Parenting is inescapably the work of waiting.
As a parent, especially to young children, you are constantly devoting your time and energy into something that doesn’t produce immediate results. It is unclear, at a hundred different turns, whether what you’re doing will have any lasting effect on your kids — which is tough because lasting effect is what you’re really after.
It’s never just about your kids sleeping through the night, or napping well, or being polite at the dinner table, or learning not to cop a bad attitude when they don’t get their way. To be sure, you spend tons of time and energy on that, but it’s never just about that. Instead, all that effort is because you want them to become a certain kind of person in the long run. You want them to become mature adults. All the little stuff parents do, from telling our kids to say “excuse me” and “thank you” to banning them from eating boogers, is all pointed toward their future.
But this future-oriented investment is never safe. Hopefully, you get to see some progress in your kids while they’re young, but you can’t possibly see it all, and sometimes you may see so little that you’re terribly discouraged. I’m pretty sure, for example, that family devotions are more for the parent’s patience than for the kid’s good. It’s just hard to see the impact right away. And honestly, we aren’t actually guaranteed to see anything.
I don’t know if I’ll see my daughters get married, or my sons become courageous men. I don’t know. Parents can never know. So much of what we do is an investment in the unseen, and therefore it is profoundly faith work. It’s waiting work. It’s risky work.
Parenting, like nothing else, exposes us to the possibility of deep suffering. I still remember some of the first parenting advice my wife and I received from a wiser, older church member, spoken compassionately about our daughter. “She will break your heart, you know.” Which did not mean, break your heart as in being cute, or wrapping dad around her finger. This was “break your heart” as in you are going to love this person so much that the thought of them hurting will almost drive you insane, and one day she’ll make her own decisions and you won’t agree with them all, and in fact, some might be dangerous decisions and your soul will ache over it like nothing you’ve ever felt before.
She knew what she was talking about. She was telling us that even with all our love and care and instruction, despite what some books might suggest, we can’t know how it will all turn out. Parenting is never a sure investment with immediate turnaround. Parenting is inescapably the work of waiting.
So how do we do that?
Let Me Hear, Lead Me On
There is a prayer in Psalm 143 that might help us. The aim of this prayer is not for parental advice, but for the parent’s soul. The focus is not your methods and procedures in parenting, but the postures of your heart as a parent.
The context of the prayer is David in a rocky situation. He writes, “The enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead” (Psalm 143:3). That last clause is an intensely poetic way for David to say he is waiting — that he’s in limbo, that he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. He has been waiting so long, in fact, there has been so little activity, so little visible fruit, so little appreciation for who he is, that he feels like a dead body. Sometimes as a parent you can feel like you’re just there.
But then see David’s faith a few verses later: “Answer me quickly, O Lord! My spirit fails! Hide not your face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit” (Psalm 143:7).
Then verse 8:
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
Here are two petitions, each followed by a reason. First, David prays, “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love.” Why? Because I trust you. Second, “Make me know the way I should go.” Why? Because it is to you that I lift up my soul.
In the midst of confusion, when his enemies are out to get him, David prays simply, as we might summarize, Let me hear, and lead me on. That’s the little phrase to remember.
Where Do I Go?
“Make me know the way I should go.” This second part of the prayer makes the most sense. If you are looking ahead at life, and feeling that knot of uncertainty in your throat, perhaps the easiest prayer is for God to show you where to go. Our kids are going to grow up, and there are thousands of decisions we need to make for them. We are headed somewhere, moving forward in this parenting journey, and then suddenly the road splits in five different directions. Where do we go? What do we do? The prayer is simple: God, make us know the way. I’m lifting my soul to you. To you! You’re all I got. Show me where to go.
But before David gets here, he prays another prayer that is less intuitive. Before he asks God to show him the way, he asks, “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love.” Hearing is less automatic than screaming for help when you can’t keep your head above water. Asking to hear is even less automatic than hearing. It is something we choose, something we know we need. That is happening here.
Do You Love Me?
David knows that first thing — “in the morning” — he needs to remember the steadfast love of God. That is to say, before he starts stepping out, before he strategizes about his next move, before he decides anything, there is one thing above all the others that he must know: Is God for him? Will God help him? Does God love him?
David needs to hear afresh that God is faithful, that he keeps his promises, that he is good. And so do parents. We need to know what God says about us. It is him, after all, whom we trust. We’re banking on him. What does he say?
He says, I love you. He says, I’ve shown my love for you. I’ve shown my love for you so vividly that while you were still a sinner, my Son died for you (Romans 5:8). For your sake, I even made my sinless Son to be sin so that in him you might become his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). My Son has redeemed you from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for you (Galatians 3:13). I have saved you not because of your works — not because of how great a mom you might be — but I saved you because of my own mercy (Titus 3:5). Remember, dad, you didn’t choose me, but I chose you. I called you here. I have redeemed you. You are mine (John 15:16; Isaiah 43:1). I’ve got my arms around you, mom, dad. I’m never letting you go (John 10:28). Therefore, you don’t have to fear, because I am with you. You don’t have to be dismayed, mom, dad, because I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
Yes, we need to hear of God’s steadfast love. We need this anchor to our souls before we hear anything else. Let me hear, and then lead me on.
Parenting is inescapably the work of waiting. But here, in this place of uncertainty, through this prayer, we remember the clear picture of God’s love in the cross and victory of Jesus, and then we set sail with all of God’s promises because of that love. Let me hear, lead me on.