There are but a few events in life that really change a person, perhaps not completely, but so significantly that the effects of the change cannot be denied and become an integral part of the fabric of a person.
So it is, I believe, with parenthood…
For 9 months my wife and I waited patiently (and excitedly) to meet our first child. I wanted to know the gender, but my wife didn’t. In the end we opted for a surprise. Both of us were fully invested in the pregnancy. I was delighted (though a little nervous if I’m honest) to discover my wife was pregnant. Throughout the pregnancy we tried to do as much as possible together. We both prepared the nursery, attended doctor’s appointments (where possible for both of us to attend), took celebratory maternity photos for various social media announcements and progress updates and attended the five weeks of two-and-a-half hour antenatal classes together on Monday nights leading up to the birth! I say this just because I think it important to remember that fathers can be 100% involved, excited and invested in the upcoming arrival of a new family member while not experiencing this excitement and anticipation in quite the same way as the mother. This shouldn’t be surprising, but it seems it is to some. Women bear children, and men don’t. So it is the woman to whom the physical changes, more constant emotional preparation, and ability to feel the little one’s every move are intensified or more fully realised all the way along the pregnancy road. For me, the pregnancy was pretty straightforward and to be honest it felt like most of the changes were still to come.
For me the journey to fatherhood went something like this, though this is definitely oversimplified for the sake of brevity:
- Children are a blessing from God
- I’d like to have children one day
- Yay, my wife and I are pregnant 🙂
- Wow, we are really pregnant!!! 😮
- I want to love, support and serve my wife and child well
- I need to do a whole bunch of stuff to get ready for the arrival of the baby
- The baby is nearly here
- I really want to be a good dad, like my dad was for me, but I’m not sure I know how…
You see – I wasn’t exactly sure how to feel. I was excited, yet somewhat unsure of my new role and responsibilities. Most of all I felt that just trying to ‘be a good dad’ probably wasn’t the most watertight or well thought out strategy in the long run. In other words I felt like, on the one hand, I couldn’t wait for our bundle of joy to arrive, and on the other hand I knew that said arrival would change me forever and would require much of me in an area I had no real experience in myself (parenting). At times I thought about the fact that I don’t ‘have it all together’ and wondered how I could lead someone through life from infancy to adulthood when I sometimes feel lost myself (not in terms of salvation, but in terms of navigating the waters of the Christian life).
My comfort in this was the knowledge that no one ‘has it all together’ and that every first-time father (or mother for that matter) is on a learning journey. I don’t have a responsibility to be perfect at parenting, especially as perfection is unattainable on this side of glory, but I do have a responsibility to lead and guide my child(ren) well, to love them sacrificially and to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). My aim therefore is to seek to understand, obey and teach my child(ren) to obey God’s instructions for parents and children because God knows what is best for us, even when we don’t know it ourselves.
When it came time for my wife to give birth, the due date arrived and passed almost as uneventfully as any other day. Three days later, my wife’s doctor explained that they would induce a few days after that if labor had not yet begun. As it turned out, my wife was induced at around 6pm on Thursday 26 May 2016. Up until this point the pregnancy had been smooth sailing; no real morning sickness to speak of, no gestational diabetes, no swelling and so on – only minor aches and pains and the discomfort of an active baby wriggling around fairly constantly! I remember sitting in the antenatal classes hearing about births where everything goes to plan and births where multiple factors can make things more complicated. Perhaps naively I sort of thought that as the pregnancy went so smoothly, the birth would too. We thanked God often for keeping both my wife and our baby healthy and safe during pregnancy, but even though I hate to say it, I feel like I had sort of taken for granted the blessing that the smooth pregnancy had been.
After the induction, the plan was to wait six hours until midnight, at which point we hoped labor would have begun and we could move to the next stage. What instead followed was a period of several hours of monitoring relatively small contractions and relatively abnormal heart rate responses from the baby. The doctor advised that it was too dangerous to continue the induction with more medication and instead the monitors were to remain on all night. Needless to say, neither my wife nor I slept much at all.
The following morning the doctor arrived and found that the heart rate had stabilised somewhat, but the contractions were still too weak and dilation wasn’t progressing. She did half a dose of induction medication and then sent us home for a four hour ‘break’. Small contractions continued and we headed back at 2pm. An IV drip was inserted and thankfully the waters broke naturally at 7:30pm. From then until 11pm things moved quickly, and increased in intensity as expected. Towards the end of the labor, my wife began pushing. She pushed hard, but the baby was not coming quickly enough. It was at this point that we noticed our doctor had called for backup from the head of the department, but we weren’t sure why. After another hour I must admit I was flooded with emotion. I was scared for my wife and felt helpless seeing her endure the pain of each intense contraction without being able to make it better for her. I was worried for the baby, why wasn’t it coming and why was the extra doctor needed? In the end the baby was delivered safely with only a little bit of extra assistance from a Ventouse extraction device. The umbilical cord had wrapped around his body twice – around his neck and his stomach, preventing him from moving easily through the birth canal.
Once he was born my wife and I were filled with joy and relief as he began to feed and her body began the healing process. At this point I was still unsure how to feel. I was stoked to know I had a healthy son, but I was worried about my wife who had endured so much to get to this point. When my son first held my finger in the moments following the birth, a wave of emotion flooded over me and the reality of the situation hit me to an extent, but it was all at least in some way still quite surreal.
Later that night once we had arrived back in our hospital room, I rocked this new crying baby to sleep, thinking about the fact that I was a father in need of help from my Heavenly Father if I was to do this job well at all. Over this first week of my son’s life there have been numerous situations in which I have marveled at the beauty, complexity and wonder of this new tiny human that has been entrusted to our family. The words of Psalm 139 come to mind when I see my son sleeping, feeding, waking, exploring his surroundings and learning to smile.
…you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
I have much to learn about what it really means to have a father’s heart, but I believe this experience has brought me to a deeper understanding of my Heavenly Father who fearfully and wonderfully makes each one of us.
When I think now about my beautiful son and about “the days that are formed for him” my prayer is that God will bring him to saving faith, removing his heart of stone and giving him a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27). I know he will experience joy, pain, loss, hope, peace, worry and love. I know I cannot protect him from everything this world will throw at him, even though I would like to. I know that I cannot be the parent I am called to be if not for the grace of God in my life. As I begin this journey of parenthood, I am reading a book by Tedd Tripp called Shepherding a Child’s Heart. In the first few pages I found this gem;
“The grace of empowerment to live is found in the gospel. The gospel enables you and your children to face the worst in yourselves – your sin, your badness, and your weaknesses – and still find hope, because grace is powerful.”
(2005). Shepherding a Child’s Heart – Revised & Updated. (2nd ed.). Pennsylvania USA: Shepherd Press.
I will need grace for the times when I am tired, frustrated, stressed, worried, annoyed and sinful as a father. I will need to show grace when my son is disobedient, unruly, arrogant, selfish and sinful as a son. In both cases, it is the light of the gospel of the grace of Jesus Christ that gives us hope, a pattern for how to respond in love and a reason to persevere in faith. I rest in the knowledge of this grace and am reminded that my weakness is not my enemy, but merely a platform on which Christ’s power can be shown in my life and the life of my family.
9 …“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Famous Christian author and thinker C.S. Lewis made a similar point when he said;
“Man approaches God most nearly when he is in one sense least like God. For what can be more unlike than limitless power and a cry for help?”
My wife and I gave our son the first name Asher, which is a Hebrew word that means ‘happy‘. John Piper’s manifesto Desiring God taught me that God wants us as his followers to be truly happy and that our ultimate happiness and fulfillment comes only from relating to Him as our highest treasure and bringing Him glory, just as we were designed to do.
“God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.”
Our son’s middle name is Caleb, which means ‘faithful, whole-hearted, bold and brave‘. These are some of the characteristics we hope he will develop as he learns to live every day in the presence of God. I recently also discovered that our surname means ‘God is Yahweh‘. It is my prayer that all three of these meanings are true of Asher during this life and that my wife and I will shepherd not just his behaviour, but his heart for the one true God who is sovereign over his life, has known about him since before time began and who cares about even the hairs on Asher’s head.