Raising small children, as any parent knows, can be a little like trying to train an unruly herd of squirrels — on a small, motorless boat, during a mild-to-severe hurricane. They’re small enough and cute enough to seem mostly harmless, but that’s what they want you to think.
I remember a day in our first several years when it was raining squirrels. That afternoon, I had gone to wake one of our children from their nap. Before my hand touched the doorknob, I smelled trouble on the other side. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill parenting smell; this was something more sinister. I opened the door to discover that a soiled diaper had quietly become a painter’s palette. No surface was safe. Quite proud of the work, the culprit stood tall in a now graffitied crib and smiled at me, as if I might consider purchasing the masterpiece.
After a bath (and 78 Clorox wipes), we settled down for dinner and family worship. The artist was quite hungry as I recall. We put the kids down for bed, prayed against any further creative endeavors, and went to sleep. A couple hours later, we woke to another distraught child who had peed the bed for the first time in months. Count it all joy, fellow parents, when you meet moisture of various kinds. After a bath (and a few less Clorox wipes), this child too was clean and back in bed again. It was a little after two o’clock in the morning.
I crawled back into bed, closed my eyes, and started inventing a preemptive snooze button. Seconds later, the painter started crying again. I took a deep breath and swung my feet out of bed. As I approached, I could smell trouble again, but not the same trouble. My child had, as kids are strangely wont to do, eaten too much, too fast, causing a digestive uprising. Cue the Clorox wipes.
As my wife, Faye, and I laid back in bed, somewhere between two and three in the morning, knowing we’d have to get up and feed the squirrels in a couple hours, we couldn’t help but laugh. Bleary-eyed and defeated, we looked at each other, smiled, and agreed, “Want to have another one?”
Children Need Us to Struggle
Every parent has stories like mine. Raising children is predictably hard in unpredictable ways. We rarely know what hard will look like tomorrow, or next week, or in five years, but we can be reasonably sure it won’t be easy.
This is obviously intentional on God’s part. He knows what our kids need most is not parents who parent relatively easily, but parents who must rely on God each day. They need to see parents of clay, regularly tiring, sinning, confessing, repenting, pleading for forgiveness, strength, and help, while still trusting and enjoying God. They need to see how we endure hard with hope in him.
Satan, however, preys on all the painful aspects of parenting. He has studied our vulnerabilities and waits to attack in our weakest moments. He makes it all seem so trivial, so unrewarding, so futile. When his temptations come (and they will come), it’s important that another voice rings louder than his in our frustrated and exhausted ears.
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. (Psalm 127:3–4)
1. Does Parenting Feel Trivial?
This may be the loudest lie about children in our society today: There are so many bigger, more productive, more important things you could be doing than raising kids. Parenting is too small for you.
Parenting is small in many everyday ways, but it’s enormous in the ways that really matter. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord” — a gift, an inheritance, a legacy. We should pay close attention to what God calls a heritage because he claimed one for himself: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!” (Psalm 33:12). We are his heritage — “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). And children — biological, adopted, or spiritual — are our heritage.
Whenever God gives a child, he’s entrusting us with a precious and eternal heritage — a new life that will never end, and that, Lord willing, will grow to change and shape the world in all kinds of ways (maybe even having children of their own). Their impact on eternity will easily outweigh whatever work the world holds up as more meaningful and consequential.
2. Does Parenting Feel Futile?
Maybe parenting doesn’t feel small at all; maybe it feels big and overwhelming and, at times, demoralizing. She’s still not potty-trained. He still won’t sit still. She throws her food on the ground nearly every meal. He throws a fit whenever mom says no. They still can’t play together for three minutes without fighting. Is anything I’m doing making a difference? Am I doing more harm than good? Is all this effort just a colossal failure?
“In God’s eyes, children are some of the most effective weapons for the most important battles.”
Kids can make life feel like a sack race through a thick forest. That’s what we see and feel (and often smell). But what does God say? “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.” From the high ground of heaven, we see that children are not distractions from the war or weights around our ankles; they’re sharpened shafts of victory waiting to be unleashed for good. In God’s eyes, children are some of the most effective weapons for the most important battles. That’s why, when God made the world and put that first man and woman to work, he didn’t say find a career or build a business, but, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
Fill the earth with what? With faithful, wise, joyful arrows. Nothing could be more spiritually effective or significant than having children and preparing them well for eternity.
3. Does Parenting Feel Unrewarding?
Parenting can feel, at times, like all cross and no reward. Our sin says, What am I getting out of all this work and sacrifice and dirty laundry? What do I have to show for all I’ve given? The Lord says, “Behold” — look! — “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” — a prize, an honor, a bounty. Children are the reward for having children.
“Children are the reward for having children.”
We miss the reward in raising children when we start looking for the reward somewhere other than children. We want efficiency. We want accomplishment. We want a salary. We want recognition. Instead, God gives us eternal souls to steward and shepherd. He doesn’t reward us according to the desires of our fallen, misguided, restless, earthly hearts; he rewards us according to reality. While millions are feverishly building towers that will crumble and fall in a generation, the wise are receiving and raising souls who will live forever.
When your career has come to a close, would you trade any amount of success or fame for even just one of those souls? The reward may seem small when you’re drowning in bottles and diapers, but, like our babies, it won’t seem small for long.
Blessed Is This Man
As I write, we’re waiting to meet another arrow in a matter of days, the third in our filling quiver. He elbows me when I hold Faye’s belly (I assume out of an already budding and abiding affection). As we’ve prayed for him, it’s dawned on me, with greater and greater meaning and joy, that he’ll be our first to be born in a post-Roe America. His life will be something of a memorial to a long and awful regime of death. Maybe abortion will become unthinkable in his lifetime.
We don’t know how many lives will be saved by the Dobbs decision, but we can rejoice that abortion will be that much more difficult for many. Having a baby seems like one especially fitting way to celebrate. Despite what our society has screamed for decades, it’s a deeply happy thing to have a baby:
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 127:5)
This happiness isn’t light and fragile like worldly happiness. Children sweeten a father’s life and work, for sure, but they also arm him to keep living and working and loving. They give him a more durable and resilient joy. Those who oppose him can’t upset him as easily or take advantage of him anymore. Satan himself shudders before our sons and daughters. After all, he knows just how much good a child can do.
So, when the hours of sleep are few and the number of diapers and Clorox wipes great, remember what God says about parenting. Learn to love and rejoice in your children like he loves and rejoices in you.