There are three important preliminary comments before exploring our topic.
First, we (Heather and Joel) are going to be writing periodically on parenting for EP. Of course, many others will add their views alongside ours, and by writing we are not claiming to be experts. In fact, I’m not sure anyone should be dubbed an “expert in parenting.” Anyone who has been around kids long enough for one of them to need to potty knows that at best we are all just trying to ensure survival…in a loving sort of way.
Second, we are going to talk about parenting in a very broad sense. In other words, these posts are not reduced to those who have biological children; many people either cannot have children or choose not to have children and instead adopt or give their time and energy to the many children around them. In short, these posts are meant for all people who care for children.
Third, writing jointly causes some linguistic challenges. Instead of saying, “I (Heather)” or “I (Joel),” as if we were about to add, “swear to tell the whole truth…,” we are just going to use our names, almost like we are writing from an detached third party’s perspective. We apologize for the confusion; however, we think it is valuable that we write together, even if we run into some hurdles along the way.
Now that we’ve covered that…
A Child is (Being) Born
A few days before Labor Day, 2015, Heather took our older children, Abigail and Liam, to visit our family in Tennessee. Heather was only 33 weeks pregnant so it seemed reasonable to still travel. Joel stayed in D.C. to for two main reasons: (1) he had just started his PhD program at Georgetown University, and (2) he was/is a chaplain on campus and needed to be available.
Heather had mentioned some discomfort during the trip, but that is to be expected when you are pregnant and chasing around two young children in hot and humid weather. That “normal pain” quickly changed on Labor Day. Heather called Joel (see, it’s like a fun narrated story!) that morning to say that she was heading to the hospital to have the baby checked. She knew her body and knew from her past pregnancies that she was in labor.
The words hit Joel hard: “I am pretty sure I am in labor.” Tears formed quickly alongside anxious pleas of “why, God?” Joel was eight hours away and felt helpless. Without a car and unable to get a quick flight, Joel got a ride to the airport where he rented a car and took off for Knoxville.
Heather had to be transferred to another hospital better equipped for these kind of situations. The call, “I’m in an ambulance heading to UT hospital” rang in the depths of Joel’s soul not often explored. What could he do, though? He was trapped in a car, committed to an 8-hours drive. So he tried his best to just put his faith in God. Again, what else could he do?
Faith is one of the most over-praised aspects of Christianity. Nobody really wants to embody faith because to do so means that the situation we are in is dire, or seemingly hopeless, or at least uncertain. The “faith” many privileged Christians invoke is wish based: “I have faith that I’ll get that job,” or “I have faith that we’ll get there on time.” There’s no actual need involved, thus there is no actual faith.
The most famous Bible story along these lines is in Matthew 14 where Peter gets out of his boat and attempts to walk on waters. This story is crazy for a variety of reasons: the boat is (1) the only thing around Peter that is sturdy and stable, (2) it’s been proven to float, (3) it’s housing friends and colleagues that can comfort and encourage, (4) and, in short, it’s safe, at least in comparison to the water.
But then, in one of the most unusual moments, the disciples see Jesus walking on the water; and in that moment, Peter asks Jesus to command him out of the boat.
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” (Matthew 14:28-19)
That is quite odd, especially since the story is typically told as Jesus inviting Peter out of the boat. However, it was only after Peter asks to get out of the boat that Jesus simply says, “Come.” Jesus’ short answer seems to imply that he was a bit surprised by this request. Jesus might as well have said, “I guess…” or “So we’re doing this now?”
Peter had a lot of ups and downs in the Gospels, but one thing stands out: his faith. “Privileged faith” would wait for Jesus to at least ask Peter to get out of the boat. If that had happened, Peter likely would have assumed that Jesus wasn’t going to watch him sink and die –– “After Peter sank and died, Jesus said, ‘Now we know that Peter truly was a rock.'”
The fact of the matter is this:
We want to talk about faith; we do not want to embody faith.
We want a privileged life that retroactively credits it to faith; we do not want to have to live by faith.
Caring for children is an exercise in faith. Some people strategically plan exactly when they’ll become parents and caregivers while others are thrust into it. In both cases, however, chaos ensues. Fatigue sets in. Doubt floods our mind and reverberates as fear and anxiety.
And it is in that very moment that the one thing we tout most often is most needed: Faith. Through God’s Spirit of peace and comfort, caregiver, you can make it. More so, you and the children you care for can thrive. Caregiving might not be what we’d always imagined, but that does not mean that it isn’t exceedingly important:
He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, [Jesus] said, “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.” (Mark 9:36-37)
Although it might not always seem like it, know that your work as a caregiver truly matters to your child(ren), to those around you, and to God
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