When I was about 3 years old, my family and I were on a trip to Florida over Easter break. One day we rose before dawn to watch a space shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. After we arrived, my dad carried me on his shoulders to the spot where we would settle in the grass to await the launch. I squirmed with impatient anticipation in his arms, but when liftoff time finally came, my fidgets quickly dissipated into spellbound awe as I watched the blaze pierce the morning sky.
We watched until our naked eyes could no longer see the shuttle, but I wasn’t satisfied. With utter and unmitigated confidence, I turned my head, stared up into the blue eyes from which I received my own and commanded, “Daddy, do it again.”
Never once did it cross my mind that this was an unattainable feat. I mean, this was my daddy we were talking about here. He could do anything. I was not a coordinated child, mind you, and consequently spent approximately 43 percent of my childhood screaming my head off because a) my best friend had run over my arm with my bike (true story), b) I had cut the end of my finger off on a boat ladder (still true), and c) I was so intent on winning a swinging contest in my friend’s basement that I slammed my head into an I-beam (sadly, still true, but at least I won).
Yet my daddy could fix all of that with a mere kiss, or at least with a kiss and a phone call to increase our health insurance coverage. On top of that, he even built me a swingset. It had the biggest sandbox in the neighborhood, thank you very much.
From my perspective of pigtailed innocence, there wasn’t much of a difference between swingsets and space shuttles. All I knew was that they sat outside the boundaries of my own capabilities, and that there was nothing in this mortal world that made my daddy happier than seeing a smile of pure, unbridled glee break across his little girl’s face.
The years passed, however, and as my pigtails evolved into ponytails, my perspective on my dad changed as well. I began to take notice of his flaws, his faults and his inconsistencies. I realized that because he was human, he could, in fact, let me down, even break my heart. The halo I constructed for him as a child began to lose its glitter, falling like a disheartened sylph to the ground.
As I began to sweep up the remnants of my childhood chimera, I struggled to reconcile my realization of my dad as a mere mortal like myself with the subsisting awareness that he loved me on a level of which I could not conceive. Despite his human status, he still would move heaven and earth to see his little girl smile. I am sorry to say that I lost sight of this. I questioned, underestimated and at times outrightly doubted my daddy’s love for me because things didn’t go the way I wanted and my requests weren’t answered precisely in the manner I planned.
I think we commit similar mistakes concerning our Father in heaven as well. As we grow and acquire corporeal knowledge, we take down our spiritual pigtails and loosen our grip on the incredulous awe of God and His creation that we possess as children. When we experience heartache or are forced to take a left turn when we planned on making a right, we pout, whine and stomp our feet as if we really do know best. Perhaps one of the most deadly “spiritual diseases” is the creeping loss of the childlike faith. Not to say that maturing and acquiring knowledge is detrimental in itself, but the “puffing up” that comes along with it can asphyxiate the innocence we were created to possess. Our degrees, our GPAs and all the pretty colored cords we get to wear around our necks at graduation become our golden calves, and our expectations deflate simultaneously.
This disease develops slowly but deliberately, and its symptoms are initially mild yet ultimately culminate in disastrous results. We go from hopeful children with ultimate trust that our Father to blind slugs incapable of seeing past the dirt of our pathetic expectations.
If this is growing up, I don’t want it. I want to stay little and snuggle into my Daddy’s arms and squeal joyfully as I watch the miracles of His universe unfold in front of my astonished eyes. I want to stare up into His face and make requests that others might deem extravagant or naively stupid and know that whatever His response, it is rooted in an overwhelming desire to see His little girl smile. It stems from a depth of love that I know not of.
I think I’ll start wearing pigtails again.