This is something I’ve been turning-over in my head since Evelyne was a few months old. What role should sacrifice play in our relationship with our children and in our parenting? What are those spiritual realities for us as parents? Have we lost sight of imitating Christ even in these seemingly small ways?
The first few months of Evelyne’s life were pretty much hell for Clay and me. She was not an easy baby, and we hadn’t been emotionally prepared for that. Although we loved her dearly, we would have conversations about how we missed our old life, how much easier it had been, and why did we think having a baby now was such a great idea? She sucked the life out of us. Now I can see that as a crash course in learning what it means to be a parent.
As all three of us grew, I started to chill-out a little and really look at my life with Evelyne in a new way. It started ocurring to me that most of what I had heard and read up to that point about parenting was mostly about how to manage your baby. Whether about feeding, sleeping, discipline, spoiling, etc… it all boiled-down to me getting her to accomodate us. How can I control her little life to make sure she is as convenient as possible. I was expecting myself to create a world where Evelyne functioned as a little robot…quiet, sleeping through the night, not too demanding of a nurser, not demanding of my attention or energy—aka, a “good baby.” When she didn’t live-up to that, my gut reaction, as well as some well-meaning advice from others, was nothing short of how we could go about “fixing” her.
I’ve learned since then that having a mindset of infant management rather than parental sacrifice isn’t the model God gives us. I started looking at passages in the Bible like Philippians 2, which describes Jesus as the Suffering Servant who poured-out His life for us, as actually applying not only to my relationship with adults, but my relationship with Evelyne. I started listening to my heart and what it was saying in those moments when she cried in the middle of the night, cried when I walked more than 7 feet away from her, and cried when she wanted to be picked-up instead of playing by herself. My heart was saying, “I’m so tiiiiired! I deserve to be asleep. I deserve to be able to do something in another room without you crying. I deserve to have a baby who will happily entertain herself for long periods of time with minimum interaction from me. How can I change her to acomodate me?” I think it’s natural that our first reaction when our kids need us in a very inconvenient way is to feel some major self-centeredness. I’m still conscious every day when I feel myself getting frustrated if Evelyne is fussy or demanding my attention when I’m in the middle of something.
But this is not how God calls us, as believers, to live. We are fully aware of that when it comes to our relationships with others. There are marriage seminars on how we should sacrifice for our spouse, we encourage one another on how to be selfless in our jobs and friendships. Very rarely have I heard it taught that we should apply these same things with our kids. But how do I walk the sacrificial road of a suffering Christ without imitating Him in my parenting?
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:3-8
These are the words that I try to remind myself of when I’m so annoyed that Evelyne’s screaming at me, and oh my gosh, I’d so much rather be on the Internet. When she woke-up in the middle of the night (thankfully that’s over with, but it lasted a loooong time!) crying and I deliriously made my way to her room to rock her, I tried to open my heart to what God was wanting to show me in the way of sacrifice. I fail more than I succeed at this, but my goal is to live the words of the Paul, that I would consider her as more important than myself (not just in the grand scheme of things, but in the little moments of life), that my every day choices would reflect a heart that looks to her needs above mine, and when the two conflict, I’ll choose hers. All of these are the ways God is inviting us as parents to enter into a deeper experience… one that is not just about managing our children and our household, but invites change and growth–from us, not our kids! We can think of sacrificing ourselves for our children in terms of big things like paying for college and throwing ourselves in front of a car for them…. but I think it’s the little ways we acknowledge and honor their souls and place their needs above ours on a daily basis, that really shapes us into the image of Christ.
Gary Thomas in Sacred Parenting says this: “If you look at the cross with the bored detachment of someone viewing a still-life painting, one of two realities are probably true: You’re not a believer; or you’re a believer who has never sacrificed on behalf of God. You’ve never truly taken up your cross and denied yourself to follow him. Without sacrificing ourselves, we can’t really appreciate Christ’s sacrifice–which means that children, with all the demands they place on us, usher us into a deeper understanding of and even an astonishment at what God has done on our behalf.”
There’s a way in which we identify with Christ through suffering and sacrifice, an intimacy that comes from knowing that we are walking His road and following in His footsteps. I know there are innumerable sacrifices ahead of me in my parenting journey, and I hope I can face them with more of a willing heart than I’ve demonstrated so far. I expect that I will fail pretty often. But I’m thankful that God uses those whom I love as catalysts in my growth, and I welcome the experience.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (Ephesians 5:1)
See also Being Our Kids’ Savior