When we learned that we were expecting our son several months ago, our hearts were elated. It felt unimaginable that we’d be parents in a couple of months – God willing. And God so willed. Daily a little being grew in my wife’s tummy. Initially so little and only visible to a sonogram, and soon after – maybe not as soon for my wife – so grown and playful I could feel his kicks with my hands.
Keith made the wait worthwhile when he finally came out of the womb. He was beautiful and tiny. It felt unbelievable holding him for the first time. My wife could hardly take her eyes off him. She only did whenever exhaustion kicked in and her body gave in to sleep.
Every first of parenting came with inexplicable joy. We laugh to date at how we nearly used an entire pack of wipes to clean up his first poop. And the anxiety we felt giving him a bath for the first time, not even sure how to hold him, is still a very fresh memory.
But soon there would be firsts like a night spent in hospital praying and hoping he feels better. Daily we would realize just what an enormous amount of grace it takes to keep a baby alive. We heard stories of mysterious baby deaths. We watched news of heartless house-helps killing innocent babies left in their care.
Those made us grow increasingly aware of our helplessness to keep our son safe, let alone alive. Yet the precious little one depends on us for nearly everything save for breath.
Thankfully, our awareness of our helplessness made us all the more dependent on God to keep our little one. His eyes alone can watch him in our absence – and presence. His hands alone can touch and make whole his organs whenever they occasionally fail. And his heart alone, we are learning, loves him more deeply than we ever will.
Beware the Temptation to Expect Unhealthily
Many parents to newborns, whether vets or rookies like us, share a similar dependence on God. They treat every progress as a gift from him. But that attitude is soon unceremoniously parted with. As children grow independent, parents tend to grow less dependent on superior help.
Gifts do quickly start getting treated as rights. A baby learning to walk for example is widely regarded as a thing of grace. Many other children in God’s sovereign plan never get to. But a child getting enrolled to school is hardly treated the same way. It is by the sweat of his parents’ brows that his tuition fee is paid as most imagine.
When God is depended upon less, parents will naturally assume a greater claim on a child’s life. Once thought of as a gift to be stewarded well, a child soon becomes a possession for the parents’ pleasure. Expectations usually form, often expressed in parents wanting their children to turn out some certain way.
They may take the form of an unhealthy insistence that a child pursues a certain career path for a reason as absurd as “am I not the one who’s been paying your fee?” But equally selfish, a parent may subtly be motivated by the ‘shame’ of having unbelieving children to take his children to church and not really a genuine concern for their souls.
The Real Owner Never Left
Though forgotten, God is never really gone. He always returns to settle accounts (Matthew 25:19). He never leaves. His unflinching gaze was not upon the child only when it couldn’t open its eyes, or support itself on its feeble legs. It remains with him/her even in the treacherous waters of teenage life.
As a parent you may only have been occasionally aware of it. You saw it in the kindness with which he miraculously provided for your child’s tuition fees when you were at your wits’ end. You felt his goodness when he mercifully turned around your child’s rebellious heart that caused you untold angst for a season. But he was always there. God is not one to show up only when needed. He is ever present because he is ever needed; even when we don’t realize it.
Every believing parent delights in seeing their child follow Christ – but only to a certain point for some. They take care that their children don’t wander in Christ farther than is ‘safe’. They encourage them to heed to the call “Follow me”, but keep them from setting sail when they show interest in becoming fishers of men – Matthew 4:19.
They’ve heard and seen the suffering many who’ve taken that route have endured. Some gave up careers, others were separated from family, and others gave up their lives in the name of advancing the Gospel. The price is too steep their children must be beside their minds to want to pay it.
“You can serve God with your career”, their lips say. “But don’t love him enough to give it up should he ask you to”, their hearts add quietly and unconsciously.
But it is inevitable that when sons and daughters outgrow the Sunday School Jesus who is only a loving Savior, and they start falling in love with the worthy Master without a place to lay his head (Luke 9:58), they will find sense in denying themselves and taking up their crosses to follow him daily – Luke 9:23.
And if a parent were to love God wholeheartedly, he will not feel robbed. He will feel blessed and grateful. The earthly treasures his son or daughter may give up should pale in comparison to the heavenly treasures God promises – Matthew 6:19-21, Mark 10:30.
Like Isaac who did not fight but willingly lay on the altar and along with his father Abraham trusted God, many sons and daughters willingly lie on God’s altar waiting to be consumed. But unlike Abraham who did not withhold his son, many parents hold back theirs. They do not trust God enough to bring down the knife. Their fear for their children only masks the hidden fear for their selfish expectations. The knife, if it is ever brought down, will always only cut through the idols in a parent’s heart. Not their child.
Our son is only seven months now. Entrusting him to God now is as natural as acknowledging our helplessness to keep a being so fragile alive. But when he has been in this world long enough, when we have less to worry about, releasing him to God will be more effort than nature. My hope is that his mom and I will be more than just peaceful when God calls him to follow in ways we might struggle with. I hope we will be also joyful and thankful.
If he ever suffers for the Lord’s name in ways that are similar to things we now suffer and will suffer in future, my prayer is that we will encourage him through them rather than talk him out of God’s plan. I always meet people who say “I do not wish for my children to go through the things I’ve been through.” They hope their children will eat better, and attend better schools, and own homes, and work better jobs.
But that is sad because if those children ever become true followers of Jesus, they might actually go through worse – Matthew 10:16-25, 2 Timothy 3:12. They may be killed for the advancement of the Gospel. God forbid that my wife and I ever care more that our son doesn’t suffer than that he brings God glory even if through untold suffering! Though we’ve loved him so dearly since he was in the womb, we must trust the One who’s known and loved our son before he was even formed there – Jeremiah 1:5.