A sweet friend said she enjoyed watching my wife and me smile and wave and delight on the Sundays when our 5-year-old daughter sings in the children’s choir. Indeed, there is a deep joy—a gleeful celebration—in watching our little angel sing praises to the Lord, complete with hand motions.
But there is both beauty and sorrow behind our elation.
You see, my wife and I didn’t expect our children to live past three years and 55 days. As I recount in my recently released book, Therefore I Have Hope: 12 Truths That Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem in Tragedy, our first child, Cameron, died unexpectedly at this point in his life. In our grief-stricken minds, we feared our second and third child were nearing the end of their lives when they approached this age, despite the fact that our son’s death wasn’t congenital. When they crossed the 3-year-and-55-day threshold, we viewed the remainder of their lives as an unexpected bonus.
None of these thoughts exists at the rational level, of course; they are the sad, post-traumatic remnants of losing a child. The tremors of grief in your heart continue to have a powerful presence, even years later.
Two Wrong Ways to View Kids
There are many ways we can view our kids.
At times we see them as a project. We believe (largely because the culture tells us so) that we’re called to manage our kids as a lifelong project. We need to develop them into producers in the market economy. Start building that resume by hiring cheerleading trainers and batting coaches at age 6. Book the tutor before the school year, when we don’t even know if our child will struggle in a class. Skip family Thanksgiving to get to the showcase soccer tournament. God has given us this child to cultivate into a winner, by darn, and we’ll over-program this little human to ensure success.
We should see our children as a gift, not to be taken for granted.
At other times, we see our children as a burden. We long for the day when they’ll go to kindergarten or get their license or go to college. We wish for the days when we’ll get more sleep, have more free time, encounter fewer arguments, or have a richer checking account. Let’s be honest: Kids rock your world. They exhaust us, frustrate us, challenge us, and gobble up our free time, money, and hobbies. I still view my children this way far too often.
How does our view of parenthood change, though, when we view our children neither as projects nor burdens, but as gifts?
Children as a Gift
Losing a child has given this perspective to my wife and me. We don’t take our children for granted as much as we did before Cameron died. We approach our kids with this attitude: “We’re just so grateful you’re here. We’re grateful you’re alive.” For us these sentiments are hard-won, but they represent a biblical perspective we all should espouse.
Thankfully, you don’t have to lose a child to view your children as a gift. The Word of God portrays children this way:
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. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! (Ps. 127:3–5)
The psalmist paints children as a grace from God that generates happiness and well-being.
When we see our children as a gift, our need to control and micromanage subsides. Certainly, we take responsibility for the gift, but nobody clutches and chokes a present to make it perfect. We hold it loosely with gratitude.
Further, when we receive something as a gift, we understand it’s for our pleasure and enjoyment. Many people, when they know (or at least think) they’ve had their final baby, say they’re making a point to enjoy this baby. They savor the final stroller rides, infant clothes, and bedtime readings of Good Night Moon.
When we view our children as a gift, we give ourselves permission to enjoy them more. We don’t constantly have to be coaching, correcting, and managing. While we’ll always train our kids, we’re free to take pleasure in who God made them to be and in the limited time we have together.
It’s worth noting that God often gives us hard gifts. We look back at a challenge or disappointment from the past as a gift not because it was easy, but because it shaped our character. Sometimes kids are like that. God brings us to our knees as we parent a child who routinely pushes our buttons or breaks our hearts. He teaches us to pray more, to practice compassion, to repent from idols.
We all know we’ll never perfectly maintain this view of our kids. However, in those times when we are frustrated, tired, pressured, or afraid in our parenting, it may be worthwhile to look at our child and privately remember, “You are a gift from God. A hard gift, yes, but a precious one nonetheless.”