Yesterday I was sitting at the dining room table, hard at work. I was preparing my lesson for one of the campus ministries I lead, and my children were in the living room a few feet away. On the television, one of the many inane kids shows was blaring just loud enough for the neighbors to hear. But I was in my own little world, consumed with my work. Just on the outer corners of my consciousness I registered that a silly song was playing, and in my peripheral vision I could see that my two-year-old daughter was dancing. This sort of thing happens all the time; she loves music.
It’s very common to see her waddle like a baby penguin or clumsily spin whenever a song starts playing. In the moment I was not sure what it was that caused me to look up from my computer. Looking back, I know it had to have been the Holy Spirit, tapping me on the shoulder and telling me that there was something far more important for me to see than the apologetics website I was reading. I glanced up over my screen, grinning as I watched Marisol twirling and bobbing happily to the music. I wasn’t sure if she realized that I was watching her, because she seemed to be just as lost in her world as I was in mine. But then it happened: the song on TV ended with a squeak and she spun to face me, smiling ear to ear and with eyes sparkling like starlight. All at the same time, she was bashful yet expectant. Her waiting gaze revealed that she knew I was watching, and though no words were spoken I could hear loud and clear the question that her little heart was asking:
“Am I beautiful, Daddy?”
Tears welled up in my eyes. I rushed over to her, swept her up in my arms and covered her with kisses. She’s still learning how to talk, and can’t yet put together full sentences, much less verbally express the yearnings of her soul. But I knew exactly what she was waiting to hear. She’s at an age where she doesn’t yet have words, but she also doesn’t have pretense. She hasn’t yet experienced the pain of the world. She hasn’t yet had to face the intense, daily pressure of being a woman, and living up to impossible and ever-changing cultural expectations of beauty. She hasn’t yet born the pain of rejection, or cried the tears of heartbreak. She hasn’t learned yet how to be cynical, knowing that the world is filled with disappointment. She’s never stared at herself in the mirror through tear-filled eyes, checking off a mental checklist of perceived flaws. She’s never had a boy play with her emotions, only to continue on past her.
It breaks my heart so much as I realize that someday she will face these things. There will come a day when the innocence of youth is replaced by the learned patterns of self-preservation. I wish that I could protect her. I wish that I could snuggle her to sleep on my chest for the rest of her life, keeping her safe in my arms from all the world’s ills. I wish that she could stay my baby girl forever, naïve to the pain, dancing in her pretend castle to all the silly songs. But I know that that’s not how it works. I know that she’s going to grow up, and experience all the things I can’t protect her from. She will grow up in a fallen world, she will have her heart broken, and she will have to wrestle with questions of self-doubt, self-image, and self-worth. I can’t keep her from feeling pain, as much as I desperately wish that I could.
But I also know that that’s not really what she needs from me. She doesn’t need me to be the one to satisfy her soul’s deepest questions, because only Jesus can do that. Only he can be her true knight in shining armor, saving her from sin and death, assuring her that she is worthy of love, that she is fearfully and wonderfully made, and that she is made in the image of her Creator. She also doesn’t need me to try to keep her sheltered from the world forever (though for a few years I will). Like it or not, she’s going to grow up and be an independent woman. She’s going to face all that the world is going to throw at her, and sequestering her away from that is not only impossible, it is also counter-productive, and not at all what is best for her.
But I do have a role to play. I do have a wonderful, painful, joyful, tears-and-laughter-filled job. I get to be the one who shows her how the Heavenly Father delights in her, so unspeakably proud of who she is. I get to be the one who shows her how a woman should be treated, letting her watch as I love her mother as Christ loves the church. I get to show her that girls are strong too, and that she doesn’t need a boy to make her complete. For now, I get to snuggle her to sleep, dress her up like a “Pincess” and help her find her favorite shows on YouTube until she learns how to spell them herself. I get to be the one who prepares her and equips her to face the world, and to be the steadfast voice of love and validation in her life when everything else is uncertain. I get to be her father and her friend, teaching her, guiding her and loving her unconditionally.
And in those moments when she dances to a silly song for the hundredth time and asks me with her eyes, “Am I beautiful, daddy,” I get to be the one who runs to her, squeezes her, covers her with kisses and tells her over and over and over…
Yes, my sweet little Marisol. You are so so beautiful. Daddy loves you so much.