Theology is No Substitute for Time Spent Waiting Under an Oak Tree

I have an eight-year-old son now. He’s skinny, like I was. He’s (mostly) gentle, a rule follower, and he prefers playing with Legos by himself in his bedroom and please stay out unless you are offering food.

Check, check and check – just like I used to be.

I remember late on Saturday afternoons, when I was his age, I would hear my dad shouting out of the farmhouse. His voice moved like a ripple. I scrambled toward the house as fast as I could, grabbed the shovel from its corner in the smallest barn and ran to the tilled portion of the garden. I flipped over huge clods of dirt and filled a plastic cup with the enormous worms that tried to dance out of my grasp. Such a strange sensation of life, those writhing strings.

We walked down towards the church across the street, through the parking lot (glittering with monkey’s gold), past the hide-and-seek graveyard. We slid down the steep bank, grabbing at trees to slow our descent. Dad carried the worms. I carried the fishing pole.

There, under the shadow of a large oak tree, I learned to cast sideways so the hook wouldn’t catch in the low branches (that’s not to say numerous bobbers weren’t hanging from the leaves like red and white lighthouses). I learned to watch the water closely. I felt the difference between the lively tug of a fish (like an electric shock) and the unyielding pull of an underwater branch (disappointment made tangible).

Mostly I learned to sit quietly beside my dad and wait.

I remember one day we caught a carp so big my dad ran home to get a five-gallon bucket – we filled it with water, put the fish in it, then walked around to our neighbors’ houses (my grandma, my uncle and aunt, our landlord) so I could show it off. It was an ugly thing, completely un-eatable, but also completely huge and completely mine. We walked back down and returned it to the creek – it swam away, bearing a fish story none of its friends would ever believe.

* * * * *

It seems absurd to me that my dad’s primary concern ever would have been making sure that I believed certain things about him: his exact height, for instance, or how far he could throw a baseball. Now that I’m a dad, I know there are aspects of me that I want my own son to believe in: how much I care for him, or how concerned I am that he find joy and peace and love. But these are not facts that I can expect him to memorize. These are characteristics of mine that my son will only ever truly learn by having a relationship with me.

And he walks with me
And he talks with me

Theology has its place, but it is no substitute for time spent waiting under an oak tree.

10 Replies to “Theology is No Substitute for Time Spent Waiting Under an Oak Tree”

  1. Theology and Biblical study provide words and understanding to what I believe already through daily life. And yes, that’s where mom’s and dad’s come in. Thanks.

  2. Those closing paragraphs hit me in the chest. I’ve been in a frustrating place recently with some friendships from the church we’re leaving. Some individuals don’t seem to believe it’s possible I can be growing in my relationship with God if I believe some of the things I believe, and it leads me to insecurity and discouragement. Reading posts like this reminds me that it is okay for me to focus on knowing and enjoying and obeying God rather than working out mathematical formulas of his character and calling it worship. Thanks, Shawn.

    1. David, pay those people no mind at all. Faith and life are much broader and more complicated than the simplified and trite shavings those within the church hang onto for dear life.

    2. I sometimes feel the same way, David. Keep asking questions. How’s that verse go?

      “Know, and you shall find.”

      Oh wait, that’s not it.

  3. This is really profound. I have been in long discussions with some well-meaning folks about the nature of knowing God. Jesus is not a propositional truth, but a person. And knowing a person and knowing truth are related, certainly, but different in huge ways. And I find that my theology gets meat on it the more time I spend with my children, because it forces me out of need to spend more time with my Jesus. Thank you.

  4. Great thoughts, Shawn. As a preacher type, it makes me just a smidge nervous (but what about all of my brilliant theological observations!)…but the good kind of nervous. Thanks for the reminder that theology is about knowing, and knowing isn’t primarily about facts. Your blog’s a new find…I’ll be following now.

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