Becoming A Better Father

God is working on me.  He has created me for good purposes.  He is fashioning me into a more precious and meaningful person for His kingdom, and as He does this, I treasure every noticeable change in my heart as evidence that He is not done with me yet.

What follows is evidence of God’s transformative power in this sinner’s life.

This morning I woke up around 4:30 AM and found that my wife was not in bed.  This is unusual for us.  We do not have the kind of arrangement where one spouse might, for a variety of reasons, move to the couch or the recliner in the night.  We sleep beside each other, but when I woke up she was not there.

The first thing I felt was concern for my wife.  I am happy to report that!  There was a time in our lives when I would have first felt concern for me, before ever feeling much concern for her.  Unfortunately, I might still feel that way on any given morning.  I am more prone to think of my own alarm clock than whatever has stirred her from bed, but praise God, that wasn’t the case this morning.  This morning, I thought of her first.  That is great progress.

I checked the bathroom, and she was not there.  I moved to our living room where I expected to find her.  Her back might be hurting or something else might be bothering her.  In the darkness without my glasses, I moved to check each chair and the sofa.  My son sleeps in a loft bed in my living room, his toys littering the floor like booby traps.  I managed to avoid them without waking him, but I did not find my wife.

As I began to walk through the kitchen and dining room toward the children’s rooms, I had a thought that I’m sure many Christians have had before, silly as it may seem.  Keep in mind that it was very early in the morning and I had been awake for only minutes.  The thought was, “Could she have been raptured to Heaven without me?”

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how such a thought might come to my mind?  Here I am, very confident that my faith is genuine and my salvation secure, yet in the early moments of the morning I am somehow prone to raise the possibility that perhaps I am not saved.  Talk about weakness…

To be clear, I dismissed the notion quickly, knowing it to be faithless and wrong – yet, I cannot deny that it entered into my mind.  I attribute it to these two things:  (1) I know how sinful I still am, yet should not be, and (2) I would not doubt for a mere second my own wife’s salvation.

As evil as it might be for me to question God’s redemptive work in my life, I am not disappointed that, even unconsciously, my own depravity and my wife’s righteousness are never far from my thoughts.

As I turned the corner to the hallway leading to the bedrooms where my four girls sleep, I saw that the baby’s door was open.  Our baby is now two, and we have a childproof lock that only her big sister (on the top bunk) can open, so I knew that’s where I’d find my wife.

Entering the bedroom I found her.  She was lying in bed with the two year-old, both of them facing each other.  She is always cautious about sleeping with little children, so I reached out and touched her hair, certain that she was awake.  She looked up at me and said, “She can’t sleep.”

Our baby has a bit of a cold, nothing serious, but two-year-olds don’t understand why they can’t breathe through their noses at night.  I looked at the baby.  Sure enough, she was awake, wide-eyed and beautiful, sweet and smiling.

Years ago, I would have said something sympathetic and gone back to bed without much of a thought, and that’s only if I ever got out of bed to check on her in the first place.  But I am not as selfish as I used to be.

“Do you want me to try?” I asked.

I did not expect her to say “yes”.  My wife is our homemaker.  I wake up every morning and leave for an outside job.  She, being very generous to me, usually bears the burden of the all-night affairs.  This morning was the exception.  She went back to bed and left me with the baby.

The baby was not upset at this, and neither was I.  That, in and of itself, is a testimony to my growth as a Christian father.  There was certainly a time when I was less compassionate with the little children, and they all still undoubtedly prefer mom when they’re not feeling well.  But dad is now viewed as an agreeable alternative.

I whispered to her, “I love you.”

She whispered back, “Lub’ you.”

From 4:30 AM to 6:00 AM we did not sleep.  We moved from the bed to the chair, from the chair to daddy’s arms as I cradled her around the living room, and finally settled into a recliner for a while.  I sang to her, rocked her, held her in various positions, and continuously wiped her runny, little nose.

Occasionally she would reach out and pat my cheek or play with my beard.  She closed her eyes many times, wanting to sleep, but her breathing was stuffy and she would end up fidgeting to a new position.  At one point I asked her if she wanted to go back to her bed.  “No,” she said.  She didn’t want to be alone.

Years ago, when my oldest child was small, I would often grow frustrated with missing so much sleep.  I knew that the morning was fast approaching, and losing those hours of rest would make the next work day very difficult.  The ironic part of that is that I am actually far busier these days with round-the-clock demands on my schedule than I ever was back then.  Physically, I have less energy in my mid-thirties than I did in my early twenties.  Logically, it should be far more challenging for me to stay up with a child today than ever before.

Spiritually, however, I am not the same person that I used to be.  I have learned (and am learning) to live in every circumstance with joy.  Today, I see the importance of fighting for my joy in the Lord rather than simply surrendering my emotions to my circumstances.  This is often very difficult, but undoubtedly great progress has been made.

When I turned the child back over to her mother at 6:00 AM I remember feeling only two things:  tired and blessed.  Thank you, Lord, for Your great patience with me to have come this far.

I had prayed for the little baby to make it through the night without any choking, without any emergency room visits, without any fevers or crying fits that would only make things worse.  All of those requests were granted by Him.

And I know, now, what I could not fully know ten years ago:  that the days when I will be asked to endure the sleepless nights with her are very short.  My teenage girls do not wake me anymore when they have trouble sleeping, and even if they did, they would not like me to hold them in the same way the baby does.  Their sleepless nights are more complicated, driven by fears, concerns, and relationship struggles that take a tremendous amount of prayer and careful discussion to remedy.

The baby isn’t so complicated.  She just wants me to be there.  What a blessing that I can make things better by just being there.

And what a blessing that all the selfishness of the former years has somewhat dissipated.  I am so glad to be free of the frustrations and angers I used to feel so frequently.  Yet I know that this freedom has only come to me by staying the course of faithful meditation on God’s Word under the guiding hand of His Spirit.  If, at any point, I had tossed the Scriptures far from my life and given up hope of a transformed mind, then I would never know the blessings of spiritual maturity that I enjoy so frequently now.  I would still be a slave to my sinful emotions and desires.

If, at any point, my wife had been done with me – and few would have blamed her – then she would never know the great blessing of God’s work in her husband, and our children would never see the great transformation of both of their parents.

When we keep our commitments to the Lord and to each other in our marriages, we are setting our hopes on Him.  Our hope is not in the will-power of our spouses to change or the manipulation of our own devices to change them.  Our hope is in the Lord, and all his work should be celebrated when it begins to bear fruit.

God really does transform His children by the renewing of our minds.  As the dark shades of spiritual blindness are lifted, we begin to see the opportunities for serving others with joyful hearts rather than merely fulfilling frustrated obligations. And though everyone we know certainly stands to benefit from this Spirit-born new perspective, the greatest beneficiaries are undoubtedly us.

Spiritual growth is time consuming.  It requires an investment of faith that, if we stay the course, the Lord is capable of actually making a difference in our broken hearts.  Yet, when the godly person begins to flourish and produce fruitful blessings of ministry in the barren landscape of our world, the peace and joy and great confidence we receive in the Lord are absolute treasures.

The Great Potter will not abandon His clay once He has determined to fashion it into something good, and that’s a relief for all of us who know what it feels like to be broken vessels.