An interesting thing happens when you break the news that you’re having a baby. Even when the pregnancy has come about in positive circumstances, the clouds gather. In amongst the congratulations – and often from the lips of strangers – comes a stream of negativity. The sleepless nights. The absence of me-time. “And you can forget about sex,” the more explicit may even venture to add. Your life will never be the same again. And the consensus seems to be you’ve struck a raw deal. Those voices are amplified after the birth, and it’s by often us – the parents.
The birth of a child has been called the everyday miracle. It’s also a huge and unparalleled shock. No matter how diligently you took notes in NCT or bookmarked internet wisdom, nothing completely prepares you for the reality-shift brought about by the entrance of a little life. It is undeniably hard work. But there’s a difference between something being hard and being negative. We lose this nuance in our culture that facilitates and glorifies convenience and individual comfort.
When I stand back and reflect on the things I’ve struggled with as a mother so far, I find they are part of the natural order of a life lived for Jesus. I’m challenged by the relentless self-denial of prioritising someone else’s needs – particularly the small, repetitive choices that are invisible from the outside and may take a lifetime to pay off. But my life is not supposed to be about me and I shouldn’t be looking for instant reward: “[I] died and [my] life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is [my] life appears, then [I] also will appear with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4). I’m continually conscious of being out of my depth, making decisions that are slowly shaping someone else. But my inadequacies don’t surprise Jesus; he said “apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5 NIV). “It is God who works in [me] to will and act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13 NIV) and he gives wisdom “generously to all [who ask], without finding fault” (James 1:5 NIV).
I don’t want to belittle the difficulties that this stage of life can bring. From premature delivery to post-natal depression and too many other things, there are numerous physical and emotional obstacles that could be part of our parenting story. These things require an inordinate amount of courage and support to overcome. Talking things through is a crucial part of that. The question is, what is our conversation directed towards? Is it growth and healing or wallowing and self-pity? Honestly? Sympathy is all well and good, but it doesn’t actually change our circumstances and it definitely doesn’t change us. And that’s what we need if we’re going to thrive as parents: we need to become ever more Christ-like people who embrace the high call of sacrificial love.
We need to stop being “conformed to the pattern of the world” and instead “be transformed by the renewing of [our] mind[s]” (Romans 12:2 NIV). We need to declare “surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me” (Psalm 54:4 NIV), assured to our core that we are carried in His arms, held close to His heart and gently led as we look after our children (Isaiah 40:11 NIV) – not because we’ve earned it, but because we’re His children and He loves us abundantly and unconditionally, for no rational reason at all.
We need to choose our perspective. We need to decide whether or not we’re going to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:15). If we’re craving peace, we would do well to stop talking up the difficulties and instead be “filling [our] minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly” (Philippians 4:8 MSG). In doing so, we make room for the God of peace to be with us (Philippians 4:9 NIV). If we need soul-rest to revive us in tiring, complex situations, let’s be those who jealously guard time to wait on the Lord and renew our strength so we can walk, run or soar (Isaiah 40:31 NKJV). We don’t need to beat ourselves up if we’re not flying high every day – walking is allowed – but we can and should give ourselves the best chance of being equipped to handle the things that come our way by creating protected time spent appreciating God and being honest with Him.
This call to think differently about the challenges of parenthood shouldn’t be seen as yet another thing to make us feel burdened and guilty about the way we’re managing these steep, on-going transitions. This isn’t about competing parenting theories or judgemental one-upmanship. This is about a daily choice to remember just how big God is, how capable we are in His strength and how much we have to be grateful for – the truths that set us free to enjoy this season of life. Because, in the context of life and eternity, it is just that: a brief season – one that needs relishing and treasuring because it will be over before we know it.