I have to confess that I felt eager to become a dad, in part because I longed to experience a close father/son or father/daughter relationship. I wanted to be a hero to my kids, as my dad was a hero to me. I had a sense that children would validate me as a man. Yet these motivations, as noble as they might sound, were based on an idealized notion of children and a romanticized view of family life.
Before long I discovered what every parent has discovered: Children are predisposed to do wrong, in need of God’s grace and dependent human beings demanding around-the-clock care. That reality melted sentimentality before we reached the end of the first jumbo pack of diapers!
A lifelong lesson
Psalm 78 and Deuteronomy 6 tell us that not only are we to love the Lord, but we are also to raise children who will love God and obey His commandments. In other words, having kids isn’t about us but about Him. We are called to bear and raise children for the glory of God.
God also uses kids to reveal His own love for us time and again. Children provide a constant stream of fresh insights about God’s character and teach us more about Him.
Let me give you an example of a parenting lesson I’ve learned. While at a sports banquet, my son, Graham, and his teammates slipped out of the restaurant and went next door to a video store to scope out the new video games. Then several of the boys said, “Hey, let’s go look for dirty pictures on the DVD cases.” The rest of the team fell into line, but Graham said no and returned without his friends.
I felt my heart swell with affection and pride for Graham when I heard this. I could identify with the apostle John who wrote, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).
The next day, God brought that feeling back to my mind and reminded me that He feels the same when I walk away from temptation.
When we realize that having children isn’t about us, the trials and sacrifices of parenting are not such an annoyance. We see the purpose behind the difficulties we face. The ultimate issue is no longer how proud my children make me, but how faithful I’ve been to discharge the duties God has given me.
Parenting will disappoint us, wound us and frustrate us. Yes, we will have moments of sheer joy and wonder. But if we have only a selfish motivation, we will run from the greatest challenges of parenting. Once disappointment seeps in, we’ll pull back into the same shells we inhabited as children and run from the pain, not by retreating to our bedrooms or backyards, but to the office, boardroom, workout club, coffee shop or even church.
Parenting provides many special moments, but it also challenges us to the very core of our being. Let’s admit that family life can try us as perhaps nothing else does; let’s also accept that parenting is part of God’s call and plan for many of us. Once we realize that we are sinners, that our children are sinners and that together we are to grow toward God, then family life takes on a new purpose.
God knew full well the drudgery involved, the work, the pressure, the stress, the conflict. Obviously, He must have had a purpose. And since He is our Creator, we must accept His design, knowing that what He designed must be best for us.
When a man changes a diaper, when a mother nurses a sick child, those parents are doing what God created them to do. Parenthood becomes a sacred enterprise when we finally understand that God can use dirty diapers, toddlers’ tantrums and teenagers’ silence to transform us into people who more closely resemble Jesus Christ.
Gary Thomas is author of Sacred Parenting.