Welcome to another week and part 2 of our latest Marriage Monday discussing Leslie Leyland Fields’ book “Parenting Is Your Highest Calling” And 8 Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt. Before I begin, I want you all to know about the new contest going on at One Man Revival Ministries Facebook Fan Page. We are giving away some CD’s highlighted by the newest project from KJ-52 coming out September 22, KJ-52, Five Two Television. Head over to the fan page to get all the details.
There is a show out that people keep telling me about, but that I never get to watch. It’s called Mythbusters. They do all kinds of stuff to destroy myths. Pastor Van recently was telling us recently about this episode that they put a water-skier behind a rowing team in a kayak and they actually got fast enough to pull the guy. I just think that’s incredible. For those of you that lived in the 80’s, you probably remember the show That’s Incredible, that had John Davidson, Fran Tarkenton and I think the female was Kathie Lee Gifford, but don’t quote me on that one.
Anyhow, over the next eight Mondays, we here at One Man Revival, with a huge assist from Leslie Leyland Fields, will destroy a few myths of our own when it comes to parenting children. We’ll study chapter by chapter of these myths. Today, we look at the first myth of parenting, Having Children Makes You Happy and Fulfilled. This is Chapter 2 of the book.
I love how Leslie starts the chapter telling us that she got a letter from someone telling us that parenting was “blissful”. Next, she tells us how she imagined parenting BC, Before Children.
“In quiet hours, I imagined blissful days with my little ones, cherubic angels whose pudgy hands would reach into the chocolate chip cookie dough with mine, who would sit enthralled with my every story. We would make snowmen in the driveway, then drink hot chocolate with marshmallows that would stick to our chocolaty mustaches. We would make our own valentines by hand and take long hikes in the woods and mountains. All of this, amazingly, has happened. And so much more! My e-mail correspondent was right--parenting has moments of bliss and beauty, when children deliver great happiness and fulfillment to their parents’ lives.”
As a dad myself, I also had this feeling. I remember my oldest, Megan, coming into the world and holding her for the first time. I thought to myself, “She’s gonna be daddy’s little girl, always do what I say and always come to me for encouragement and words of wisdom. I’ll always be the apple of her eye.” At four, she already tries to tell me what to do almost as often as her mother and most of the time, she loves me more for being silly than being wise.
Leslie’s next paragraph begins with words that make me feel so much better. “But how many of us tell the whole truth--that these moments do not define our lives with our children? That weeks, months, and sometimes even years go by when happiness and fulfillment through parenting are hard to find?”
After reading that much of the paragraph, I thought of the days that I’m at home with them and they are yelling at each other, making each other cry by not sharing and being upset because they didn’t get macaroni and cheese. There are now three children in my household, two daughters, with a boy in between (4, 2, and 1).I think of my oldest not wanting to play with her siblings because she wants to play with dolls by herself. I think of the boy wanting to play with cars and not wanting to be dressed like a girl. And my baby looking sad because she sometimes can’t keep up with the older two running from room to room in our house. I think that these moments are easy compared to life moments that are to come.
The stories that Leslie tells next are of parents that are struggling with the role of parents. They don’t feel fulfilled at all. They feel challenged, homes are changed, careers outside the home are longed for and kids that become adults and are struggling to keep life together.
These thoughts lead into the question that a lot of us may be asking, “Does the Bible promise happiness through our children?” Leslie looks back in her earlier years thinking she would answer yes with some great scripture. Let me give you these.
“Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5)
“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…. He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.” (Psalm 113:7,9)
Leslie asks if there might have been too much emphasis on those words. She even admits that she expected children to be like a reward, instead of testing.
I laughed as I had a thought. Don’t all of us feel like the grass is greener on the other side? When we are searching for a mate, aren’t married people more happy than us as single people? When we are married and in an apartment, isn’t a house so much better? When we are without children, wouldn’t having little ones running around make our lives better? There is always happiness on each side, but we become too closed minded to see it. I know I was. Maybe it was just me.
Leslie then tells the story of Manoah and his wife. This leads us to the birth of Samson. Samson, before he was born, was shown as a boy with such promise. An angel came to his parents and told them that he would be a Nazarite, set apart to God from birth and that he would begin deliverance of Israel from the Philistines. At that point, his parents had to imagine greatness. It would be for me if Megan’s dance and tumbling teacher came to me and told me that she would be the next Mary Lou Retton or Kerri Strug. I would beam with excitement. We all would. We wouldn’t think about all the hard work. We’d think about that Wheaties box that she’d be on the cover of in 2016 or 2020.
My last little story leads into Leslie’s discussion of the right here in America for “the pursuit of happiness.” She tells us that Christians often condemn the worldly chasing of the American Dream and tell us to pursue the treasures of heavenly, eternal rewards. As Christians, we think we would rather have the velvet rope section of heaven. As Leslie tells us, she and a lot of Christian women are pushed and urged toward seeing the needs of fulfillment be met by raising strong families. As a stay-at-home dad, I’ve even been told by one of my own pastors that raising my children should be priority one. In our moral fights, we try to give glowing perspectives of parenthood as the primary reason of the sanctity of life.
Leslie goes on to ask the next question. If children are not here for our happiness and fulfillment, then why are they here? What is their purpose? She begins with some of the negatives. Children cost a lot of money. This statistic floored me. “Web sites coolly calculate the cost of raising a child at anywhere between $150,000 and a million dollars EACH (my emphasis, not hers).” That high end of $3,000,000 terrifies me. My wife and I will make nowhere near that amount of money and that is probably true of most of you. If you are still childless, you might be sitting there going, “Hey, there are a lot of things I could do with that kind of money.”
But Leslie’s next point is the one I struggle with personally. Her words, “They undo us. They show us how little we’re made of. It often seems that they come only to break our hearts. And we let them. We invite it all. We admit perfect strangers through our doors and decide to love them wildly, without condition, for as long as we live.”
My children teach me life lessons and Bible lessons that only a holy God could dream up. They teach me that I have to think of others instead of myself. They teach me that I have to spend money wisely or have no place to live for any of us. They teach me that I have to slow down and enjoy the little moments because there just simply aren’t enough of them. They have taught my wife and I to get along better. True confession. In loving them, I love my wife more. When we are alone together just talking in bed at night, we now appreciate each others’ time more.
Leslie then gives reasons why we do this. The first reason is that we have children to learn to love as God does. Leslie says, “I wanted an intimate, lifelong, indissoluble relationship with others, the kind of life that simultaneously sucks you dry and sustains you.” These words are recognizable. So many nights, I sit and type articles for the website after a full day of the kids. I’m tired, but I’m energized by the heart they show each day. I’d also like to find a way to bottle their energy and sell it to all us tired parents. I’d make that $3 million and then some, and we’d all feel more pep in our step.
The second reason she gives is that we need to be taught how to love. She shares the story of a Christmas performance done at a school of children with disabilities. Even with mistakes, the love of the people to those children was great. As she whispered to a friend about the performance, she was given a greater word from her friend.
“Our worth is not based on our capacity, but on God’s purposes.”
I sat and thought about my own childhood with a clef pallet. I was fortunate not to have a hairlip, but the hole creates a vibration that causes a nervous laugh after I speak at times. I thought about how people making fun of it and the flip-side of people that encouraged me to be something special and how that second group of people inspired my life and how we need that. We also need that as parents. I have a friend named Jo who has struggled with people putting her child down and how hurtful it is as a parent to see our children take that. We need to be encouraging to both parents and children in this. These children with disabilities teach us not just to be better parents, but to be better friends.
Leslie finally gives us an answer to the question. “In all things, God works for the good of those that love him, who have been called according to his purpose‘(Romans 8:28). The value of our children is not just about God’s purposes for us as their parents. God is using our children to conform us to the image of his Son. Through our children, he instructs us, humbles us, and takes us to places of absolute dependence on him.”
The next section talks about the purpose of children. She relates the first words about Samson in life are that he has wandered to a town of Philistines, found a woman and returned home to demand his father get her for him. He wasn’t just being disrespectful, but he was breaking a law laid down by God not to marry foreign women. Surely, there was a respectable Israelite woman. Nope, not for him. Get me that Philistine woman. He later met another Philistine woman, named Delilah, and she schemed to find out his secret of strength. And she did.
She cut that beautiful hair and he was weakened. The Philistines gouged out his eyes and put him to work for them. He asked for one last bit of strength from God and it was granted as he pressed two pillars to collapse a building and kill a room full of Philistines, but ultimately himself as well. The end of the narrative tell us that with all this negative stuff heard that the good was that he led Israel for 20 years. God’s purposes were met.
Leslie’s words close this story. “Despite the tragedy here, I find the account filled with great hope for all parents. God did not promise Manoah and his wife joy through their son--though surely they experienced joy at times. But he did promise the deliverance of Israel through Samson, and God did just that. Not even Samson’s failures could prevent the accomplishment of God’s great purposes.”
As Manoah and his wife did, all of us have to lay down our desire of happiness and fulfillment for the purposes of God. Is that easy? No. Is it worth it? Yes.
I want to use this quote of Leslie’s to close this discussion. “ I am awed that I get to be a part of something so vast and significant: the shaping of lives for the purposes of God.” All of us have a desire to change the world. I remember a ceremony of my friend Tom Zawacki’s commissioning back close to 15 years ago. I will remember how men prayed over him and his reaction when one man prophesied that his son, Thomas, would grow to do greater things than he has. It wasn’t braggart. It was just a smile. Fulfillment is the hope that the next generation learns from us enough to go through the trials that are placed upon them better than we have. It isn’t about being greater. It’s about having a fully blessed life.
I love you guys!