I slung the diaper bag over my shoulder, along with my ebony Guess purse, the double set of straps weighing on my arm. James, the toddler Jake and I were babysitting over night, was all set and ready to be taken to gymnastics. Jacob was waiting for Matt, one of the guys living in the ministry bachelor pad down the street; the two of them were heading out to help a gentleman named Fernando, who had recently been evicted from his apartment and was looking for a new home. And so we were dividing and conquering.
As I rushed out the door with only fifteen minutes to get to the rumble and tumble gym for small children to which I’d never been before, my arms full of bags and my hands full of small fingers and car keys and my mind full of pressure and want for control, I wondered with no small amount of insecurity if this is what I would look like as the mom of a toddler. I shivered at the thought as I strapped James into his car seat, and buried the image in the back of my mind as Jacob hugged and kissed me goodbye.
As I drove James to gymnastics, the word “helicopter mom” flew across the screen behind my eyes, and I became painfully aware of my constant struggle against control, and fell back on my godly desire for joy emanating from deep trust in Christ. Fears of the future piled one on top of the other as I drove and talked to James, who grinned at me from the back seat.
We walked into a place called The Little Gym, and I looked through a wall of glass doors, gazing at them like TV monitors as they revealed a bunch of toddlers maneuvering all sorts of padded blocks and arches, rings, balance beams, and trampoline-like mattresses, all primary colors.
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3-5)
I sat down on one of the little blue chairs facing the wall of doors, putting both of my bags in my lap while trying to help James take off his shoes and jacket.
“Are you with James?”
I looked up to see a tall, lanky African-American man wearing a bright blue pull over and black trainers. He addressed me kindly and smiled at James, like he was seeing an old friend. Apparently, a class had just ended, and the gym was now empty, and prepared to receive a new wave of toddlers, one ripple of which would be James.
“Oh, yes,” I finally said.
“Okay,” he said. “You have to come in with him.”
I had expected this, so I slipped off my flip flops and stuck them in the diaper bag along with James’s shoes and jacket. There were cubbies a few steps away, so I claimed two and filled them with our things.
As I walked into the gym, now full of new little ones, a thought from my neighbor came into my head. Her name is Kathi, and we get together almost weekly and talk about what God is doing in our lives, what we’re struggling with, how we can pray for one another, and so often we pray throughout, and it’s always a refreshing and sweet time. She was talking to me once about how much influence a mom has in the lives of her children. She’s the one who spends most of the day with them, and will be the example of adulthood and general functioning personhood that they see most often. Building a functioning human out of a small child is a demanding job, and it is of the utmost importance.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
As I watched James run around, and as I ran around with him (the parents and babysitters—that would be me—were instructed to help their kids learn the basics of baseball, starting with illustrating the concept of running around the bases, starting at home plate), I think I caught a small glimpse of the importance of being a parent, and a good one at that.
I had been struggling lately with selfishness and anxiety about the future, particularly concerning parenthood (I am not pregnant). Selfishness, because of how I was perceiving all of Jacob’s actions (and I do mean all) as being against my own. Thankfully, God made me aware of my tendency towards control and selfishness before we got married, so that the pattern of perception was a war, and not merely my submitting to being a victim of temptation. Anxiety about the future, because of how it seems like motherhood consumes a woman’s identity, and leaves no room for her to be a real person anymore, which, as I’ve spent time with the godly moms around me, who are joyful about having children and discipling their kids, is one of the biggest lies with which I have warred.
“Think of what you know of God through the gospel, says Paul, and apply it. Think against your feelings; argue yourself out of the gloom they have spread; unmask the belief they have nourished; take yourself in hand, talk to yourself, make yourself look up from your problems to the God of the gospel; let evangelical thinking correct emotional thinking.” —J.I. Packer, Knowing God
That same day, when James and I returned to my and Jacob’s house and I fed him lunch, Jake came home emotionally exhausted. Spending hours with Fernando had drained both he and Matt. For a year, God has been using Fernando to challenge both of us, though mostly Jake, to love the unlovely, and to reach out to and serve those who don’t always fit our mold of “worth loving.” This was how we were figuring out what it truly looked like to love the least of these, and the process thus far has revealed many flaws in the intentions of our hearts, and challenged us to genuinely and sacrificially love those who do not love in return and cannot repay us. It has been harder than either of us had expected.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40)
Needless to say, we were both struggling. We were struggling with correcting our perceptions of each other, with the lies we knew the enemy was throwing into our relationship, and with our own pride and selfishness.
Jake went back out in a couple of hours to help Matt and Fernando again, trying to secure a mobile home for Fernando. I stayed at the house while James took a nap. It would be another three hours or so before Jake and I reconvened. It would be later that night, after putting James to bed, when Jake and I could sit down and debrief.
It would be emotional. It would be frustrating. It would be full of my talking too much. It would be us making sure we’re physically touching each other to reinforce mutual support and a desire for unity. It would be full of affirmation and honesty. It would be hard and uncomfortable. We talked about the struggles we could see ourselves experiencing when we became parents. I talked about my parents and sought to identify where I was projecting my understanding of what a father looks like onto Jake. It involved my having to confess my own critical spirit to Jake, as I had already confessed it to the One who was faithful and just to forgive me, and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
And I was internally confronted with how little I’ve let God as my true heavenly Father affect how I see fatherhood here on this earth. Yikes.
This whole experience felt like the deep cleaning of a room that had been molded over and matted with cobwebs for years, hidden from sunlight and fresh air through a bolted door. It seemed like marriage continued to do that for me; God used Jake and our circumstances, our desire to figure out how to partner in ministry together, how to sharpen one another, and how to be united though we’re so different, He used all of these things to reveal more and more sin in my heart, more that needed to be confessed, more that needed to be surrendered. Oh, it was work. Spiritual warfare takes place on the battlefield of the mind.
And this time of considering parenthood has been one big struggle on top of the struggle of deployment. I think I had been in some kind of deep denial, or maybe just ignorance, when Jake first told me a little over a year ago that he’d be deploying in June of this year. I don’t know if I really understood what that meant. And yet this past week has been full of breakdowns, random crying fits, and a surfacing of deep insecurities and fears, all of which have been desperately poured out to my Father.
I feel like I’m talking about a lot of big and complicated things all at the same time, but I want to share with you just how big God is, though my words will fall short and my experienced is still so limited. These things sound despairing and difficult and heavy, and yet there is peace in all of it. How thankful I am for the Sword of the Spirit and its effectiveness against the desires of my own flesh, against the distractions of the world, and against the lies of the enemy. How thankful I am for the body of Christ and how He’s designed His community to operate, to mutually sharpen, encourage, challenge, and build up one another. And how thankful I am for God Himself, for His desire to see my desires match His, and for the fact that He is not against me when I ask Him to make me less selfish, less prideful, and less anxious about the future. How happy I am that He has been waiting for my admittance of my weakness, so that His grace might prove sufficient.
“But he said to me, ‘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. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)