On September 2nd, at 4:56 a.m., my wife delivered our first child, Jonah Stephen. At the time I’m writing this, he is just over two weeks old. I’ve tried several times to put down into words what it’s like to hold this tiny person in my arms, but whatever I come up with just seems wrong; it’s bound to do injustice to the complexity of it all. The love, the weight of responsibility, the fear, the joy, the gratitude — the deep, doxological, I-feel-it-so-much-it-hurts gratitude — defies language. I almost don’t even want to try.
Consistently, I’ve been greeted with that impossible to answer, nebulous question, “So what’s it like being a dad?” Most of the time I think, “I don’t know if I have enough energy to try to answer that question.” So I just say, “It rules, man!”
But hey, if God can stoop down to communicate his infinite, divine, holy attributes through human language, there’s no reason for me not to take a whack at writing down some of the things I’ve been taught as a brand new father. So, here goes:
God Is Incredibly Gracious
I simply don’t deserve to be a father. I have done absolutely nothing to set myself apart as more deserving of this gift than anyone else. Yet, here I am; everyday I come home from work with a wife and son waiting for me. It seems almost irresponsible of God to entrust such goodness to me so liberally.
There are couples in my life who have miscarried, and others who struggle with infertility. Why have my wife and I been spared from those burdens? My wife is not a mother because she deserves that title more than other women. I am certainly not a father because I deserve that title more than other men. It is absolutely, undoubtedly, bafflingly all of grace. And every aspect of our son’s tiny life is tangible evidence of grace. Every 3am diaper change is evidence of grace. Every second of peaceful sleep is evidence of grace. Every second of loud crying is evidence of grace.
And this would all be true even if the worst of the worst were to happen. If my wife and I were to suddenly find out that the pinhole between his two heart chambers had (against all odds) grown larger to cause a major cardiac malfunction and a quick death, his life would still serve as an evidence of God’s grace in our life. The gift of a baby boy who doesn’t see his first birthday is a greater gift than we deserve. So to say that my son is teaching me gratitude is an understatement. I am so overwhelmed by God’s unnecessary kindness towards me, I feel like I could explode.
I Am Incredibly Needy
When I think about my little boy, the one description I can’t get away from is need. Jonah is in no position to do anything for himself; he depends on us for food, for warmth, for hygiene and for comfort. The little guy doesn’t even have the wherewithal to roll over. And when I look down at how helpless he is, I am profoundly humbled by the fact that I am just as helpless as he is to justify myself before God Almighty.
The Savior Jonah needs is the Savior that I need. My son is no lessqualified for salvation by virtue of being a physically needy infant, and I am no more qualified by virtue of being an “independent” adult (whatever that means). On the other hand, my son is no more qualified for salvation by virtue of being a sweet little innocent baby, and I am no less qualified by virtue of being a fully grown, screwed-up sinner; we were both born in Adam, conceived in sin, and are both by nature children of wrath (Romans 5:12-21, Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 1:1-3).
It is amazing to me that my helplessness before God mirrors the helpless of my two-week old son. As I dress him in hipster-baby wear, while he lies there staring at me, I am reminded of how needy I am to be dressed by the Righteousness of Christ. Jonah contributes nothing to his care; he is a passive recipient, just like me. As it turns out, sin is not the only ultimately equalizer; grace levels also. So I pray for him. I pray that God will irresistibly save my son in the same way that he irresistibly saved me; because that’s the only way he’ll ever get saved. This newborn will never taste and see that the Lord is good until he is born again; and he’ll contribute to that birth about as much as he contributed to his first one.
I Am Incredibly Loved
I sin. A lot. In fact, as I get older, I don’t see myself as less sinful; rather, I continually find sins that were previously hidden from view. This is one of the reasons that sanctification sometimes feels like getting kicked in the teeth with divine steel-toed boots. However, often the awareness of my sin doesn’t drive me towards Christ, like it should; often it drives me inward. I begin channeling my inner "morbidly introspective Puritan," and I start to resemble Arthur Dimmesdale, wallowing in shame and navel-gazing. One song that is like balm for my soul in these seasons is "Before the Throne of God Above," because it speaks directly to my doubts and my insecurities. Take this line for instance:
When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
One within himself I cannot die.
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.
This song is so sweet to me because it serves as a reminder of my security; many a dark moment have these gospel-soaked words impressed the assurance of my salvation onto my heavy heart. But let me tell you something, for as potent as these words are to assure me of my salvation, they pale in comparison to how I’m served by Jonah.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (1 John 3:1a)
I have spent years reading these words, drawing encouragement and nourishment from them. But as I held my son in my arms for the first time, these words knocked the wind out of me. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are.” That’s how I am loved? As one of his children?! It seems like this theological concept had been waiting in my soul like a bomb; and it went off right there, with my son in my arms.
I know that my son will grow up to break my heart. He will (please, Lord, may it be seldom) disobey me, disrespect me, and disappoint me. But he will never disqualify himself from my affection. He will never cause me to disown him. He is my son. I am his father. The notion of depriving him of my love is utterly inconceivable to me. And the thought that this kind of love is but a fraction of the never-stopping, never-giving up, always and forever love that God has for me is almost too much to handle.
To be a Christian is to be adopted into the family of God. It means to be one of his kids. And he will never abandon his children. So be encouraged, Christian! Be encouraged that your station as a child of God isn’t contingent on your ability to obey; it’s contingent on his willingness to love you — and He has loved you. So walk in uprightness from there; as a child of God, knowing that your heavenly Father looks at you — in a similar way (albeit, infinitely greater) that I look at my son — and says, “That one’s mine.”