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Confessions of a new father: learning to be content and in the moment.
I wrote this post as I walked in circles and pushed a stroller in front of Ulta. I know that’s, perhaps, the strangest introductory sentence I’ve ever written, but it’s actually quite appropriate considering all that’s transpired over the last few weeks. Natalie had made an appointment to get her hair colored, so I took control of Lydia to make sure she didn’t exercise her lungs too much. It was late and Lydia was getting a little restless, so I began walking in large circle across the brick pavers that lined the sidewalk. She likes it when the path is a little bumpy. It keeps her calmer. Something about the slight jostling that makes her doze off.
Truth be told, I’m trying not to be “that guy.” I’m trying not to be that kind of parent who thinks they know everything and thinks that their kid is the most amazing kid in the history of the world. Some parents — and I’ve met them — believe their child is so amazing and so beautiful and so smart and so special that they have to post photos of them doing the things that all kids do through the normal course of growing up. I’m trying not to be the guy that just constantly shows pictures of his child to everyone, forcing friends and acquaintances to reply with their half-hearted “She’s beautiful” for the umpteenth time.
Anyway, Lydia was sleeping and I was doing my best to keep her that way for as long as possible as Natalie did her thing in the salon. As I walked and stared down at this little life, it got me thinking — not anything that profound or revelatory, just something that really hit home and resonated with me in that moment. I know I don’t really have anything new to say or to add to the conversation on parenthood (especially since I’m only 4 weeks into this thing!) Besides, all that’s been said about fatherhood has probably already been said a myriad of times in a million different ways. But a singular thought kept orbiting my head, and that is, I’m just really happy with being a father. I know you were probably expecting something more insightful or intelligent. Sorry to disappoint you. But, actually, I’d contend that such a sentiment is as insightful and profound as anything I’ve ever written on this blog. Let me explain.
For me, being a father has made me realize that I can learn a whole lot more about myself when I stare at my little girl more than anything else. In that moment, it’s like the world stops, and everything is clear. I see all the fleeting things I put so much effort into that don’t really matter. I see all the ways that pride still reigns in my heart. I look at her and see utter dependence staring right back at me. And it’s then that I realize that I don’t really know how to be a dad. And I think that’s kind of the point. There’s no manual for parenthood, as much as people want to write one. That’s because the whole concept of being a parent is wrapped up in a single word: faith.
Just as faith — biblical faith — is a relinquishing of your ability, your strength, your righteousness, your everything in the face of an absolutely holy and sovereign God, so is being a parent a relinquishing of all the knowledge and skill and expertise you think you have and laying it down at the feet of your Heavenly Father. Being a parent — being a dad — is like everything else: it’s all about faith. Faith in God’s grace alone to lead you and guide you and keep you. Just as that child staring back at you is entirely reliant on you, you are entirely reliant on Christ. And until that realization is made, there will always be a struggle, there will always be conflict. Parenting is as much about grace as anything in this entire life.
I’m an idealist and a perfectionist at heart. I can easily get ensnared by the pressure of making sure everything is perfect and in order. That pressure creates an insane amount of noise in your head. A perfectionist’s brain is chock full of voices all shouting what needs to be done and what needs to be fixed in order to find acceptance and fulfillment. But now more than ever, I’m realizing that I don’t need to be perfect (and, what’s more, I can’t), that I don’t need to be superman, that I don’t need to be extraordinary. (Maybe now’s the perfect time to read Michael Horton’s Ordinary.) I don’t need fame. I don’t need to be popular. I don’t need to have thousands of Twitter followers. I don’t need a filled speaking schedule. I don’t need my name next to all the ministries and non-profits. I don’t really need any of those things. I just need Jesus and I just need to be a dad.
Like many of us in the blogosphere, at times I get distracted by the accolades and the delusions of grandeur. Everyone’s trying their best to get you to read and share their stuff, and make a name for themselves. The pressure to be a successful blogger in this day and age is immense. I’ve felt this pressure quite acutely on many occasions. (Remember those voices I told you about?) But the greatest lesson I’m learning right now is being content with my role as a quiet, faithful follower of Christ. I don’t need to have my name up lights or written down in the annals of Christendom. I don’t need to be remembered or regarded. I’m learning to be content with just being a silent disciple of the gospel. Silent but bold. Silent in that I don’t need people to know who I am. But bold because I want people to know the Jesus that I serve, the Jesus that I love — the Jesus that paid for the redemption of a nobody like me that I might become a son of the Living God. That’s all that counts.
It doesn’t matter if people retweet something I say. It doesn’t matter if everyone loves the sermon that I deliver. It doesn’t matter if everyone reads the article I posted. All that matters is that I comprehend that it’s God’s prevenient faith that inspires and sustains my faith in him. It’s God grip of me that keeps me and stirs me to faithfully devote my life to serving him. And that means being a 100%-in-the-moment husband and father to Natalie and Lydia. It means being there for them, being the type of leader I’m called to be and enabled to be in the gospel.
As I walk in circles on the pavers, it’s made me realize that this is what it’s all about. This little moment. This little second. This little fragment of space and time. It’s about being there. No one will ever really know. No one’s watching me. No one’s making sure I do this. No one’s singing my praises as I now switch to a figure-8 pattern on the sidewalk. No one will really care that I was in this moment, pushing my newborn in a stroller to make sure Natalie didn’t have to worry about her while she was treating herself. But this is what it’s all about — being in the moment, being totally there for those who need you most. I think this is partly what Jesus was getting at in Matthew 22, when he said to love your neighbor as yourself. (Mt 22:36–40) Yes, “love” means the all charitable actions that “loving your neighbor” often conjures up. But I think he also meant to love them by just being there. By being in the moment.
So, you can have your parties. You can have your shows. You can have all your fame and adulation. You can have your illustrious church programs and elaborate concerts. You can have all those things that many see and look to and covet as the signs of success. I just want more moments like this, pushing a stroller and staring into the eyes faith. I just want to be there. And if I look foolish, I’m okay with that. I’m okay with looking like a fool for my little girl. I’m okay with looking like a loser. As long as I’m doing it for her. As long as I’m there for her, in the moment. Because, you see, the beauty of being in the moment is realizing how much of forever is packed into each one of them. Within each moment throbs the heartbeat of eternity. And in this moment, I’m just really happy with being a father.