Sunday, June 23, 2013

Testing produces perseverance

James 1:2-4 (NIV)

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, right? I can’t count the number of times I’ve had this thought during some difficult moment of parenting. Cleaning up after sickness in the middle of the night, riding out the storm of a toddler tantrum, re-teaching the same house rule day after day after day and wondering if it’ll ever sink in… sometimes the second or third child will put me through the exact same experience as the first did, only with their own personal twist so I’m tested anew.

And this testing does indeed produce perseverance. Parents of multiple children — or people who grew up with several siblings — are easily able to identify how family dynamics change as everyone grows up. Of course perspective is crucial. If you’re the oldest of several, you probably feel your parents were either too strict on you or too lax with the youngest or some combination of the two. The youngest child feels they were babied too long, or perhaps they were ignored by their parents (and not photographed as much) because everyone was so busy with the older kids’ activities.

We’ve been at this long enough to see some evidence in our own style. When Jack was a baby we bought nursery water to mix his formula and sterilized nearly everything he put in his mouth. Max used bottles, too, but hot soapy water seemed plenty sufficient to keep him healthy. We didn’t have to make tough choices on things with sleep training with Jack — he just got it. Charlie was a much tougher nut to crack. We let Jack use a pacifier until he was past age four, but were much more strict with Max.

Those are just a few examples, and there are dozens more. But hopefully a prevailing theme throughout is the building up of parental endurance and maturity. One area I know this is true is with the boys’ temper and acting out. The more we travel down this road, the less I am bothered by whatever the kids throw out there. I have strong resolution to not buy something at the store because we walked by, I am far less likely to be moved by whining or crying, I am simply more aware of when a kid is in genuine distress or if they’re just testing to see if I might cave.

I don’t know as if I would consider the choppy waters we waded through to get to this point pure joy, but in a way I’m thankful to the kids for what they put me through because it seems to be making me a better person. I didn’t appreciate at the time, of course, just like I didn’t always appreciate the way my parents cared for me and I’m certain my kids don’t fully understand the way we work with them. But we’re hopefully always learning, always growing, always working toward something more complete.

So it should be with faith, at least according to this part of James. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger there, too, sand there should be no doubt: the challenges of parenting and the challenges of faith often are inextricably intertwined. I like to feel I’m becoming more mature, but I also accept I will never be complete, will always lack something. And God is there to bridge the gap, to fill me up, to finish His work.

If we hadn’t decided to have kids almost ten years ago, I wonder what I’d be like today. Certainly I would have grown and changed to some degree, but most assuredly not in the ways parenthood has shaped me and our marriage. It’s not a better or worse proposition, but life would be unequivocally different without these particular kids, without the trials and tribulations of being their dad.

I really wouldn’t change a thing, because I’m pretty happy with where we are right now. I’m excited for what the future holds, but there’s so much to take in on any given day I’m in no rush to meet tomorrow. It will get here soon enough.

A prayer for June 23:

Lord, please continue to mold me into whatever vision you have for my life. Use me as you need me in this world. I want to be an agent for your love and grace, for others to be able to see in me a person who lives redeemed and therefore rejoices. I should thank you every day for leading me down this family path, and I ask you continue to help me see each day as a chance to learn grow and change. Make me wholly yours. Amen.

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