I took my boy to a neighborhood pool, an older-style one. Lately, we’ve had a streak of visiting modern ones outfitted with splash pads, toddler wading areas, waterfall sprinklers, and water cannons—folks really love their community pools these days. But this was the typical mid-20th century rectangular pool with a small stair-step entry area. It was all of four rather steep steps, where the third step was sufficient to submerge my boy to his nostrils. Danger territory, for sure.
Now, my kid is best nicknamed The Great Dareventureboy, where anything deemed “dangerous” by Mama and Papa fires off every mental association with “irresistibly fun”. And in that fifteen or so square-foot stair step area was all the adventure a boy would need for hours of fun. He stepped gingerly at first, down each step as the chilly April water shocked his body’s oil-shimmered, sun-warmed skin as he descended. But he soon acclimated and he reached out with his hand to me to help steady him onto that oh-so-dangerous third step that mandated tiptoes if he was going to survive this plunge. It was the idea of escaping the cute danger of death-by-water-logging that spurred him to tempt fate repeatedly. And every time he did so for the duration of an hour, he giggled and cackled and chortled and snorted. This waterborne earthbound delight delivered him to spiritual ecstasy. Eventually, he refused my assistance and just raced down to the danger step, risking lungs full of chlorinated heaven.
I’m sure I did the same as a boy. But I don’t remember that.
But now I do. Not because my mind was flooded with memories of poolside fun, but because I simply observe my son. I see myself in him, both literally and figuratively: he looks like me and acts like me. My appearance in general has been nearly translated gene-by-gene to him, save the heart-shaped face and pointier nose he inherited from my wife. My bronze tone, the bridge of my nose, my ear-to-ear smile, my almond eyes, my puny calf muscles: they are all his. My wife, whose curly locks mesmerize me to this day, couldn’t manage to put a wave into his rebar-thick Asian hairs. And his vibrant, eyes-wide-open personality is the same as mine. I see in him such all my past hyperactivity and run-don’t-stop attitude even while he dazzles with his own charm. It’s not a vicarious thing, but rather a kind of mirror of souls, a portal to my past but in the full radiance of the present.
I didn’t have to do anything to see this likeness. All I had to do was love someone as close as fathers can love, and his joy made my mind bubble with the thought that I, too, grinned as wide at a pool once. My role was singular: to catch him whenever he summoned me or thought himself literally in too deep. I didn’t just feel like a kid again—it just seemed like I was staring at everything I would have been.
And from all that splashing, from the smooth coolness of his skin repeatedly casting itself into my ready hands, he showed me that he’s my fountain of youth.
Our Father in heaven appears to want the same for all of us, to be plunged into the dangerous but ultimately joyful. It starts with Christ, the Son of God, who took a splash into the Jordan. And more spiritually, Christ himself took a splash into the human experience—suffering and all—even until he was in too deep, forsaken on a cross. But aside from all these biblical parallels, there’s something important we should observe about our relation to God the Father: God sees in us his image and likeness, too, and he delights in that about us. I rarely ever hear that God delights in me, even with the countless religious media outlets I subscribe to or follow. The Christian art journals I read tend to shy away from the exuberant, which is kind of the way it goes for academic things. Most of the Catholic literature I read is sobering, and Saints have their joy but it’s typically woven into the picture of sin—and that’s expected, as Redemption is their song. The idea that we are delightful is not the purpose of liturgy, so knowing spiritual loveliness doesn’t take on weekly rhythms. Perhaps the best place to find it in Song of Songs, but apart from that book and a few others, the Bible doesn’t say much about the Father’s delight in us.
I can’t tell why that is so, even when we’re charged to call God Our Father, the type who throws us lavish parties upon our coming home. But perhaps that’s why the parable of the prodigal son is so striking to many readers.
We are children to him, and it’s fitting that we delight him. We’re not really all that old, anyhow: in light of eternity and Creation we are oh so very young, so we are children not just by divine adoption, but by the fact that 70+ years is not long at all. It is so easy for the soul to grow old, but we must admit the Father is eternally youthful for that is what eternity is: to be full of unending activity and life, and all at once. That is what all this child-rearing actually is: it is eternity making a deep intrusion into time so that we can see our eternal youth in the delights of our children.
We are to know we are delighted in all the same.
Yes, I know the world is heavy upon us. I know the reality is that with sin there is no delight. Yes, I know that the damnation of souls should be arresting to us, and holds us back so we see the world soberly. You will not find me diluting centuries of profound Christian examples of contrition. We must return to the Lord before he can lavish us with the fatted calf.
But I also don’t find sin when my boy plunges into my arms. I’d forever love for him to jump to me; I can’t be unhappy when he’s boisterously happy. And that’s actually the way our spiritual lives are meant to be; we are supposed to be delighted in by God, and delight in him all the same as we take repeated plunges into the grace that starts with Baptism. That delight is supposed to be the norm, even if life feels more like a sinker than the uplifting buoyancy of spiritual water. “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” is supposed to extend to God’s adopted family, too, especially in the life of grace. And well, I find it, here in the Sacrament of Marriage in my boy, just by looking at his face and standing at rest until he summons me—and that’s kind of what heaven is, anyhow: standing face-to-face with God as he draws us ever closer to him.
My boy got on his toes in nose-deep water, laughing each time with unfading joy. He reminded me that I once must have, too, for I see in him my image and likeness. That is also what Our Father sees as we swim in all this grace, and our delight refuses to sink.