The Kingdom of God Is Like a Hot Tub

“We can see God in everything and miss him in anything.”

 –Ken Helser, A Place for the Heart

I had heard the story a dozen times. But every time, through tears, I found myself doing the math. 

Every week…

Every year…

For more than ten years… 

That’s got to be hundreds of times…

The first time I heard Bart’s story of man time with Kris was at a Wild at Heart boot camp in the early 2000s. If you were at that particular boot camp, you will remember Craig and Bart sharing stories on Sunday morning in the session Fighting for the Hearts of Your Children.

On that morning, Bart described the day when his path as a dad was rescued. At the time, he was living a pedal-to-the-metal life of a busy, good-hearted dad, scratching out his place in the world in southern California in the 1980s. Bart was working hard to build a residential home-building company smack in the middle of some of the highest interest rates our economy has seen. On top of the demands of his work, Bart was also doing everything he could to serve on a dozen or so non-profit boards. Life was full tilt, and the fruit, among other things, was simply not being at home much.

One day, Bart’s wife, Tannah, called him at work. “Bart, Kris has something he wants to talk to you about. He’s going to try to stay up late and wait for you. Will you come home earlier tonight than you normally do?”

Bart answered confidently, “You bet. I’ll see him before he goes to bed.”

It was already evening and Bart was still putting out fires, plowing through work, negotiating a new contract, and calling in for another board meeting when he remembered his promise to get home early. 

Like battling heavy surf, life’s demands have a way of pulling us much further down the shoreline than we would ever expect.

When he finally got home, Tannah let him know he was too late. “Kris couldn’t stay up any later. He’s gone to sleep.”

Bart walked into his son’s room and just gazed at the wonder of the six-year-old boy. His long and growing body lay on top of the covers as a summer breeze filtered in the window. In that moment, God took Bart into a time-out-of-time experience. In a flash, he saw Kris at his birth and was blindsided by how much he had missed over these six years in the frenzy of life. 

When in heaven’s name did my son turn six? He’s growing up too fast. 

And I’m missing it.

The next morning, partly as an act of repentance—but much more as an act of heroic defiance—Bart called and resigned from every ministry board except one. Then he asked Kris if they could set next Tuesday morning aside for some man time.  

The Father was turning Bart’s heart back toward his son, expressed in T I M E.

And so it began. Tuesday mornings. Every Tuesday morning at Carl’s Jr. 

Kris was given full reign of the menu. With the triumph of a warrior returning home from battle with the spoils of war, he would sidle up to the counter and enact the weekly ritual of ordering a Dr. Pepper and a cheeseburger, always throwing a “don’t tell Mom” grin back at Dad.

Days turned to years. 

Talking. Listening. Dreaming about the things that move the hearts of boys and the hearts of men.

Every week…

Every year…

For more than ten years…

That’s hundreds of times…

It continued until the day Kris turned 16 and said, “Dad, I’ll meet you at Carl’s Jr. this morning.” They savored the time, both knowing the season was changing and this would be their last Tuesday morning for cheeseburgers and Dr. Pepper.

I sat, listening, enthralled by the wonder of what it must be like for the soul of a boy to experience countless hours like this with his dad. I was a young man, recently married, with no kids of my own. But I was sold. Oh, God, how I pray you will give me kids. And if you do, I give you my word that I will give them my time, if you will show me how.

Years later, when our first child, Joshua, was born, so was the season of the ManBag (my affectionate name for the chest-harness-baby-carrying kind of contraption I seemed to wear very frequently around the neighborhood park with a bunch of women carrying small children). Hours upon hours of early morning walks on every game trail we could find in Ute Valley Park open space behind our home. The Starbucks on the corner of Vindicator and 30th served as a welcome caffeinated aid station to spur on the adventure of parenting a young child. I remember one bleary-eyed morning after a sleepless night that parents of newborns know all too well—I was nearly sleepwalking down yet another trail, and I looked down to find a coffee in my hand; I had no recollection of ever buying it. I hoped to God I hadn’t stolen it and that if I had, in my state, the cops would grant me grace.

I remember saying to myself, Just keep showing up for your son. Bring what you’ve got. Today, it ain’t much. But, Joshua, everything I have, I give to you.

When Joshua was four weeks old, we rigged a system of tie-down straps inside a bike trailer to secure his car seat (much to the chagrin of the manufacturer’s recommendations). We were off to the races, day after day allowing the fresh summer Colorado air to fill his masculine soul at higher speeds.

In time, he was on his own bike, and we’d spend our man time pedaling down to the local bakery, then sitting on a picnic table serendipitously located at a downhill turn on a busy street three miles from a rock quarry. Thanks to the inconveniently placed traffic light at the base of the hill, we’d listen to dump truck after dump truck hit their air brakes as they attempted to come to a full stop after mistiming the light.

There were dozens and dozens of breakfasts at Einsteins Bagels and rock climbing sessions in Red Rocks Open Space. But what came to me this morning is memories of our countless sessions shooting bows at the Air Force Academy archery range. These sessions started when Joshua was two and a half, just strong enough to draw a bow and launch the homemade arrows I fashioned from dowel rods and big foam balls for tips. The arrows flew as far as a boy could dream and were deadly when stalking prey (tall ponderosa pines or six-ton boulders, the objects of Joshua’s stealthy childhood hunting).

But children grow up, and in time, the heartbeat of our time together became carpool. Graced with a school 20 minutes away and a son passionate about sports, we were given the gift of a decade of countless morning and evening hours driving to and from his activities, hours to talk, pray, listen, laugh, confess, dream, and wonder about life together.

Somewhere in those years, Sam showed me his hot tub. His son was a grown teenager at the time, still living at home but about to launch. Sam looked at the tub with a smile and almost imperceptible tears in his eyes as the thoughts of his heart drifted through the tub, seeing something I could not yet see.

“You know what that hot tub bought me?”

“What’s that, Sam?”

“Once Hunter started to drive and had his own full life outside our home, it gave us the gift of 15 minutes of connection and intimacy every evening. You should think about investing in a hot tub when your son turns 16.”

I remember a fearful place in my soul rising up in that interaction, thinking, “I’ll never be able to afford a hot tub. I only know a few people with a hot tub, and my net worth could fit comfortably in one of their closets.”

But God has a way of planting seeds of promise that beckon us to risk and prepare the soil that one day will bring forth a supernatural harvest.

Today, just after sunrise, I looked out the windshield of my truck and took in a moment of significance that I will savor as memory when my eyes, ears, and legs no longer have the capacity to create new ones. Joshua and I were headed out for another man time session, another morning of flinging arrows together at the archery range in preparation for chasing wild this fall.

But today, for the first time, we drove separately. What I was looking at were the taillights of a 2001 Toyota Highlander he bought for himself this summer with money earned landscaping for the neighbors.

Joshua now has his license, and after archery, he’ll head north to football practice as I head south to work.

Instead of fighting back the tears, I let them flow.

Taste and see, my Father is so, so good.

My son is steadily becoming a man.

I’ve failed in many ways. My unfinished places have undoubtedly had an impact.

Yet what I have given with my whole heart is my time. 

Expressed in a thousand man time sessions.

Bart, thank you for taking Kris to Carl’s Jr. every Tuesday.

Sam, thank you for investing in a hot tub and capturing those evening soaks and choosing a hundred times to pause and listen to your son’s heart.

Everything is beautiful, in its time (Ecc. 3:11).

A day is coming when my son will no longer need me. With sadness and awe, I see it already, far too close on the horizon. What I hope and pray with all my heart is that I have created an atmosphere within and without that welcomes his true self to show up. 

I pray that I have modeled a life rooted and established in and sold out for God and God’s Kingdom. 

I pray I have modeled and given him every bit of direct access to the life of God that in time is his to cultivate for himself.

The ManBag has long since been Joycycled to another young family.

The carpooling is over.

In so many ways, my son, though still under our roof, has launched.

But thanks be to this generous Father, who is fighting for Joshua and me to learn together what it is like to become one heart and mind with him as Jesus is one heart and mind with the Father.

Through the grace of Heroic Love, on the very same day that Joshua earned his driver’s license, the hot tub was delivered.

I can’t explain the math or the calendar. It’s Kingdom economics. Yes, there was consistent saving for years. Yes, there were a few rounds of taking my son to local shops and teaching him the art of negotiating. (McConnell, thanks for the constant reminder, “There’s a time for souls and a time for sales. Make sure you know what time it is.”) Yes, there was walking away once to find the bottom line, and the unknown of whether or not we could make it work in the end. Yes, there was the sweat of building a platform for the tub and working beside our electrician mentor to figure out how to wrangle 220 to the back of our home.

But in the end, I see that the same Father who placed me at that Wild at Heart boot camp almost two decades ago, where I hung on every word Bart shared about his man time with his son, is the same Father who is faithfully finishing in and through me and Joshua what he started.

This is the same Father who infused me with the strength to say yes a thousand times to make room in my heart to give my son the one thing no one else on this planet can give him quite like I can: my masculine heart, present and accounted for, expressed in T I M E.

That Sunday morning at boot camp, Joshua was not yet conceived; a son at 16 felt like a lifetime away, and I had no idea how I’d parent a child all the way through. 

But when the son is ready, the father does show up. My Father showed up for me that long ago day and has every day since.

We will indeed offer who we have become. 

Thanks to Bart, I started man time.

Thanks to Sam, I learned that 16 is spelled h-o-t  t-u-b.

And thanks to my Father, I have at least one more day to be my son’s dad.

It’s time to head out again. My son is waiting…

For the Kingdom,