As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an avid reader (as much as life with small children will allow). Sara often makes fun of me for reading textbooks for pleasure. For example, one of my current reads is a textbook on Old Testament archaeology. I’m just a Bible nerd and I own it proudly. However, I also ensure that throughout the year I pick up books that help me be a better husband and father. I’m just finishing up Bringing Up Boys by Dr. James Dobson.Keep reading
Parenting is hard. Those of you that are parents understand this truth all too well. The basic reason it is so hard is because we are selfish to our core. Raising children is a life-long exercise of setting aside our own desires and comforts for their betterment. It is not a question of if your child’s needs and wants will be inconvenient, unpleasant, or downright painful for you. It will happen and it will happen every single day. The real question is whether you are going to choose to hold onto your selfishness and leave their well-being and upbringing to chance or let go of your selfishness and love them like God loves you. It’s a decision you will have to make over and over and moment by moment.
Man, Matt…that’s pretty harsh, I don’t think I’m all that selfish. Oh, but you are. We all are, because we are all sinners. It is the nature of fallen humanity to want to fulfill our own needs and desires over others. Truly, the only thing that ever overcomes this tendency is love, whether it is a love of devotion or that selfless, self-giving love (the one oft-described as agapē love you hear about from Bible teachers and preachers). You see, selfishness cannot coexist with selfless love. They are mutually exclusive opposites like dark and light or hot and cold. How well we love is directly proportional to how well we are able to put aside our selfishness. When it comes to raising children, we have seemingly endless opportunities to practice this. The best way I know how to overcome my “I don’t feel like it…” is to focus on the “but…”
I wrote a little about this in Daddy Will You Play With Me, but when my kids interrupt something I’m trying to do like putting away dishes or fixing the sink or studying for Sunday’s lesson or reading a book, it can get frustrating having to stop to entertain them…I don’t feel like it…but this is such a precious time and I want to live intentionally with my kids so that I can raise them to love and follow God and I want them to know they are loved.
It’s not just about playtime. That’s the easy part. There are times when I have to set aside true personal needs (like sleep) for their benefit. When they wake me up multiple times in the middle of the night and I have to get up to inspect a shadow or look at where they bumped their head on the bed frame or watch them talk in their sleep (yes…it happens)….I don’t feel like it…but I want them to feel secure in our home and in my presence so that they will confidently walk with me wherever God takes us in life. I want them to trust me implicitly so that I can teach them to trust their Heavenly Father implicitly.
Giving up sleep and temporary comforts is still a little on the easy side, though. There are also those times when I have to set aside personal desires…my wants. That’s where the real battle with selfishness begins to rage. When I finally have a moment to relax do something I want to do like watch non-cartoons or work out in the wood shop or tinker with the car and then I’m petitioned mercilessly to retrieve a toy that will be strategically placed under my bare foot at some point in the future or break up a fight between the boys or any number of needs that small children frequently have…I don’t feel like it…but I want them to know that they are more important to me than anything in the world and they always have my ear so that they will always come to me with their needs later in life and when I try to teach them how to live with biblical priorities, they will have seen it in practice.
And then there’s the hardest one of all: discipline. This is where the battle with selfishness reaches its pinnacle. No parent enjoys disciplining their children. I hate seeing my kids cry after a spanking. I hate seeing their dejected look of hurt feelings when I have to scold them for bad behavior. I hate having to tell my child “no, you may not participate in this because you disobeyed.” I hate the constant fight of enforcing a standard of behavior. There are times when I just don’t feel like it…but I want them to learn to live by biblical principles and be productive members of not only society, but in ministry.
Discipline is ultimately the most loving thing a parent does. Without it, children will grow up attempting to make their own rules that will inevitably conflict with God’s, and often-times the rest of society. There is a reason Proverbs 13:24, Hebrews 12:6, and Revelation 3:19 all talk about how discipline is closely linked with love. You see, when we choose not to discipline our children, we are ultimately choosing our own desire to not see them hurt or not to “be the bad guy” over their need to be “brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). That is the most selfish decision we can possibly make as parents. (Sara here to give my 2 cents. While we are both big believers in the benefit of spankings when done properly and out of love, neither I nor Matt believe that spanking is the only form of discipline that should be used. Every child is different and responds differently to different forms of discipline. Figure out what works best for your individual child and always discipline out of love rather than anger.)
I’ll say it again: parenting is hard. Overcoming our own selfishness for the sake of our children is a lifelong endeavor. I could go on to list 100 other examples of how our selfish tendencies will be tested on a daily basis, but the basic truth is that children themselves are born selfish. They want what they want when they want it and woe to the parent who does not comply. In the same way that selfishness cannot coexist with love, two people clinging to their own selfishness cannot coexist in any kind of relationship. Only when one chooses love over self can a relationship remain intact. That person has to be you, the parent.
Yes, it’s hard and you will fail at times. The important thing is to keep working at it. The next time you don’t feel like it, stop and focus on the but.
We have made several posts so far that talk about or relating to the tragic birth experience with our twins. Today I want to turn to another unique and eventful birth. As with every birth, the Lord worked in a great and powerful way in our family. Truly, the arrival of every one of our four children was a unique and eventful experience, but this particular one is both a great memory and a great lesson. Those who know us personally have heard elements of this story before, and a version of the account given below was posted to the website of our previous church in San Antonio.
On a Wednesday morning, my wife woke me up at 4:20 AM with the words that every expectant father both fears and rejoices in: “My water broke!” Now, this was a bit early, as she was a few days shy of being full term (only 36.5 weeks) and we had already been sent home from the hospital a couple days prior with a false alarm. She yelled this delightfully frightening phrase while in the shower trying to ease her back pain and woke me out of a dead sleep. I had heard repeatedly that labor can go on for hours after the water breaks, but we lived about 45 minutes from the hospital, so I did my best Superman impression and got changed lightning fast. I helped her out of the shower after a contraction and she went to sit on the toilet.
At 4:22 I called our friend down the street to come watch our then-19-month-old son while we went to the hospital. Sara called me in and said to forget trying to get there on our own; she felt the baby would be there soon and said to call EMS unless I wanted to deliver our son in the car on the way there. I walked back into the bedroom to continue dressing and simultaneously call 911. She then yelled at me again saying that we weren’t going to make until they arrived. This boy was coming NOW!
At this point, my calm and collected demeanor vanished like darkness after turning on a light and I instantly became the sitcom dad frantically running back and forth trying to call 911. Unfortunately, the operator could not understand my hysterical “THE BABY IS COMING!!!” Another contraction came and his head was now crowning. Now I’m really panicked…I threw the phone (forgot to hang up of course) and went into full panic mode. I just wasn’t prepared for this! I never expected anything like this to happen us! Truth be told, my panic was more about having to deliver the baby myself and messing up in a big way. Our first baby got stuck AND had the cord wrapped around his neck. What was I going to do if that happened again?!?
In another instant, it sank in that I was going to have to do this; there was just no way around it. I mentally zoned in (still terrified of course) and helped her to the floor and leaned her back. We were going to deliver this baby right there on our bathroom floor. A contraction came and his head popped out; all I could see below that was umbilical cord. As I said, our first baby had the cord wrapped around his neck and that was quite an ordeal at the hospital so I was panicking just a little bit more now. I was able to simply push it aside and off his shoulder. Whew! Two extremely short contractions later I was holding my son, Jonah, and the majority of the panic and anxiety was gone. Just eight short minutes after waking, we had gone through what felt like an entire day’s trial. My wife then picked up the phone and very calmly explained what had just happened to the 911 operator (who had apparently been listening to the whole thing) while I checked Jonah out and wrapped him up for Momma. The EMS got there about 20 minutes later and we went to the hospital to get everything checked out.
Almost four years later, Jonah is just fine. He is an incredibly sweet, and of course rambunctious, little boy that loves without reservation. There were no complications or serious ailments whatsoever. Of the million things that could have gone wrong with such a set of circumstances, not one of them did. God truly showed Himself and kept them both safe while guiding me to do what I needed to. Psalm 46 in particular came to mind after all the chaos had dissipated:
1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
3 Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah.
4 There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early.
6 The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth.
9 He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.
10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.
God reminded me in this moment that there was no reason to panic in the first place. There was no reason to fear at all because He was still in control. We had been praying to have a safe, healthy, and normal pregnancy this time. I believe God answered that prayer, but not in the way we expected. He was telling us that it doesn’t matter how the pregnancy goes or ends; He’s still in control and holds us in His hands. “Calm down. I’ve got you my child,” He says. God will certainly not give you more than He will enable you to handle. You may not (or probably won’t) be able to handle life’s challenges on your own, but He will give you what you need to get through the trial. I had no false impressions on my lack of training and ability to deliver a baby (not to mention my weak stomach for blood and bodily fluids) and that’s why I went into panic mode. However, when you realize that God the Almighty who created heaven and earth, who moves seas and mountains by His Word, and loves you so much He died for you, is standing next to you; there’s no reason to fear at all. The greatest assurance we can have on this earth is knowing that those who love and trust the Lord can depend on His provision and that regardless of the outcome, He is in control and works all things for our benefit (Rom 8:28).
Thinking back to this day, I have come to believe that God’s closeness and watch care were instrumental in the way we handled ourselves in the OR when Luke and Asher were born. I was able to pray and sing in the midst of devastation, because I knew God was there taking care of everything. As I sit here and write this, it has become so clear why Jonah and Asher share such a special connection. When a challenge or trial bulldozes its way into your life and you have the urge to panic, I hope you’ll take the time to be still and recognize that God is right there with you.