Last year, in a conversation with a friend about parenting, he made a statement that stuck with me. He said, “I think the best model of parenting my own children is the way that God relates to me as a father.” I didn’t really get it at the time, but for some reason it has stuck in my mind.
Over the past weekend we have welcomed the newest member of our family and I have naturally wandered back into reflecting on the past year and the nature of parenting as it relates to all of life. I come back also, to this statement, and I think am starting to catch on to its meaning a little more.
I think the key issue is to see the basis and beauty of personhood in parenting.
One of the defining aspects of the christian worldview is that it presents to us an inherently personal perspective on the universe. We look at the beauty that is all around and we do not see a cold, meaningless machine. We see the creative work of an infinite personal God.
This inevitably permeates my view of all relationships, especially the ones I form with my children. The whole nature of personhood and the capacity to build relationships is a byproduct of the personhood of the One who is behind it all. The dignity, worth and beauty of my children is only a reflection of this reality. In light of this, a large aspect of growing in parenting is all about valuing and enjoying the dignity and beauty that inherently present in my kids.
These ideas have had a huge impact on the daily outworking of practical life. Parenting life has a daily power of exposing our selfishness. My children have invaded my world. They have, in many ways, threatened my autonomy. And my automatic response is to see this invasion as a threat to my personhood and individuality.
The sleepless nights, demanding fits, dirty diapers, endless messes, and nonstop energy are often draining, frustrating and almost suffocating.
It is in these moments that my deep seated presuppositions subtly spill out. I don’t see a little person of dignity, beauty and worth. I see noise. I see cost. I see the invader of my personal space and happiness. I want to depersonalize her into an object and get it out of my way.
This tug of war fight for our individualism forms basis for the hundreds of frustrating moments during the day.
In contrast to my deep seated selfishness, the christian gospel paints a very different story. It states that God created a world that would demand him in totality. It states that he is present in a deep and personal way in every moment. It states that he gave himself up completely in Jesus to make us his own and that he intends to be personally present in our lives through the most challenging and frustrating of times.
God’s constant and total presence in all of life is that which gives a deep and powerful sense of meaning to all things. The christian God is the author of the sunsets and snowstorms, just as he is the griever in our pain and trials. He is the Father who, at the cost of his humiliation and vulnerability lifts his skirts to run and embrace the returning rebellious son.
This brings deep meaning into the challenging moments of daily parenting. Through the screaming, demanding and dirty diapers, I am learning to see that my daughter is more than the noise that she makes. Her needs are not more important than mine. My schedule is not more important than hers.
The daily challenges of parenting are opportunities for me to acknowledge my child’s personhood, value and beauty. Her invasion of my privacy is a wakeup call, to rouse me from the isolating perils of my selfishness and to embrace the gift of her presence. There is meaning and beauty in her personhood that far surpasses my individualistic search of isolation. My greatest joy is not found in running from but in running into her demanding little arms, and being fully present with her in those moments.
The knee-jerk responses of my heart and the voices of the surrounding culture often tell me to preserve my privacy, to protect myself from the costly demands that others bring to me. But as C. S. Lewis has masterfully observed, we can protect our hearts from the pain others give us, but only at the expense of our hearts becoming cold, alone and eventually, lifeless. Or we can open ourselves up to the challenging moments of the total presence of others, and see amidst the struggle, a weight of glory that far surpasses the cost.