The birth of every child is special, but my younger son’s birth was extraordinary. My wife nudged me in the middle of the night to inform me her water had broken. A race to the hospital ensued. Fifty-two minutes from the water breaking and 17 minutes after entering the hospital, our third child, Hutch, came into the world.

But the precipitous labor was not the special part.

An Uncommon Providence

Hutch was an unexpected pregnancy. We discovered his life four months after his older brother died. Hutch was born on November 13, the one-year anniversary of his older brother’s funeral. Everything about his conception and arrival came saliently from the hand of God. 

Given the unique circumstances of Hutch’s birth, I have a cautious hopefulness about his life. I wonder if God has special plans. Perhaps Hutch will reach thousands of people for Christ. Maybe his life will demonstrate massive kingdom impact. Hopefully he will embody godly character and a loving spirit. Whatever it looks like, I have a sense Hutch will be special.

Make Him Safe?

Alongside these hopes I hold for my son resides another view into his future. Having experienced the incredible pain of losing a child, I possess a desire to shield him from suffering. I tremble at the idea he may be bullied, or friendless, or experience depression, or struggle with addiction, or encounter failure, or be a victim of violence, or have his heart broken, or—God forbid—lose a child.

So, in my mind, I begin to scheme. How can I insulate him? How do I best protect him? I start mentally engineering his life to avoid suffering. We can hover over him at the playground. We can put him in a “safe” school. We can buy him the right sneakers so he never feels like a loser. We can prohibit contact sports. We can delay dating and driving until as late as possible. We can forbid all social media until college.

As I listen to myself drift into this fantasyland of futile control, I realize I’m walking up to Jesus and kneeling beside the mother of James and John, as depicted in Matthew 20. I foolishly ask for my son to have a seat at his right hand, without weighing the costs. I assume he can rise to a place of impact in God’s kingdom without as much as a scrape on his knee.

To the mother of the sons of Zebedee and to all parents who foolishly think we can shield our children from all suffering, while believing our children can gain Christian character without it, Jesus first says this: “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matt. 20:22)

No Crown Without a Cross

On Jesus’s way to redeeming the world he encountered betrayal, injustice, torture, violence, condemnation, imprisonment, and alienation. He opened the door to glory through a cross. How deluded I am when I think an alternate path exists for my child’s “hoped for” service to God’s kingdom. He will not wear the crown of glory unless he bears a cross.

And how forgetful I am about my own formation as a Christian. Any Christian character I’ve gained in life has come at a price. There were humiliating failures in Little League and crushing (in my mind at the time) breakups in dating relationships. There was a sprained ankle days before a championship swim meet and a tantrum that landed me on the bench in junior varsity baseball. There were moral failures, lonely seasons, a bout with depression, and a job demotion. God’s Word and Spirit worked in me during these glorious humiliations and disappointments to instill empathy, perseverance, and compassion—all of which I still need more and more.

All of us parents know this is true: no person gains any character, humility, empathy, or integrity in the context of comfort. These attributes grow by God’s grace in the fertile ground of pain, struggle, and humiliation.

True Greatness  

Hear the second statement Jesus made to the mother of James and John, and to us: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).

The hope of the Christian parent is to raise a child who lays down his or her life in service to God and neighbor. But faithful servants have very little ability to give their life to God and others when they’ve never found themselves lying in a gutter or two along the way. With each painful circumstance my son encounters, God will help him accumulate empathy for others. And this compassion acquired through suffering will provide a foundation for his ability to minister to others.

I want my baby to be a special servant of the Lord, and so I entrust his circumstances to the good and sovereign Lord. Knowing life inherently holds more than enough pain, I will protect him as much as common sense tolerates. But in handing over his life to God, I must brace myself for the reality that a painful road awaits him.

I take comfort knowing the Lord has already suffered for sinners like him. I find assurance knowing Christ has carried me through my own hardships, and I pray he’ll do the same for Hutch. I have hope anticipating that he may taste the joy of being redeemed, comforted, sanctified, and known by Jesus. 

Editors’ note: Register for Rooted 2015, an excellent youth ministry conference in Chicago, October 22 to 24.