Everyone used to say, “Your life is going to change when you have a kid.” To be honest, I slightly resented this at the time. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe it, it’s just that I felt that folks without children were marginalized in the conservative Evangelical world. Basically, I took the statement to mean, “You’re going to become so much better of a person when you have a kid.” I would be complete. Well-rounded. Mature.
And while I do think there’s something to complain about there, especially in the Evangelical ministry (let’s face it, single pastors are simply not trusted), it is also truer than I realized that having a child does change you, and it does so all the way down.
But it didn’t do this in the way that some portray it.
I’m a fairly composed person when it comes to emotions. Having a son has not changed this. My heart didn’t break and go all mushy. I haven’t necessarily got a new passion about me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the little guy. It was all very intense and very exciting. I smiled, leapt, and gave a mixture of a kiss and a high-five to my wife when our son was born. It was pretty great. But all things considered, I’m still as temperate as ever. It’s just who I am.
I also wouldn’t say that I feel a new sort of “responsibility.” I’ve always been a pretty responsible person, and so far, I feel about the same. There are obligations and duties that just have to be taken care of. But I also still like to sleep in, watch television, blog, chat with friends, and basically have some “me” time when I can get it. Don’t misunderstand me. I do feel responsible for my child, and I know that’s going to require a lot of me. I would just place this alongside all of the other feelings and desires I have.
What has happened is kind of the opposite. Instead of feeling new responsibility, I’ve felt new inability. There was basically nothing I could do to help and protect my son while he was the womb. I could keep my wife safe, to a point, but if something went wrong on the inside, there was nothing I could do about it. Frankly, I had no idea what my son was doing in there, nor what he looked like or how he was developing. Hopefully he had all of his fingers. Toes too, if things were really good. My prayer was very simply, “Dear God, let everything be ok.”
And during the labor and delivery this got exponentially worse. We had a little scare at the beginning of it all. There’s some test that they give to babies before they are born (I keep forgetting the name), and it has this eight-point grading scale. Our son received four out of eight. In the words of our doctor, “Four is not good.” Not good, he said. The doctor said.
So that basically threw our plans out the window. My wife had to be a on a monitor the whole time, which meant she mostly had to be in bed the whole time. Her labor was focused in the back. What could I do? I held hands, rubbed backs, tried to say comforting things. Sheepishly, I said, “It’s going to be ok. You’re doing fine.” My biggest mistake was saying, “I know,” when she said that it hurt. “No you don’t!” was the reply. Gulp.
And so again, I’m there, with some pretty intense stuff going on, and absolutely nothing to offer. “Dear God, please let everything be ok. Ok?”
I won’t go into all of the details, and it wasn’t necessarily a “bad” labor and delivery. Normal. Better than a lot of them. But still, it was bad enough, and I wasn’t even the one doing all of the work. I learned that all of my half-informed medical opinions withered in the face of real adversity. I was more than happy to trust the doctors and nurses. “What would you do if you were in this?” I asked. “Well, let’s do that then.” And then again I prayed, “Dear God, let everything be ok.” That was the best I had.
And we did make it through ok, thanks be to God. Our son was healthy. My wife made it through. I made it through. And then we went home.
It might sound like an exaggeration, but I honestly believe it to be true– the first night home was worse than all of the excitement in the hospital. We were not in physical danger- not that we would know either way, which made it all the more worrisome in our minds- and we were both pretty scared and clueless. Baby is crying. A lot. Mom is not quite ready to nurse, but she’s trying. It’s all very painful. More crying. And again, I can’t do anything about any of it.
A few nights later and things are actually really good on the whole. I’m staying up late while my son is (supposedly) winding down to sleep, letting my wife get a head start on rest. Only he doesn’t go to sleep. He cries. Again, a lot. He’s got some sort of stomach issue, I can tell that much. Lots of uncomfortable wiggling. Lots of contorted faces. Lots of other things. I changed five diapers in an hour and a half. “Dear God, please let everything be ok. Please?”
And it was. Everything was super. Our son is happy and healthy. The doctors have all given glowing reports at the checkups. He’s not overly cranky. He’s even staying awake apart from nursing, and he’s happy about it. Mostly. So I don’t write all of this to complain or worry about something really terrible. This is a totally normal situation. And still, I feel inadequate and helpless. “Dear God, let everything be ok.”
This is a side of parenting that all parents experience, but we don’t typically talk about it. In fact, I posted a picture of myself on facebook, me looking a little put-out, and my son, shrieking his head off. I got worried calls and messages. “Is everything ok?” they asked. I wonder if those parents who put all the cute pictures up on facebook get messages saying, “Wow, everything looks unusually good. All of the pictures are so happy and peaceful. What’s going on over there?“
But it’s true. There are happy and serene moments, but there are also crazy and scary moments, especially at the beginning. They are totally normal, and- if you read the books, go to the classes, or just listen to others- to be expected. Still, they’re intense. And they make you feel your neediness.
We needed help. We needed doctors and nurses. Big time. We needed family. We needed friends. We needed help cleaning and cooking, and we just needed folks to listen to us and tell us that it’s working out ok.
And we needed God. He answered our prayers. And, at bottom of it all, it was our faith in Him and His sovereignty that kept the worrying to a tolerable level.
And the thing about all of this is this: This is normal.
We fool ourselves into thinking that “normal” is when things are going well, we’re in control (or so we think), and everyone’s happy. It’s all the other times that are odd. And because of this, we fool ourselves into thinking that we’re basically in control of our lives. We make plans, even plans for years down the road. We set expectations. We judge others who don’t share our plans or meet our expectations. Those people must have done something wrong.
But the reality is that we’re always helpless. We’re always in trouble, in need, and unable to control the world around us. We just don’t see it that way. And when we don’t see it that way, we don’t pray. Not for real. Oh sure, we give those good-people prayers. “Dear Lord, please forgive us for our sins, whatever they may be. Bless us. Let us find our true love, get a good job, have babies, make a ton of money, and live an awesome life. And be with those who are in need. And also be with Grandma…. zzzz.” And we’re already asleep.
God doesn’t hear those kind of prayers by the way. Oh don’t get me wrong, He knows that you’re making them. He even blesses you anyway, forgives you, and basically protects you- because of Jesus. But He’s not actually answering those prayers. In fact, God’s got a big manual buzzer in heaven. When you ask for the cute kids, He rolls His eyes. When you ask for the good job with lots of money, He sighs and takes a breath. And when you mention the smokin’ hot wife, that’s when He slams down on the buzzer- Ehhhhhhhh!!! Your prayer has been dismissed.
God is not here for the healthy. Jesus doesn’t call the righteous. Upper-middle class life goals are not what He’s interested in. Sorry. God is for the helpless. Jesus came for the sick. The righteous king understands the plight of the poor. And that’s why we have to be brought down low to know God. Death must come before resurrection. He who seeks to save his life must lose it. All true sons are chastened. And even life’s greatest blessings are accompanied by its greatest challenges.
You have to be afraid to fear God.
And so yes, becoming a father has changed me. It has taught me my neediness. My inability. It has taught me my dependency on God. It has taught me how to pray. It has taught me to pray.
And this won’t be the last time either. We’re just at the two-week mark. Who knows what’s going to happen in the next two weeks? The next two years? What am I supposed to do about all that?
“Dear God, please let everything be ok.“