Every year, sometimes around our birthdays, my dad would take us downstairs and measure our height against the furnace room wall. This was an important ritual, especially for my brothers and me. I remember straightening my back, tilting my head to its highest angle, and even holding my breath so I could achieve the greatest height possible. When I felt my dad lift the pencil off the wall, I would turn around to evaluate this primitive, but significant history of my life.
Some years I was disappointed to see how close the mark was to the previous year’s height and how far away it still was from my older siblings’ markings. And then there were other years when I walked away feeling so tall that I just knew a professional basketball scout would be waiting for me upstairs. But the feeling I remember most clearly was the steadiness, even the predictability, of my dad’s response. Whether I measured tall or short or just plain old average, my dad smiled at me the same, put his arm around my shoulders, and said, “I’m proud of you, son.”
At the time I wondered why he wasn’t more exultant when I passed my own and others’ marks, or more disappointed when I was still so close to previous years’ markings. But now I realize that my father knew something of the ebb and flow of life and of the equilibrium that comes—not from external measurements like height—but from an internal compass that can lead each of us to an awareness of our unchanging worth.
Whether I was taller or shorter in comparison to other markings did not matter to him. He loved me just because I was his son, and he was my father. I sometimes wonder if my dad didn’t take us for our annual pilgrimage to the furnace room wall just to let us know that—however we measured up—he was equally proud of our growth.
I think for him the furnace room wall was not an exercise in comparison but rather a way of getting us to reflect about where we stood—not just physically but also spiritually in relation to our Heavenly Father. Standing tall meant so much more to him than physical measurement. Gospel living had somehow schooled my father in the dangers of comparison thinking. He knew that when we compare our personal growth with others, we come against the double-edged sword of either thinking that we are better than someone else or that we’re inferior because on a given day we come up short. Both attitudes are equally wrong, and my father taught me that when we take time to reflect, to ponder, and to pray, we see ourselves more as Heavenly Father sees us.
Just as my annual trip to the furnace room wall helped me to realize my father’s love for me, taking a moment to evaluate our growth, or as the Proverbs say, to “ponder the path of [our] feet” (Prov. 4:26), will help us to feel of God’s perfect love for us.