A friend of mine is going to be a father soon, and I went to go buy the happy parents-to-be a card. I’m not in the “new baby” card section often, and what I found was disconcerting.
You’re about to embark on the most wonderful and worthwhile adventure of your life, one card promised. Another celebrated that life begins now. More than a few others carried sentiments like this: being a parent is the most wonderful/enriching/hopeful/blessed/joyful/valuable experience anyone can ever have.
On the one hand, I understand that there are genuinely people who feel that way. On the other hand, I recognize that there are child-free or childless folks like me for whom such sentiments sting a little: nothing in your life that you ever do, the cards say, will be as significant or meaningful as having a child. And on the third hand, I hurt for people who are parents–and whose experience of having and raising a child has been anything but blessed, enriching, hopeful, or joyful.
I think of the godly woman who attended my church when I was in elementary school, who worked hard to raise a son who was in perpetual trouble and who was frequently called “wild” even then. I witnessed her efforts; I witnessed her care; I have witnessed her son’s journey into a life of crime in spite of all her efforts to the contrary. And my heart breaks for her.
I think of the elderly couple who spoke at my church a few weeks ago, a couple raising their grandchildren because their daughter and her husband are lost to the throes of an opioid addiction. They were celebrating how generous their church family had been in their time of unexpected need, but when they wept speaking about their daughter’s condition, my heart broke for them, too.
I think of a couple I knew back home in rural Appalachia who struggled with poverty and a lack of education but who did their best to instill their children with a sense of right and wrong, who exulted when they graduated from high school, and who tried to give them as many advantages as they could. I played with those kids growing up and we pretended to be horses in my backyard; now, they are all lost to various addictions, in and out of prison, and their parents passed away wondering what had gone wrong.
I think of a mother I know whose daughter suffered a crippling, life-altering injury in her early adulthood that has functionally rendered her a child with children of her own. Her faithful mother helps feed her, motivate her, takes care of the grandchildren along with her own husband – but the stress is overwhelming.
Parenting is hard even when it goes well. Even as someone who does not raise children myself, I know that. And I also know that godly parents can do everything the right way, love as much as they are able, pray a child up into adulthood…and still feel the sting of suffering through no fault of their own. Their children lose their way or make bad choices; they fall into addictions; they disappear without a word; they suffer the effects of catastrophic, life-changing events. And although I cannot speak to it myself, I imagine there is no grief quite like a mother’s or father’s for a child who has gone astray, whose life has been changed, or who has been lost.
If you’re one of those parents, I see you. I know you must be hurting. And you are in the prayers of those who have witnessed and who have experienced precisely what this sort of pain can be like. You’re not alone, and you are not without support and understanding.
And if you’re not one of those parents, in this lull between Mother and Father’s Day, take a moment to remind yourself that some mothers and fathers aren’t experiencing the glorious, joyful, once-in-a-lifetime miracle journey promised on all the cards. They’re hurting, they are sorrowing, and they need ministry as much as any new mother or father with a newborn does. Reach out to them. Uplift them. Give them the support and encouragement and affection that they need, so that they can persevere as long as they are able.
They need every bit of it.