I’d had a restless night.
Throwing the bed covers aside, I waddled out of bed as graciously as a 6-month pregnant woman could and went to make a pot of tea. My husband walked into the kitchen a short while later.
“What’s on your mind, babe?” he asked gently. He’s got a special ability to figure out when something is bothering me. I guess most husbands do.
Stretching my legs and rubbing my back, I looked at him worriedly.
“What if we mess up as parents? And what if we mess up big time?”
These were some of those fear-begetting questions I wished had never entered my head. They had snuck up on me and kept me awake for most of the night.
I thought my husband might laugh off this question as one of those many paranoid hypotheticals I throw at him. But surprisingly, he sighed and took my question quite seriously. We leaned back into our chairs for a long chat.
As I began to reflect deeper, I realized that my parents had loved me intensely yet imperfectly. Growing up, I had blamed them for some of the parental decisions and choices they made for me, vowing to never make the same mistakes when I became a parent.
But here I was on the verge of becoming a parent myself, hopelessly consumed by the fears of my own inadequacy coupled with the fear of the unknown. What guarantee is there that, despite my best efforts, my child won’t feel let down by the way I bring her up? What if she blames me for the choices that I make for her in her tender years? What if my style of parenting creates such a negative lasting impression that it leaves her with a personality disorder? And most frighteningly, what if she turns her back on God because of something that I do or say? What is the point of parenting if you love unconditionally only to be hurt?
Like every pregnant woman, I first ascribed these fears to the ‘having-a-mind-of-their-own’ pregnancy hormones. But whatever their source, they continued to hound my mind for days. My husband and I prayed about it, searched the Scriptures, and talked through it with each other and with some of our close friends. These deep seated fears birthed an incredible way of walking with God and seeing His Father heart yet again.
The thing about our fears is that they cloud our hearts from seeing and savouring the sufficiency of Christ! I had forgotten that God is sovereign. The truth that He is all-knowing, all-powerful and in full control of every person and situation had slipped my mind. It’s not a truth that I can put my finger on. It’s lofty, glorious and amazingly settling. In the revelation of that knowledge, it’s calming to view parenting with a fresh set of hopeful eyes.
I learned that, as parents, it’s supremely easy to feel a sense of ownership and entitlement with our children. Possessive and protective instincts rush in at the drop of a baby hat. Of course, those instincts are God-given. But do we snatch our kids from the Giver himself or do we place them firmly in the palm of His secure hands? Do we parent through helpless dependence on the perfect Father or through the pridefulness of an imperfect mother? Maybe, if we’d see ourselves as stewards over our children, we’d save ourselves a lot of grief.
As the days went by, God continued to help me look deeper into my heart. My fears and doubts were legitimate and he would of course answer them. But those answers would make real sense only when the heart issue was addressed. As I looked at parenting with dependent humility on an all-sufficient God, I began to let go of my moral high ground over my parents’ failures. I couldn’t spend a lifetime holding onto real and perceived hurts. I needed to release forgiveness and remember that they’d loved me fiercely. I even needed to remember the wonderful memories they had created for me, the ones that lay buried beneath all the hurt. Most important of all, they’d pointed me to my Lord and Saviour. Even though they might not have been perfect parents, they had been faithful parents sustained by grace.
My daughter has arrived and is growing up to be the sunshine of our lives. Has having my eyes opened to some deep insights made all my parenting angsts go away? Not really. Sure, I will be intentional about making the right choices, being extra gracious and mindful of the way I bring my daughter up. But I am fairly certain that I will make my own mistakes; some of them probably quite disastrous. The key though is to be humble enough to depend on God and reconcile before Him and my daughter every time I mess up.
It also means that I’ll have to let go of trying to be that perfect parent (by my own standards), simply because I can never be the perfect parent by myself. Joyfully, in the redeeming grace of Christ, I am the perfect parent, even on my bad days! Mercifully, God can turn my shortcomings into good for my daughter.
My daughter will make choices for herself as she grows up. The best thing I can do for her is to let God be her God. And the most precious prayer I can pray over her is that He will reveal his love for her in whatever way He may choose to. I can walk with her and constantly direct her to the only One who can fulfil her every need. Her perfect parent lovingly displayed His everlasting love for her on the Cross. He became vulnerable and offered himself up to pay for her and my sins, knowing fully well that we might reject, disobey, blame, hate or disbelieve him. Yet He chose to pour out his Father heart for our sake. What better love can I model and point her to every day?
I suspect that there will be plenty of moments in the future when my heart will skip a beat thinking of all those ‘what ifs’. But I pray that those moments would be reminders for me to immediately look to the perfect Father who alone can quell my fears and help me love her as deeply as I’m loved.
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