Contentment. In Child-Rearing?2
Contentment. In Child-Rearing?
Meeting my newborn nephew was an exciting experience, but he was growing up fast. After just one year he changed drastically (as all babies do). Riding in the car with my sister-in-law I commented that she must miss how small he used to be and wished that time could slow down for a while. Her answer surprised me: “No. I try to be content no matter what stage he’s in. I think that’s more important.” As my own son grows, I think of her words and am reminded of Philippians 4:11-13:
“I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content -- whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.
I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (HCSB)
Experience Doesn’t Matter
One of the ideas I like most in this passage is that experience doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter whether we have two children or ten. No one can arrive at a place in life where they can be justifiably discontented before God and others. Yet we use our own pains and struggles as cudgels and trump cards. We tell others that their experiences aren’t “as bad” as our own, or perhaps we’re just thinking it (I know I have). As bad as things may get or as hard as our conquered struggles were, this is not contentment. Paul acknowledges his own shortcomings. Even he had to “[learn] the secret of being content” (Phil. 4:12). It isn’t automatic for anyone.
Therefore, coming at parenting from the perspective of contentment makes it much easier to focus on my own position before God and the areas in which I need to grow. It empties the room of everyone but myself, and I must answer the question for myself: “Am I content in this situation?”
Our hopes, dreams, struggles and disappointments are all valid. It’s how we respond in relation to God’s work in our families that can become sanctifying or destructive. Someday, throwing a baseball with my son will bring me immense happiness. It’s one of my greatest dreams as a father. But there are many things that may prevent this. He might not like baseball. He might lose the operation of his arms. Perhaps he’s so uncoordinated he can’t catch a ball. My disappointment would be huge, but that disappointment can lead to either bitterness or contentment.
Paul’s “secret of being content” in all of his journeys of hardship is found in the verse we’ve heard ad nauseam, “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” The tendency of superstars, NFL players, and feel-good devotionals is to place the emphasis on “I." They say, “I can do all things. God has your back, so accomplish all you put your mind to! You are strong enough!” This is a farce.
The real emphasis is on “Him." We notice this false reality rather quickly in parenting because we frequently come face-to-face with our own inadequacy. We begin to realize that true contentment is harder to live out than we once thought. Trouble comes at us in the form of bills, fighting siblings, and poopy diapers - lots of poopy diapers. We find the solution not in control, extra protection, extra-curricular activities or worldly success but in the gospel. We are not enough, but Jesus is. When we repent and believe in the saving work of Jesus’s, He transforms us anew and will finish the work He began.
Anxiety, Worry, Control, Ungratefulness
However, the gospel must not only be professed but also lived out daily. We see this practically in Philippians 4:6: “Don’t worry about anything …” If there’s one thing that will make an anxious person more anxious, it’s telling them to stop being anxious. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He encourages us to pray, seek God in our anxiety, and in thankfulness pour our worried concerns. His peace, “which surpasses all thought," will guard our hearts. We can’t do this ourselves; it can only come from God. We are too weak to root out all these issues on our own and we cannot be content in our children while burdened by these negative attitudes. In this hour of prayer we actively seek Jesus to rescue us and guard us. He takes care of the rest.
Psalm 77: The Day of Trouble
Psalm 77 is one example the Bible gives for contentment amidst trouble. It begins with God as the focus and an expectancy that God is listening (vs. 1). Without this acknowledgment, our frustrations become complaining just as a 2-year old doesn’t want to talk rationally to his parents but will whine until he merely gets his way.
The Psalmist’s issues don’t require Band-Aid solutions either. We’re talking about restless nights and soggy pillows (vs. 4). We can bring our doubts to God. He isn’t scared. We wonder, have I used up God’s graciousness? Is God now choosing to give me my just desserts instead of showing compassion on my pitiful soul? (vs.7-9) No. There is no problem too big or too small for our infinite God. As we remember God’s faithfulness in the past (even the ancient past), we are led to securely rest in His faithful love (vs. 11-15). This security leads to praise. Our soul doesn’t travel from a state of frustration and suffering straight to “rejoice always!” (Ph. 4:4). It is a spiritual process of restoration. As we seek God in prayer the Holy Spirit heals our broken heart and binds up our wounds (Ps. 147:3). We are able to learn to be content in all circumstances of parenting and our children’s development because of the strength God is eager to provide.