Not long ago I experienced one of those rare and precious moments in life. Inadvertently I found myself exiting a maternity hospital in the company of a young couple, the man delicately nursing a tiny bundle in his arms. My inquiries confirmed that this was their first child and it was the baby’s first encounter with the big, wide world – a moment reflected in the anxious and excited condition of the parents.
As the main doors flung open a gush of wind greeted the tiny child, causing it to gasp and flinch. Instinctively the father drew the helpless infant closer to protect it from these newly discovered elements.
From the haven of a womb to the sterilised environment of a hospital ward and now to the unpredictability of the world outside. The adjustments for this vulnerable child in such a short space of time had already been profound and witnessing their entry into this harsher reality had an impact on me.
As I walked across the car park I wondered about that child’s future – about the countless changes it would experience throughout its life and the role these parents would play. Would they direct and nurture the child in the way God desired or would it ultimately be shaped by the world it lived in?
It made me think of my own joyous but tentative steps as I carried my first child from the protected environment of the hospital to the world beyond. As with this new father, my first instinct had been one of physical protection – I must keep him warm, fed and dry.
I would defend my defenceless bundle from the dangers that lurked. I would be his safety filter – any external influence would have to go through me first. It was a knowable and honourable call, but one I very quickly realised had a major inherent flaw … Me!
While my record over the past 12 years in the role of warmer and feeder of my three children has been close to perfect, my efforts with their character development has been far from it. Now don’t get me wrong, my children are beautiful, but the introspection triggered by my recent hospital experience led me to analyse where I could have improved in my fatherly responsibilities. This was not a midlife crisis type of scrutiny, but more of an ‘is it possible to raise a child exactly as God intended?’ type analysis. The answer, of course, is no – with one exception.
There was one person who was, who is, perfect. Jesus certainly set the bar high! Sinless. Faultless. Unblemished. Flawless. The closest I or my children ever got to those standards were in the days before we were carried from the hospital.
Should I, or even God for that matter, have expected my children to maintain that standard? Certainly not when they were provided with such an imperfect father.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree it is said, so I know my flawed parenting has, and will continue to mould my children throughout their lives. I only have to reflect on Jesus’ most challenging teachings to know how short I have fallen from perfection: “If you have two cloaks give one away; if someone asks you to walk a mile with them, walk two; if another borrows money do not expect it back; bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you; love your enemy; turn the other cheek; do not judge; if you look at someone lustfully you have committed adultery in your heart; forgive seventy times seven, etc etc. Let me just say that my example has not always maintained such lofty standards.
So should I fall into a state of despair and anxiety knowing my children are further from their spiritual perfection than when they first entered the world – that I have tarnished the three precious lives God has entrusted me? It would be very easy to do. I could take my mind back to those moments when I first carried those vulnerable bundles from the hospital and analyse every mistake I made from that point on.
But rather, as a Christian, I should rejoice in their imperfections. I should rejoice because I know that despite their unstable human foundations there will always be an avenue of redemption available to them.
Their Heavenly Father has already factored in the error-ridden, albeit well-intentioned guidance they have received from their earthly father and He sacrificed His own Son, giving them the Way to overcome any obstacles.
I will rejoice because I understand my fundamental role as guardian of my children is not to exemplify perfection, but rather to point them to the source of perfect love Who will ultimately lead them to the fullness of life. A redeemed life earned by Jesus and promised to them.