This column is part of our ongoing Opinion commentary on faith, called Living Our Faith. Find the full series here.
They say never write a book on the family until you’re at least 50 years old. This maxim leads me to confess that my just-published book, Your Best Life Later: What Every Daughter and Son Needs to Knowwas begun as a series of journals to my five growing children when I was just shy of 31. My excuse for this blatant contravention of wisdom is that I wrote not one word of this volume with designs on future publication.
Even if I had fancied the prospect of someday publishing the journal I started for my then-5-year-old, first-born daughter in the summer of 1986, I’m quite sure the dream would have quickly evaporated if the Lord had given me a heads-up that He would be sending four more arrows into our quiver. That meant that I would not jot my last entry in my youngest’s journal until August 19, 2011 — almost 25 years to the day after I began. (I still can’t believe I finished this thing!)
What on earth possessed a young, nearly 31-year-old pastor to embark on a 25-year (as it turned out) writing project? Simply this: I wanted to help my little ones learn as early as possible the eternal benefits of paying close attention to God and His wisdom from him. why? Because the great Apostle Paul writes of all God’s children, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV). The word ‘handiwork’ is a translation of the Greek poemliterally, a poem or work of art.
I saw my children as divine poetry-in-the-making whose beauty would radiate from accomplishing their God-appointed good works, according to Proverbs 21:21: “Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor.” And my job as their Dad? To assist them in paying close attention to God and his wisdom from him and thereby point my precious ones to the master as He applied his artistic brushstrokes to the canvas of their lives.
So among other things, I wrote in Julia Kathleen’s journal about self-esteem and how it’s best not to be rooted in the opinions of others. I wrote about perseverance because success is never final and failure never fatal. I wrote that in her life nothing is wasted and everything God allows her to endure has purpose.
So among other things, I wrote in Elizabeth Grace’s journal about living for an audience of one, choosing God over man every time. I wrote about sacrifice and how it’s always better to suffer for the right than to wink at evil. I wrote to her about sowing seeds of faithfulness to God and how she should never underestimate the power of planting.
So among other things, I wrote in Bonnie Caroleen’s journal about foolish presumption and how when we bypass the Lord, we also bypass His blessings. I wrote about true success in life and how the greatest asset in any life is the blessing of God. I wrote about the depth of our character and how it determines the height of our achievement. I wrote about inevitable change in life and how we mustn’t cry because it’s over but smile because it ever happened in the first place.
So among other things, I wrote in Jonathan Andrew’s journal about observing a weekly Sabbath because there’s more to life than just work, effort and achievement. I wrote about big dreams and how if we shoot for the moon, even if we miss, we’ll hit higher than the trees. I wrote that the true reward of following Jesus is simply being with Him, not getting stuff from Him. I wrote about self-denial and how he who hates his life in this world shall keep it into eternity.
So among other things, I wrote in Jeffrey Lee’s journal about spiritual security and how holding on to God goes both ways because He never lets go of us. I wrote about life’s inevitable trials and how we can embrace them as God’s way of bringing us maturity and blessing. I wrote about independence and how freedom of choice brings responsibility, accountability and consequences.
What I wanted for my children as I wrote their journals is exactly what I want for present-day readers of my most unlikely book: to master the art of paying close attention to God in time so that you experience deeply His goodness and grace into eternity . But even as I write these words, please know that I am also painfully aware of the growing legions of adults who launched out into the wide world without the spiritual encouragement of a mom or dad behind them.
If that’s you, at the risk of seeming impertinent, would you grant me the honor of being your ‘stand-in spiritual Dad through the pages of this book? Put your name in place of my kids’ names in the daily entries and read every word as written to assist you in living your best life.
My kids have forgiven me for writing down my reflections during their adorable, sometimes awkward, development because they know that in doing so, I often divulged my own sometimes awkward development as a dad. This, I suppose, is the grace that flows from equal embarrassment.
In any case, as an amazing serendipity of this most unlikely book, a couple of my children have actually started journal projects for my grandkids. That makes me very, very happy. May all who benefit from these journals, or who embark on the great adventure of writing your own, share in such joy.
Andrew McQuitty is a pastor in Irving and author of three books. He wrote this for The Dallas Morning News.