Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who needs food or sleep?

2 Corinthians 11:27 (NIV)

I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Not to equate parenthood with the extreme challenges Paul faced in his ministry, and also, I can’t recall a time when parenting left me in the nude — unless you count being a few days behind on laundry — but this verse could well have been written by any parent, especially those who are in the midst of or not far removed from the newborn phase.

Labor, toil, lack of sleep, lack of food, not even time to grab a glass of water — there’s not sugarcoating the truth, putting the children first sometimes means taking a pass on not just simple pleasures, but on occasion basic necessities. Because when you have several kids, “putting the children first” doesn’t mean putting yourself second, it means lining up the kids’ priorities and slotting mom and dad at the end. If the kids are quick enough, whoever gets taken care of first can come up with a new need before the last child gets their attention.

And so it goes until everyone is asleep for the night. Then it’s a race to get stuff done and try to jam in sleep before the first one gets up the next morning. Day in, day out, sometimes it seems nothing changes but the weather. And while it’d be a complete fib to say I love every minute of it, I must admit I sort of feed on the frenetic pace of our regular routine.

Maybe it’s something I learned in newspaper work, which practically requires spinning 73 plates simultaneously, but offers a reward in the form of a finished product each and every day. The demands are different at home, especially when there aren’t thousands of readers counting on me to be at my best, but there is the same sense of satisfaction in a freshly-folded basket of laundry, or clearing the counter and starting the dishwasher before heading up to bed.

If we did not enjoy the work, or at least see the many ways the benefits exceed the costs, it’s pretty unlikely we’d be the parents of three with a fourth on the way. There’s no way to speak to what leads other people to decide whether or not to have children, or how many, or how to space them and so on. And of course there are plenty of people who don’t have as much choice as we’ve been blessed to exercise. But for us, complain as we may (and as is our right, I believe), this life just feels like what we’re supposed to be doing.

Sometimes I wonder if I could work as hard at anything as I do at trying to be a good dad — even knowing I can work much, much harder on that one. I am quite certain I spend more time thinking about dad stuff than husband stuff, or that parenting thoughts dominate my focus more than faith. I suppose in some ways it’s all bundled up together, that working on my faith should make me a stronger husband and father, or that without my kids I might not be so inclined to think about the life I lead and the example I might be setting.

Strange as it may seem, somehow the hard work of trying to be a good parent can produce more tangible results than the effort of just being a good Christian. After all, we see the kids every day and watch how they grow and change. There’s no good way to truly know how God sees me or what that might mean, only the hope I’m doing my best. And a lot of the stuff I wrote about earlier, especially care of newborns, is purely physical.

Sure, emotional fortitude is required to tolerate an inconsolable infant, but finding the energy to stay up to wash the dishes or read one more bedtime story is not quite the same as tackling a crisis of conscience or finding just the right words to say to a child struggling to get through a difficult stretch. And again, my own faith is one thing, seemingly insignificant in comparison to the persistent physical danger Paul embraced in an attempt to win believers.

Maybe some day I’ll be able to read something like “I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food” and not think, “That kind of sounds like my life.” But if not, that’s OK too. I feel I’ve been asked to do some pretty important work, and on most days I continue to be ready to respond to the challenge.

A prayer for June 12:

Lord, thank you again for the chance to be a dad. Though sometimes the responsibility feels overwhelming, it far more regularly seems an unmitigated blessing. I try hard to see the best in any situation, and I have you to thank for that as well. Because of the hop you provide, because of the promise of your saving grace, because of a peace I’ll never fully understand, I can face anything life brings my way. Keep my strong as I try to fight the good fight, and may my labor bring you glory. Amen.

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