Fatherhood is hard, often lonely work. Any father who tells you otherwise is lying or just doesn’t get it.
My wife Miranda injured her ankle a couple of weeks ago as the result of a routine jaunt down the staircase with our eight-month-old in tow. She slipped, tumbled, and cried out for help until she was heard over my guitar playing and singing.
Pretty soon, I was strapping on the baby (who was fine), dropping off the two-year-old at a friend’s house, and transporting my hobbling wife to an urgent care clinic. We departed the clinic with a pair of crutches and Miranda’s right foot & ankle encased in a half-cast.
I like to imagine myself as a hybrid of Angus MacGyver, Jason Bourne, and Mother Teresa in emergency situations — uncannily resourceful, brutally efficient, yet compassionate enough to melt the heart of a ruthless tyrant. I was none of those things this time. In fact, I found myself struggling to contain my open dismay during this particular debacle. I would love to be able to say that my emotional struggles were due to my deep empathy for my mortally injured wife (like I said, I wasn’t doing well). I would love to be able to say that I was overcome with concern for my wife’s well-being as I watched her foot being plastered. But as the minutes ticked away, my heart sank lower and lower at the daunting prospect of taking care of two very young children and working while my wife remained semi-immobilized. I simultaneously felt sorry for and ashamed of myself. I remained externally stolid, but internally, I was feeling overwhelmed, over-matched, and alone. Suffice to say, it was not my finest hour.
Upon returning home, however, I quickly realized the extent to which I had allowed my circumstances to diminish and hide the remarkable truth that I was a part of the most efficient help-deployment system ever devised. Within a few hours after the accident, our church community shifted into full service mode and transmogrified itself into a lean, mean, need-meeting machine. That very night, we were the recipients of a hot, delicious, homemade meal, delivered right to our door. Like clockwork, for two full weeks, a small army of church friends continued to feed us at least one hot meal every day. Very busy, very active people dropped by almost daily to take care of my wife and kids while I ran to the store or drove to a meeting.
It certainly hasn’t been a cake walk, but I don’t even want to imagine what the last 14 days would have been like for us had we not been surrounded by such a generous, service-oriented, caring community of people who love us. A week ago, our two-year-old refused to nap, which was nothing unusual, until she decided that it would be a riot to slather her face, hair, and ears with enough vitamin E cream to fully moisturize an eczematic African elephant. Then she fell asleep exhausted, face-down on the floor of her room.
Had it not been for the help and support we received, this little episode would likely have evoked exasperated vexation rather than the laughter which it actually produced. Fatigue and frustration are ever-present companions of fatherhood, but the self-giving, needs-meeting, servant love of a church family warms the heart and eases the aches.
Back in 1996, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book, It Takes a Village, generated a lot of buzz and even some controversy over the notion that a healthy child’s development depends on the contributions of an entire community of people, that the child’s welfare is not the exclusive domain and responsibility of his/her immediate family. This child-rearing model was certainly the prevalent one in the Ancient Near East, in which most of the biblical stories are set. In Luke 2, the entire story of Joseph and Mary’s frantic search for the twelve-year-old Jesus is contingent on the fact that they assumed that their relatives and acquaintances would have assumed responsibility for their boy’s well-being even if he wasn’t in their immediate proximity (vv.43-44).
But is this model applicable and practical for the vast majority of us who live in cities and practice fast-paced lifestyles?
One of my favorite parts of our church tradition is the sacrament of infant baptism. And my favorite part of the sacrament is when the minister turns to the congregation and asks, “Do you undertake the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child?” and a resounding chorus of answers in the affirmative fills the room. No matter how you feel about infant baptism, this is undoubtedly a beautiful picture of how an entire community can solemnly unite to ensure that a parent in their midst has all that they need to love, teach, and care for their child. It is both a public expression of unity and a humble admission that no one family unit is designed to exist in exclusive isolation from others. Just as children require loving parents for their emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being, parents also require a loving community who can encourage them and aid in the care of their children. Parenting can often feel like a lonely enterprise, but this congregational vow gives notice to the father and mother that they’ll never truly be alone even in the darkest hours of trying to fulfill their noble calling.
Please hear me well: there is no question that parents must take seriously their calling as the primary caregivers, protectors, and teachers of their children. But the truth is that our stubborn pride often has more to do with our reluctance to seek and accept help than any concern for the needs of others. The ugly truth is that I am often driven by the irrational, misguided idea that I become less of a father in the eyes of God and people if I slack off on my paternal responsibilities even for a moment. Accepting help does not make me a bad father; in fact, refusing help when I really need it makes me an irresponsible father.
A paradox of the gospel is that God’s grace empowers me to be openly, fearlessly, almost gleefully weak. Trusting Jesus means that I am his beloved child based solely on what Jesus has done; my most impressive accomplishments bring me no closer to God, and my most heinous sins take me no further from God. And this is the glorious grace that frees me to receive the generous service of others with gratitude rather than resentment, guilt, and shame. God is teaching me that fatherhood, and parenting in general, was never meant to be an isolated exercise in individualistic fortitude. Fatherhood takes more than my good intentions, willpower, and mad parenting skills.
It takes a church.
The mission of Intersection is to help our readers to see how the gospel of Jesus intersects & transforms all of life in a very real way. Our goal is to destroy the false & harmful dichotomy between 'the sacred' & 'the secular' by presenting a wide range of perspectives that focus on different aspects of life in the city. These stories, reflections, observations, & opinions all have one thing in common—the shared conviction that every arena of life can be holy & beautiful when it is lived out in full awareness of the gospel & in full submission to the leadership of Jesus. Although the Intersection team loves, values, & supports all of its contributors, the views expressed in their posts are ultimately their own & may not necessarily reflect the beliefs & values of New City Church.