Grace in the Face - A Confession
We are going to have a baby, my wife and I. A few months ago, though, I wasn’t sure I wanted one. There were lots of reasons, of course – I like my free time, I like the money I don’t have to spend on a baby, I don’t like dirty diapers, and so on. There were deeper reasons, too. Perhaps part of the reason I have been hesitant to have children is because I don’t want to fail – especially at something so important.
Having a child is an enormous responsibility, even when you’re ready for one. I don’t feel ready: I don’t know enough good stories and songs, I haven’t read the latest books on discipline and encouragement, I don’t know if I will have enough time from my job to spend with my family. When I was ten years younger, I felt more or less emotionally prepared for raising children – but perhaps I know myself better now. I know my faults, the things I don’t know, my personal weaknesses; and I know a little more now how difficult it really is to raise a healthy, dynamic, bold, caring child. At the very time in my life when I feel least prepared to raise a child right, that’s when I find myself becoming a parent.
Now I have no choice: I will have a child – and I will surely fail. I will not be the perfect parent. I will not do everything right. (And, surely, my child will not be perfect herself.) This little life will depend on me, and I will let it down. I will not always be there at the right time, or say the right thing, or be able to solve the problem. And, probably, it will love me anyway, even though I won’t entirely deserve it.
That is really the kicker – it will love me, even though I don’t deserve it. That thought kills me. In addition to me failing as a parent, heaping coals upon my head, it will probably love me as if I never failed at all. It won’t even think about the possibility (probability… certainty) of me failing again in the future. With the love of the innocent, it will probably forgive me even before I’ve done wrong.
This is what grace is to me – being loved despite my failings, being hoped in and relied on despite the certainty that I will fail again, being forgiven even before I do wrong. The grace of God is a lovely idea, and as long as it remains God’s grace, I can handle the concept. But having a child, and being forced every day to face my unpreparedness, and being loved in the face of it all, having that forgiveness right at hand, seems too much to bear.
My guilt and disappointment in myself is so much a part of me, I can’t imagine it going away, having to give it up. To tell the truth, I don’t feel like I deserve to give them up, to be free from my sins.
But at the same time, I don’t want to pass on to my child this burden of mine, pass on the weight of my sins. If I am going to be even the best parent I can be (far from perfect), I will have to let my child love me, and perhaps even accept some forgiveness. I have to be the best parent I can be, despite whatever failings I had yesterday, despite whatever failings await me tomorrow. To some degree, I have to set aside my sins, love myself as if I had never sinned, love myself as if I were capable of never sinning again.
Perhaps having a child will help me learn to forgive myself for failing as a parent. And that may start me forgiving myself for failing at most things. And who knows where this path of grace will lead.