“We cannot build our lives on passing things, on appearances, on acting like everything is going fine. We go to the rock, where our salvation awaits. And there we will all – each one of us – be happy.”
– Pope Francis
Since I have never been much of a reader, and my wife doesn’t like to get sandy, I’ve been on sandcastle duty for as long as we have had children. In the early years of family life, that meant big holes and drippy castles. As the children advanced in age and wisdom, they gratefully relied less on me for their beach enjoyment. A few years ago, however, my oldest and I were both bored, so I suggested we create a work of art. We are both the most creative in the family. We also are the most persnickety. We decided to recreate St. Peter’s Square in Rome. Hours flew by like minutes, and by the end of the afternoon, my then-12-year-old daughter and I had created something that multiple strangers stopped to admire. The same thing happened last year. Unplanned, we decided to tackle the White House on the fourth of July and again, our masterpiece attracted some attention.
This year, we decided to begin planning our masterpiece in the car on the way to the shore. As other family members suggested ideas, we scoffed, “That would not get us noticed,” my now 15-year-old retorted. “Yeah,” I chimed in, “we have reputations to uphold.” We were kidding, but not really. We landed rather quickly on recreating a famous lighthouse from the town. Then, began days of fierce debate about how to achieve the lighthouse’s height and cylindric shape. At first, it was funny, but in our quest to determine how best to hold up the weight of the sand, we began to throw our own weight around. My daughter reminded me that she was much better at math and science than me. I reminded her that I directed a national non-profit. She reminded me that that had nothing to do with building a sandcastle. Not only were we not on the same page, we were also not on the same beach. With only two days left, we decided to just jump in and build. Our first plan to create the cylinder shape failed fast. Then we tried another plan – with another epic fail. My daughter began a third attempt that I was sure would fail. Sweaty and sandy, I refused to help. “I know it won't work. I’m not doing it,” I said defiantly. I proposed another way. She begged me to allow her way to play out. I refused again. Defeated, she began helping me with my way. When I made a snarky comment about the superiority of my method, she stomped away angry and joined my wife in the shade with a book.
Realizing the tension, the other kids tried to help, but it quickly became clear that my “great” method was no better than my daughter Annie’s plan. As I watched my tower crumble, I began to realize the foundation of this impromptu tradition had some cracks in it. I made my way to apologize to Annie, wondering what went wrong this year. As I caught sight of a younger dad making drippy castles with his daughter, I realized not only did we jump into building without being on the same team, we also were building to make a big splash, rather than doing something together. It was our very own “Tower of Babel.” In our quest to get four or five random beachgoers to affirm us, we became a house divided.
It has been said that “nothing ultimately fails like success.” In life and leadership, when does success or reward begin to cloud my vision about purpose and relationship? When does the weight of my ego or my desire to prove or perpetuate my stature start to destabilize the foundation of everything that has been built? In my discipleship, where are my actions more for show than to create a strong foundation?
After a sincere apology on my part and an offer to have my daughter throw jellyfish at me, my relationship with Annie was rebuilt. We decided we’d let the surf wash away the ruins of our lighthouse and, if we were inspired, bored enough, and most importantly wanted to do something together, we’d try again the next day. Prayers for whatever God is calling you to build this week!
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