- Brad Nelson
Being a parent is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. It’s almost cliché, but no matter how often you hear it, you’re never prepared for the experience of it.
Several things caught me by surprise when my wife and I had our first. There was all the stuff that we suddenly needed: A crib, a pack n’ play, a stroller, a car seat, a diaper bag, a breast pump (An airport security disaster, mind you), bottles and blankets and the list goes on. I was overwhelmed by the presence of all this new, unfamiliar stuff. And it was expensive. So every time I looked at something new, I was calculating a running total in my head. I’ll never forget the sticker shock of looking at crib bedding for the first time. $400 for bedding! No way. I wanted the best for my daughter, but I was drawing the line at $400 crib bedding.
Then I saw her.
“I’ll do anything for you,” I whispered as she slept in the hospital basinet. “Do you want expensive bedding? Would you like polka dots? Egyptian cotton? I’ll buy you anything.” I became putty in her hands, and she got the bedding.
There is something special about that moment when you look at this tiny little human being. A love is birthed inside you that you didn’t know was possible. And you realize that you will do anything for them. Anything.
That kind of love seems easy at first. You change diapers with fascination. You rock that precious infant in the quiet hours of the night, snorting baby scalp like an addict. Then comes colic. Next thing you know, they’re mobile. And soon, they start testing. By the time your second child comes, you change diapers like a professional calf roper. Fascination? Gone. Wonder? I wonder if I’ll ever sleep eight consecutive hours again. Patience? Cue the high-pitched laugh of someone losing his mind.
Driving home from our parents' that first Christmas, I remember staring out the windshield with bloodshot eyes while our daughter shrieked inconsolably in the backseat. “I don’t remember signing up to give this much of my life away,” I said to Trisha. “Yea, me either,” she responded.
Lately, things have been very hard in our house. Our five year old started kindergarten five days a week, all day. She’s exhausted and not sleeping well. And when she doesn’t sleep, she’s got a pretty crummy attitude. When she doesn’t sleep, neither do we, and when we don’t sleep, we have pretty crummy attitudes too. The two year old just entered the testing phase and is demonstrating an irritating talent for it. All that talk about being great parents, forget it. Most days, we just want to make it through the day. Do that for too long, and you start feeling resentment. We used to enjoy our lives. We give you so much. We bend over backwards to be consistent with you.
Then last week, Trisha sent me an email in the afternoon. She was at her wits end. The kids had put her over the edge, and she didn’t know how much more she could take, and would I please pray for her? When I got home, I could see why. Our oldest was arguing while the youngest had attached herself to Trisha’s ankle, whining loudly to keep pace with the escalating volume of the argument. Dinner was boiling over on the stove. I needed to create a diversion.
“Girls, come here I want to show you something that I got today.” I went over and sat on the kitchen floor and pulled out my laptop.
“What is it?” our five year old asked?
“Music,” I said. “My friend Aaron gave me this new music that he wrote. You might recognize it. We sing some of these songs at church.” I hit play. By now, the two year old had released Trisha’s leg from her kung fu grip and had joined us at the foot of the stove.
Soon enough the music was building, and it had a driving beat with big toms thumping. Boom, boom, boom. They both started bouncing, and I got them playing air drums. We were keeping beat with the toms. Then the song really took off and they were trying to dance in place while keeping the air drums going. The chorus started through the second time and I tried to get them to sing the words with me:
“Oh, oh, oh, oh, you love your children. Love your children. Every daughter, every son. Oh, oh, oh, oh, you love your children. All your children. Help us see you in each one.”
Then through the dancing chaos, I noticed that Trisha was kneeling down watching us from the other end of the dining room with tears in her eyes. “You love your children. All your children. Help us see you in each one.” It was one of those holy moments that you happen upon by accident in the most ordinary times and places. We hadn’t laughed and delighted in one another’s presence like that in a while.
The kind of love that keeps a family together is really hard to give. It’s what the Old Testament calls hesed love. Love that is stronger than death. Love that is characterized by legendary selflessness. Love that comes at great cost to the one who gives it.
Speaking of marriage C.S. Lewis said, “Love as distinct from ‘being in love’ is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit.” In other words, hesed love isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice. And as a parent, you make that choice day in and day out whether you feel like making it or not because the love that was birthed in you when you first laid eyes on your kids was this kind of love. A love so strong that you couldn’t understand its depth at the time. You had no idea that giving it would mean giving so much of yourself away. But in the dancing and the air drums and the knowledge that “oh, oh, oh, oh, oh you love your children. All your children,” you catch a glimpse of God in each one. And for a fleeting moment, all the hard stuff vanishes and that love is made complete.
Brad is the director of teaching and worship at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan. A speaker, writer, and student at Western Theological Seminary (MDiv), he and his wife Trisha are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Braylen and Clara. To see more of Brad's writing check out his website bleedingoutloud.com or follow him on twitter @bradleyjnelson.