“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth…” Psalm 127:1-4
When my youngest was about eight, I noticed she was having a hard time sitting through the sermons in church. Because she’s a doodler, I encouraged her to write down some of the content of the sermon or maybe jot down questions she has about what she hears.
The next Sunday, I watched as my daughter put words on the paper, filling it with thoughts and pictures throughout the sermon. She seemed so engaged, and my heart swelled with gratitude as she handed me the paper when the service was finished and said, “I took notes, Mom.”
I looked down, ready to take in the words which I just knew would indicate spiritual growth and maturity. And then I read this:
“I was eating my cheeseburger. I could taste the cheese chicken and bread. It was time for class. Bob tripped me and I pushed Bob. The teacher sent me to the principal. I tried to tell him I was right and Bob was wrong.”
Pictures of Bob, the cheeseburger, and the principal filled the remainder of the page. For clarity, the sermon was on grace. Not cheeseburgers. Or a Bob. I had a strange mix of emotions, wanting to both laugh and cry. The fact that cheeseburgers were chicken was funny to me, but shaking off the humor, I felt a little bit defeated. It was not the first time in child-rearing that I had the thought: “Parenting is just hard.”
Often, our feelings of defeat as a parent stem from the fact that we’ve lost perspective on how the Lord wants us to view our children. Skewed perceptions can be found all over the pages of parenting:
- when a child is doing well, and we see their efforts as trophies for our “good” parenting
- when a child has a strong-willed or difficult personality, and we fall into the trap of viewing them as a daily frustration
- when a child shows signs of rebellion, and we begin to see them as a nuisance to the desired peace in our household.
None of these perspectives are in line with the way the Lord sees our children. No matter the God-given personality or the path chosen for them, the Lord views each of them as a precious gift. Their souls belong to God, and while they are in our care, we need this daily perspective from Him to view each peak, each valley, each ebb and flow as the Lord sharpening our children into a unique arrow that God will shoot out to the place He has made just for them.
Regaining perspective doesn’t mean the difficulty goes away, but when we put on the lenses of Christ, we’re able to look beyond the immediate frustration. Instead we’re able to look into a soul that God has chosen to place in our care to love and to usher toward Jesus. With this perspective, there is joy. We are not anxious owners and our children are not projects to be managed, but we are stewards of souls whom the Lord sees as a beautiful gift.
Resting in Jesus
My favorite line in Psalm 127 is in verse 2: “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” If you’re a parent in the infancy stage, you may scoff at this verse remembering last night’s multiple feedings. And if you’re in the delightful teenage years, I know you’re laughing too. Because teenagers.
The reality is that we resonate more with the beginning part of verse 2: rising up early and going to bed late. As parents, we work hard, laboring day in and day out! Responsibilities consume our minds and calendars, and our children’s needs become as critical as our own. Being a parent is tiring, but it is not done by our own strength. Our goal should be to ask the Lord every morning for his sustaining grace because it is God alone who uses our efforts to guide our children. His love for us is not dependent on the times we get it “right” in parenting. His love is endless, unconditional, and His grace is abundant when we feel depleted.
Knowing the challenges that require God’s strength, the Psalmist mentions sleep. Why? Consider for a moment the fact that God did not create us to be humans who don’t need sleep. He could have, but this is not how He intended for us to live. I love John Piper’s reasoning for why God made sleep: “He wanted to give a universal reminder to the human race that we are but children and ought to own up to it. We are so frail that we have to become helpless and unconscious and blind and weak every day in order to live at all.”
In our parenting, as in every other area of life, we need Jesus. And in the midst of the mayhem, the Lord asks us to cast our anxieties onto him and he will give us rest. Cast them – throw them – onto Jesus. He wants your parenting burdens, and he is the only one who can give us rest from them. The reality is, when we do this, physical sleep becomes easier. When we rely on our own strength, and when we set our own unattainable parenting standards, anxiety lingers. We can stay awake all night trying to sort out every detail of our child’s struggle and work frantically to get ahead for the next day, but our feeble efforts will not solve the issues because the truth is, “If God doesn’t guard the city, the night watchman might as well nap” (The Message).
The physical rest that often follows spiritual rest is a beautiful picture of God’s hands at work when ours are not. His eyes watch out when ours are closed. Trust that God will accomplish His purposes in the way he knows best. Parenting is hard, yes, but it is a gift. And as our children grow and the seasons change, the Lord offers His continuous strength and His perfect rest.