Oftentimes when I’m with my little girls, I feel like I’m just talking at them and around them, but not to them. Whether I want to or not, I’m juggling four or five things in my own head while trying to stay engaged with them.
Yes, I would like to play Hungry Hippo with them; but at the same time, I would love to have 90 minutes of uninterrupted reading time or a nap. So a lot of times, I don’t get to read; I don’t get the nap; and my kids get me halfway-engaged in a game of Hungry Hippo. The other night, however, was a rare exception.
I was going through our typical bedtime routine, and it came time for goodnight songs.
“Hey girls,” I said, “it has been a while since we sang ‘For the Beauty of the Earth.’ How about that one?” They said yes, and I started to sing to them while lying on a beanbag on the floor. But as the words came out of my mouth, something happened.
My youngest daughter was on the top bunk, looking into my eyes as I sang. I looked right back into hers, rather than simply looking in the general direction of her face.
As I sang, I found myself wondering, What is she seeing through her little eyes right now? What is her four-year-old brain processing as it looks at this adult man she calls ‘Daddy’? What are her thoughts? Who is she behind that face?
As these thoughts lit up my imagination, the whole experience changed. I wasn’t singing at her or around her. I was singing to her. I was wondering about all the mysteries behind her eyes, all the things I don’t know about who she is. And when I sang the last line of the song, she said, “Daddy, I feel like you’re right here with me.”
I was, and I want to be right there with her more often.
I also want to be right there with my wife, my other children, with my coworkers and friends. I want to be aware of the fact that each person in my life is a mystery. They’re not an extension of me and my feelings, and I can’t guess who they are or assume I know everything they’re perceiving.
In Philippians 2:3, it says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Counting others more significant than myself requires a recognition of their unique needs, desires, and their difference from me as individuals. It requires me to recognize that, behind their eyes, is a very different world and then do my best to discover it.
This morning, my daughter was looking into my eyes again, and I asked her what she was seeing. She said, “I’m seeing pictures of you and me — only you and me. I’m looking into your eyes, your beautiful eyes.”
I had to count her feelings and thoughts more significant than my own before I got curious enough to ask about them. And as I begin to discover them more deeply, our relationship grows.