Emails From My Daughter

It’s only a matter of time

A few months ago, we got new phones. We configured the old phones to be wifi-only and let our kids use them to play games, watch movies, etc. as a treat. For my eldest daughter, the primary purpose of the phone is email. Though she is only seven years old, the autocomplete features help her compose emails with relative ease. She loves to get email from her grandparents and her parents, and has taken to carrying the phone around with her in a little purse so that she can check her email on the go.

I’m aware of the dangers of becoming technologically dependent at such a young age, and we try to be careful to limit her use of the phone – it is largely a treat for good behavior, as well as a time-killer in doctors’ offices. But it has been endearing to see her take to writing little notes to the people she loves. Sometimes these are brief messages to see how people are doing, sometimes reminders to her parents to pick up the right stuff at the store. Here is a typical email:

Guess what Dad for my reading book I got a book that said Snowboarding Dairy. Snowboarding is your favorite right????? Daddy. I love you so so so much. and I miss you so much I’m crying right now because I miss you Daddy. I hope when you come back from slat lack we can go Snowboarding together Daddy. I love you so so so much daddy.

or

Well um I already poop’t in your bed. But mommy cleans so she clean the bed.

or

No I’m not going to take a bath. I don’t even smell bad DADDY!!!!!!. I love you so so so so so so much. you are my favorite person in the whole universe. i love you so so so so so so much.

To me, it’s all adorable, and it’s the highlight of my day when I see something in my inbox from her. Sometimes I can’t understand what she’s talking about, and sometimes she’s just asking for stuff, and sometimes she’s just grumpy. But I miss it when I don’t get messages from her, and I hope the other kids will also send me emails once in a while. I enjoy reading her emails not just because they are amusing, but because they are snapshots into what she’s thinking about and how she is growing or developing. It’s magical to hear from her, even when the messages are just random thoughts.

I imagine that most of our efforts to communicate with God are childlike – constantly asking for things, begging for things, complaining. Our thoughts wander during prayer and our messages to him are primitive, barely making sense. Sometimes I feel embarrassed at how inarticulate and how impatient my prayers must sound. He’s the prime mover of the universe — it is audacious for me to address Him at all, let alone to be so demanding, so clumsy and so brief. I feel stupid: stupid (at my best) for my half-hearted utterances, stupid (at my worst) when I feel like I am talking to myself in the dark.

And yet — God has commanded us to pray to Him always. He has asked us to trouble him with our lives, to pray over our flocks and to seek comfort from Him. The thought is moving. We are to be as importunate widows, even though that seems rude at least and stunningly bold for us to act towards a Creator. Why has God asked us to do this? If God as a Heavenly Father feels at all like a father here in mortality, does He crave hearing from us as much as I await my daughter’s emails? I know that there are limits to how we can expect the heavenly parents to act like mortal ones, but the desire to connect with your children is primal and superlative. I have hope that this is part of godly attributes that we are to cling to and cultivate as best we can.

Even more than this, if my gut instincts about the goal of the temple and sealing ordinances are correct, this yearning towards our children is such a force as to help fuel the bonds throughout the entire human family. God promises that those who seek His face can be adopted into His royal family, freeing us from slavery. Paul’s words are bold:

…if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

(Romans 8)

Paul speaks in terms of suffering and death of the body, but I feel in my gut that the cries of “Father!” go beyond the cross to include familial cries of joy as well. I feel like I am a child of God when I am with my family. The great sealing chain back to Adam is forged not just through salvific ordinances but through the hearts turning to each other. I would argue that without the hearts of the children and parents turning to each other, the ordinances are of no use and the adoption is incomplete.

Some of this is just speculation, but it feels right to me. I hope it is right. I also hope that God does want to hear from us. I hope that there is somewhere out there a creator who feels towards us the feelings of a tender parent, and that hope fuels the work we engage in here below — to cast forever in loving bonds those ties of genuine affection that are the essence of family.

Comments

  1. I’m unwilling to admit with how choked up this post made me feel.

  2. Excellent post, thanks!

  3. I didn’t have any idea where you’d take this, and then wow. Thanks.

  4. Thanks.

  5. Beautiful, Steve. Truly wonderful. I have the same hope, and it’s the center of my testimony.

  6. She’ll be blogging soon.

    Great post, Steve. Mormonism does very well at tapping into our primal desire for familial connection and love. I do sometimes worry, though, if this is a mistake. After all, love for kin may just be a coded impulse to protect one’s genes. If DNA has divine origins (cf. Prometheus), then all is well, if not then we are elevating the natural man higher than the godly man. Love of non-kin is the hallmark of Jesus’ teaching, is it not? Loving my daughter is the easiest thing in the world for me and thus I expect no reward for it, and the desire to see it perpetuate into the eternities is probably entirely selfish.

    Don’t get me wrong, though. If loving my family is just the selfish gene at play, I don’t care. Carry on.

  7. Ronan, just so. I believe it was Steve Jobs who said something along the lines of that it’s good that children are cute, or else nobody would want them. It’s hard-coded DNA for sure. But where are we to learn how to love our neighbor if not by emulating that familial affection? It’s the proto-template for all our interactions.

    Good nod to Prometheus, pity that movie turned out as it did because it could have been so great!

  8. Norman Wright says:

    Thanks for a great post to start the day. I don’t know that I am awake enough to weigh in on the DNA-gospel debate but I am sufficiently awake to recognize a tender mercy in this article as I interact with my own children.

  9. I like that. We learn love in families. We are then to extend that love.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    You had best treasure those “I love you so so so so much!” Emails, because they are going to dissipate into the ether when she’s a teenager.

  11. melodynew says:

    Thanks for this beautiful and touching essay. I love the nourishment we all receive from familial bonds. I would give my life for my children. Have given a huge portion of it for them, purely because they are mine. Whatever creates those bonds, they are real and strong. . . in most families. . .

    However, I trust I am not the only one around here who at one point found herself alone and adrift on the primordial mortal family sea, when I faced the truth of how my father severed those bonds via unspeakable acts perpetrated upon his children. Even shared DNA didn’t stop him.

    Years later as an adult, I was escort to my younger sister who performed proxy ordinances in the temple for my father’s own mother (who had never received her endowment while living). I was astounded at the emotional effect of this experience. The “welding link” felt as though it essentially skipped a generation, casting aside, so-to-speak, the corroded/corrupt link in the chain. At least for the time being. I don’t know how God will work that all out in the hereafter for the unrepentant and truly evil-doers among our own kin. But, I do know that with the help of my sister and I, our paternal grandmother became the savior of our family chain. I never knew her. But I felt physically connected to her that day. God is good. I love this church. Amen.

  12. melodynew says:

    P.S. I love the idea of “troubling” God with our daily prayers. Love it. Thank you for using that word.

  13. Melodynew, yeah. I know that there are many many people out there for whom the home is a place of horrors. I know how lucky I am.

  14. “Love of non-kin is the hallmark of Jesus’ teaching, is it not?” Maybe. But another angle on it is that the hallmark of his teaching is that non-kin actually are kin after all, at least in the sense that we are all children of God. And the commission to the apostles, arguably, is that we should strive to make kin out of all non-kin (at least all who are willing) through the ordinance of baptism, which make us all children of Christ, per Abinadi and others.

    The restoration, with its focus on bloodlines and adoption only takes it one step further: we are all the children of God already; we become the children of Christ through baptism; and we become the sons of Moses and Aaron, the seed of Abraham, part of the great chain welded all the way back to Adam, etc., through the ordinances of the temple (entering into the order of the priesthood and receiving the sealing ordinances not only on our own behalf, but also on behalf of the missing links in the chain).

    Having said that, I agree that our focus on family love—which most often means nuclear family, with occasional guest appearances by grandparents, or, less often, cousins, aunts, or uncles—is potentially at tension with the more universal commandment to love.

  15. I know that there are limits to how we can expect the heavenly parents to act like mortal ones, but the desire to connect with your children is primal and superlative. I have hope that this is part of godly attributes that we are to cling to and cultivate as best we can.

    Great point — and I really appreciate that caveat as well. We do ourselves a disservice when we simply view God as a kindly earthly father, involved in our lives in all the ways that an earthly father is. Such a view falls into a trap of creating God in our own image. And yet, I agree with your gut feeling that God’s genuine love and attention bends toward us, his children.

  16. JKC,
    Well, yes, the Gospel does indeed call us to make kin of non-kin, in some part by teaching us that they are kin. “Here are my mother and my brothers” is a true thing, but it’s still an incredibly unnatural move to make. It seems to be essential to serving God, however, the way loving your own DNA is not.

  17. Ronan, that’s exactly right, and I agree with your earlier comment that loving your own children is the easiest thing in the world, and therefore merits you little. This is the essential challenge of Christianity, I think, to love your neighbor. But you’ve got to start somewhere. Are those weirdos in the pew our family, or is that mere lip service? Joseph Smith would have us believe that they are family, adopted and heirs.

  18. I imagine that Jesus loved his family deeply.

  19. Beautiful. I personally try to have as true a parent-child relationship with our Heavenly Parents because it is all I really know how to do. I can only make it work if I am allowed to scream, and get mad and then come back and apologize when cooler heads prevail. I want to be the real me with them in the same way that I don’t tiptoe around my mortal parents.

  20. Love this. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. (And you are so lucky to have those great emails!)

  21. Thanks meems!

  22. You’re lucky to have something you can save. When my daughter was little she liked to call me at work and leave voicemails. I had a string of them starting from when she was just barely talking where her mother would prompt her to say things and she would repeat them. Unfortunately my company upgraded the phone system and all of those voices were gone.

  23. “[I]t’s still an incredibly unnatural move to make. It seems to be essential to serving God, however, the way loving your own DNA is not.” Well said.

  24. I have a theory that JKC and KLC are married.

  25. J. Stapley says:

    This is wonderful, Steve. Joyful and moving. Thanks.

  26. This is really lovely, Steve. You temp me to not only get my kids their own email addresses, but to ponder more deeply my prayers and be kinder to myself about my own shortcomings as I imagine God sees them. Thank you.

  27. From making arrowheads or sending texts, we’ve all been dependent upon technology. It isn’t bad.

  28. I really like your perspective here, Steve.

  29. Thanks! I don’t get that reaction very often, so I’d better soak it up while I can.

  30. Well said. I do have this feeling though that adoption is the background paradigm. But beautiful none the less.

  31. Bill, I agree, but adoption is fundamentally about forging together a family.

  32. Meldrum the Less says:

    “You had best treasure those “I love you so so so so much!” Emails, because they are going to dissipate into the ether when she’s a teenager.”

    Usually. But not always. They can change into forms of manipulation. I love you so much…Can I buy that little red car on ebay, can I, can I? I will be old enough to start driving next year.

  33. Always the optimist, eh. No thanks.

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