Parenting is the penultimate sacrifice

IMG_0068The Christmas season always makes me pause and think of baby Jesus.  And this year, I think I’m particularly pensive because we are expecting our third child in the spring.

It is nearly impossible for me to explain the desire to have more offspring of our own, despite knowing there are children out there who need parents to adopt and foster them.  When Greg and I sat down on a date night earlier this year and attempted to come up with solid, defendable reasons to “go for it,” we could not come up with anything that would hold up in court.  We reminisced about how quickly Eliza had grown from a baby into this young lady before even turning four-years-old, and about how Zach was out of toddlerhood and we couldn’t really imagine this being “it.”  But financially, time-wise, and considering life goals and dreams, a third seems draining, life-postponing and honestly scary.

And yet, here we are.  We still desired this.  God has blessed us with this expectant being that is definitely growing inside of me – at a rate that is either atypical or else I’m eating way more than I did the first two times.  I don’t know how to defend this life, this bringing into our fallen world yet another child when I don’t even agree with breeding pets instead of rescuing ones who would be euthanized.  (Please don’t misunderstand me.  This is my own personal struggle, and I am not judging anyone else for having zero children or 20.  Okay fine, perhaps I might consider you crazy to have 20 … )

But then I think of baby Jesus.  I am reminded that I believe life – every life – has a purpose.  I believe God is the creator and sustainer of life, and there is no life that comes into being that He does not ordain.  He must have a purpose for not only this child, but also for Greg and me as his or her parents.  And I hope, as I ponder the true meaning of this Christmas season, to somehow put it into words.

Raising children is the ultimate true love experience on earth.  When Eliza was born, I was slightly mad at everyone with children who had congratulated me in pregnancy and acted excited.  I felt betrayed, like my friends had lied to me about what it would be like.  I had never been so exhausted, nor ever felt like my life had so changed into something that required so much sacrifice from me.  I didn’t want to give what was required.  Truly, I had to die to myself in a lot of ways: I had lost the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted, the ability to walk out the door responsible only for myself, and the basic right I thought I had to sleep.  Looking back, I was actually going through a sanctification; God was making me more like himself.  To live this life as a Christ-follower means we are to take up our crosses and follow Him daily.  When you are serving your children by extending unconditional love to them, you are becoming holy; you are loving the way Jesus loved others.

There is a Friends episode about how you cannot give with pure intentions because you are still getting the good feeling inside from serving.  But what that show didn’t address was service to others that comes with no guarantee of feeling good in return, such as what Christ did for us (knowing every person would have to choose to love him back and his sacrifice would go unclaimed by so many).  Yes, parenting is rewarding because my children make me laugh, they are affectionate, they tell me they love me, and they more easily forgive than any grown-ups I know.  But in the next moment after doing one of those sweet things, they can tell me they hate me, or that they love their daddy the most, or that I’m the meanest mom in the world.  Hurt and ingratitude are never more than a moment away.  Betrayal and disobedience are daily occurrences.  Anyone who continues to serve a child, or perhaps a disabled parent, or a spouse ailing with Alzheimer’s is extending the grace, and mercy, and undeserved love that Christ did.  No matter the good moments, those we serve in this way will never be able to repay us the debt.

My grandfather was one of the greatest men who ever lived.  He was funny, he was generous, and he went to hell and back in World War II; yet what I will remember most about him is how he cared for my grandmother for 20 years at home until her Alzheimer’s finally (and mercifully) killed her.  I never knew her for who she was before her illness.  It is so difficult to admit this, but I often viewed her as a sick woman whose life no longer had meaning.  I sometimes hated my grandfather for loving her like he did.  As a child, I watched her go through phase after phase of the disease, speaking gibberish, spitting because she forgot how to swallow saliva, hitting and scratching and punching my grandfather as he tried to dress her or feed her.  I honestly confess that I couldn’t understand why he did what he did.  I felt like he was putting us all through such a miserable experience when she “belonged” in a nursing home.  I was embarrassed when he insisted on bringing her to restaurants with us as if things were normal, and then she would have outbursts and spit her food at us and even sometimes others.  And for days, and weeks, and years he did this, always gently speaking kindly and lovingly to her, stroking her cheek and telling her in German that he was her Guenter, and all was okay.

Only now that I am a parent can I honestly grasp what he was doing.  The world would say that what he did was a waste.  And perhaps in some ways his time could have been better spent.  But I believe there is no other higher purpose we can serve on this earth than to love others the way Christ loves us: as we are, in an undeserving and unlovable state of sin.  Jesus valued everyone and didn’t look on the lame or the sick or the needy as lesser people; rather, he served them in love.

Having children who, despite all we do for them, could turn out to hate us, or be drug addicts, or murderers, and then loving them anyway and always, appears to me to be the highest calling.  In the same way our children are sinful and thus capable of the worst offenses, God gives us free will so we can choose his path – which by definition means we have the freedom to turn our backs on Him and follow our selfish desires.  I will never win an award or a bonus check for what I’m doing as a mom.  But that’s what selfless service, what really putting others first, what true love, is all about.

That is the reason why we know a third child (even of our own) is a blessing from God.  He has chosen to create this life, and with it, given our family another chance to love unconditionally (albeit imperfectly).  As I consider the birth of Jesus, and how his perfect life models a standard we can never match but for which we should strive, I will be thankful that no matter what is to come with this child or my other two, I have been given an opportunity to love fully.  Reminding myself daily of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice – to choose to die for you and me and everyone else so that we could be reconciled with a perfect God – helps me pour out myself for my family despite my own hopes and dreams.  It gives me the strength to make this penultimate sacrifice.

God knows children present an opportunity to know Him more fully and to better understand his love for us.  He uses them to draw us to the baby in the manger, so holy and perfect, yet humbly born in a barn because he is the king who came to serve instead of be served (Matthew 20:28).  Merry Christmas!

4 thoughts on “Parenting is the penultimate sacrifice

  1. Good morning. Don’t know if you remember me, but we have visited each other’s blogs. Last time you were there you commented on my struggle whether or not to have a third child, citing that you felt the same. Ironically, now we are both expecting our third children in the spring. Small world, huh. Good luck with your pregnancy and the joys (and let’s be honest, misery and sleeplessness!) that will follow!

      1. Mid-April. And not only am I really starting over (my youngest was born in 2007), but I already have two sons and this is our first daughter. So I’ll be flying by the seat of my pants on a new gender, too. I am sure we will both be fine. But yes, we should commiserate! 🙂

  2. Beautiful.
    Congratulations – publicly!
    I could not agree more with your words. While I may not see abundant fruit now, I pray that my choice to stay home and love on my children will create generations of fruit to come.

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