Thursday, October 10, 2013

What this mess on my floor is really teaching me

Watching the newest season of “Parenthood,” and seeing Crosby and Jasmine deal with their cranky newborn, I was reminded of our own days of learning how to be parents, how to be Jude’s parents. It was rough then, and it’s still hard. But not why you think.

Parenthood is hard. Being a stay-at-home mom (or dad) is hard. And sure, you can “know” that it will be hard before you enter the position yourself, and you can even do some babysitting and counseling at summer camp and perhaps teaching – but you still don’t know. Not really. Not like you will.

Because, reader, you can deal with boogers on your shoulder, with poopy diapers and leaky sippy cups, with Cheerios in every crevice and surface of your apartment, with little or no sleep for months (or years), with car seats and tiny laundry and bedtime routines and taking five times as long to go grocery shopping, and that still isn’t really what makes parenting hard. Yes, these things are exhausting, physically and emotionally, and they wear you down. These things are hard, much harder than you know until you are the one in the trenches.

The real reason parenthood is hard, especially if you are home with your child all day, is because it is a constant, inescapable, persistent reminder that your life is not about you.

Those Cheerios and boogers and Legos all over your living room mean that your desire for order is not as important as a busy, learning little toddler.

That stack of books you’ve read fifteen times in a row means that your kid’s thirst for knowledge and your company is more important than your need to fold the laundry or check your email.

That sleep you haven’t gotten since you-don’t-know-when means that your baby’s need for milk and comfort and the warmth of your arms is more important than your own comfort and rest.

Those marks on your belly, that scar here or there, mean that your little one’s need for growth inside of you, and for being born from you, for being alive, were more important than your bathing suit.

Repeating the same words, songs, questions and answers all day long until your mind is numb means that his or her need to learn and understand is more important than your need to feel intellectually stimulated. 

That dinner party you missed, those dates you paid double for (since you had to pay a sitter, too) mean that your child’s need to be taken care of is more important than your freedom.

And that’s it. Your son, your daughter, is more important than you are. And that’s why parenting is hard. Because we are sinners, and we cling with every muscle and shred of fingernail to our autonomy, to our need to feel free and in control of our own lives, and so we struggle fiercely and angrily with this new life, this new person who makes us confront the fact that life is not about us--not even our own lives are about us.

Perhaps this is why America turns up its nose at parenthood and the crazy choice of being a stay-at-home parent: because we value our freedom and autonomy above all else, and the idea that someone would choose to give that up is laughable.

I’m not saying that your baby is the most important thing in the world, or that you shouldn't take care of yourself. In fact, I don't believe anyone is the most important thing in the world, except the Lord Jesus Christ, and that even your marriage should have priority over your children, when you get to a point past the newborn craziness where that is possible. Teaching our children that they are the center of the universe is perpetuating the issue.

I am saying that parenting is hard because it doesn’t allow an escape from the truth: other people are more important than we are, and their needs and desires are more important than or needs and desires. If we believe that the gospel is real, we cannot ignore this. Without kids, we can pretend like the world exists for our pleasure, but when there are children in the equation, it’s just not possible. So we are forced to die to ourselves, every moment of every day.

On a basic level, because our kids need us physically. They cannot feed or clothe themselves, and so they must be taken care of. And when they get older, they need our wisdom and unconditional love and guidance. But on a much deeper level, this is true because Jesus says so. Many times.

We fail, daily. But we also learn and grow, and begin to be able to choose others over ourselves, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and by the gospel’s work in our hearts.

Your life is not about you, whether you have a kid to make you face this fact or not. We are not our own, but we are serving a King who also died, to give life to others. Jesus died, so that we are also able to die – but in order to live! There is joy in sacrifice, in learning how to love others well, in realizing that the gospel really does change everything about our lives and perspectives. And that’s a much sweeter freedom.