At 7:35 p.m. on March 20, 1985, I became a father for the first time. As I stood beside my wife in the delivery room of a mission hospital in the DR Congo, four people were in the room: me, my wife Julie, the doctor, and the midwife—and then suddenly there were five. Sarah Ann had arrived. No words describe this event better than miraculous gift. But only two years later, I found myself in desperate prayer for my feverish little Sarah Ann. My precious firstborn child was suffering with malaria, and we couldn’t find a way to cure it. Following doctors’ advice, we tried different medicines and different doses, taking care to avoid overdosing her. But whenever the fever went away for a few days, it always came back with a vengeance. Such moments make us realize how vulnerable we are—over how little we have control. Our prayers take on a surprising intensity: “Lord, this is not just anyone; this is my daughter!” In a life-threatening moment, the priceless value of a child rushes to the front of our minds and penetrates to the core of our hearts. It amazes me then how quickly I can shift to neglecting my child in the course of everyday life.
I grew up the son of a very busy father, and I remember how deeply the words of Harry Chapin’s song “Cat’s in the Cradle” pierced my heart the first time I heard them. The song talks about a little boy who tells his father, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad.” But the song chronicles the father’s neglect of his son. Too busy to play with his son, he keeps making an empty promise: “We’ll get together soon and have a good time.” But that time never comes. The last verse records how the grown-up boy now has no time for his father—he had indeed grown up to be just like his dad.
I remember the thoughts I had several years ago when my youngest daughter, Sammy, was midway through her senior year of high school. I had mixed emotions as I contemplated the upcoming empty nest. Part of me looked forward to freedom from parental duties, but part of me was already grieving the loss. When I reflect on the last few months I had with Sammy at home, life seemed to fly by at breakneck speed. Steven Curtis Chapman was inspired to write the song “Cinderella” after being convicted of rushing through bath time with his little daughters. He sensed God telling him to stop and appreciate moments with his kids. His song talks about a father who doesn’t want to miss all the moments he has with his daughter, for she will soon grow up and be gone. It is truly astounding how quickly we can go from thinking our children are miraculous gifts to thinking they are an annoyance or maybe even worse, not thinking about them at all. How have you been treating the miraculous gifts in your life?
REFLECTIONS: Do you view each of your children as a miraculous gift? Have you asked your children to let you know when they need more of your time and attention? If not, regularly ask them this important question. Can you think of something you routinely do with your kids where you are just on emotional auto-pilot? Think of a creative way to become intentional and “present” during that activity.
Children are a reward from the Lord