. It is killing me to hear them terrified like this, and I can’t do anything to help.”
“Honey, you’ve got to get a hold of yourself,” I said. “They need you to be calm for them right now. I’m sure Caleb will be there soon.”
Even though I sounded like I was in control of my emotions, after that phone call, my fatherly instincts combined with adrenaline and put me in a low-grade panic. I stepped on the gas and started driving down the highway like an emergency responder. But before I could get very far, a severe thunderstorm broke out, reducing visibility, and grinding traffic down to a crawl.
I felt trapped.
When my brother arrived, he discovered he couldn’t get into our second-story bedroom window, which was locked. And we didn’t have a crow bar, so he used what tools he could find in an attempt to force the door open. Every unsuccessful attempt made loud noises that terrified our screaming daughters even more.
In the meantime, I ignored the thunderstorm, darted around as many cars as I could, and sped toward my home. I kept telling myself it was stupid to be doing that while driving stick shift and using the cell phone to get in touch with the landlord, but I just wanted to do something to get control of the situation.
When my landlord finally called me back, he told me he didn’t have a key for that door.
“You’re kidding,” I said, dismayed. “Those girls have been in there for 20 minutes screaming like the house is on fire. We’re going to have to get that door down somehow.”
And that’s when I got a call from my brother who said that, although he had irreparably damaged the door, the girls were safe in my wife’s arms.
In the days following our ordeal with the girls, I kept thinking how easily it could have been something worse. I also thought about how we’ve got plenty more years for our daughters to do something – maybe even intentionally – that will top that mini-crisis by far.
And that’s not just fatalism talking. So many of my friends with teenage and adult children are dealing with the fallout of their kids’ profoundly unwise decisions.
I want the secret formula for raising children who never make foolish choices that other people have to pay for. But if my God-fearing friends are any indicator, even if we do all the right things as parents, there are no guarantees that our kids will be immune to their own stupidity.
My kids are going to have wills, and they may end up being just as strong as mine. And if they choose to exercise their wills foolishly, one day, we may end up on the other side of a much stronger, deadbolted door feeling helpless, wishing we could break through to a grown child who can’t get out of the mess they’re in.
I pray that God will help us when that day comes. I pray we won’t treat them like toddlers, that we’ll know the balance between rescuing them and letting them experience the consequences of their own foolish decisions. And no matter how bad it gets on the other side of that door, I pray I’ll have the faith to believe God is on the other side of it with them, being the Father they need the most.