by Rev. Doug Gray
Being a parent is the most important job in the world, and it’s one of those jobs you can never really know how to do until you’re a parent. When our oldest, Morgan, was born, the best sound in the world was the sound of her crying, because I knew that crying meant her lungs were working. It was so glorious and I was so relieved—and incidentally, so exhausted—that I almost cried myself. I would discover that Morgan crying and our exhaustion would go together a lot. When it came time to leave the hospital, and Cynthia carried Morgan, and I was the Sherpa carrying a yak’s worth of stuff that we got at the hospital. We couldn’t believe that anyone would let us walk out of the hospital with this baby. What the heck do we really know about being parents anyway? It’s “on the job training,” right?
Another thing they don’t tell you about parenting is that there’s going to be pressure. If you don’t think there’s pressure in parenting, then you have never looked for your child’s stuffed animal as if your life depended on it—because it does. Oh yes, there’s pressure! Our children add unexpected things to our lives, and suddenly we are under pressure. When Morgan was just a few months old, the Congregational church in Quincy, IL was looking for an Associate Pastor, and so Cynthia and Morgan joined me as I was going to meet the congregation for the first time. Sunday morning comes, and we are talking with the little old ladies of the congregation before worship as they’re sitting around the Parlor. While we talk, we’re playing “Pass the Baby” because everyone wanted to see this adorable child—which I am very cool with since they aren’t asking me thorny theological questions. Being the loving, chill child Morgan is, she is going with it. And the little old ladies are loving it, and bouncing her on their knees and making goo-goo eyes…and then Morgan gets really still on a lady with the bright pink dress. Suddenly, the scent of doom is in the air, so Cynthia and I whisk Morgan into the Nursery, and yep—diaper blow out. Great! Perfect! Fortunately, we have a change of clothes and clean diapers, so we undo Morgan’s diaper and start getting her undressed, when she dips her heel in the—stuff—and before we can blink, Morgan is covered head to toe in—stuff. And Cynthia starts to chuckle, and I start to giggle, and pretty soon we are laughing our backsides off because we cannot imagine how this could get any worse. Then we learn that the poor woman’s bright pink dress is ruined…and she is ushering that day…and she is the Moderator of the church…and she is leading the Congregational Meeting after worship where the congregation is voting on whether or not to call me. The funniest part was that the congregation did vote to call me as their Associate Pastor, and the Moderator, Pat, became one of our best friends. Did I say there is pressure in parenting?
There are all kinds of pressure at work, though, aren’t there? How many of you have ever had a job with weird people? My friend, Vera, used to work at Walmart in our small city in Wisconsin. She worked in jewelry and she had the weirdest things happen, people being mean to her, people stealing stupid stuff—oh no, I didn’t take that!—and the people she worked with were a pretty tough, not very understanding bunch. Every Monday night, Vera would come to Bible Study with a new story about how bizarre people were and how toxic a work environment could be—some of the stories were funny, but most of them were sad. One Monday night, Vera came and told us that a woman had come in for a watchband, and spent 20 minutes telling Vera all about how her house was being foreclosed on, and she was trying to figure out what to do to feed and clothe her family. When she was done telling us, Vera said, “When I came out from behind the counter and hugged that woman and told her I’d pray for her, I knew why God put me at Walmart.”
We have lots of places where we experience pressure—family, friends, work, school, neighborhood—so the question is not whether we will experience pressure, but what we are going to do with it. One of my mentors called it “being in the fire,” that there are times when the pressure just rises and rises—sometimes from different areas at the same time. How can we handle being in the fire? Paul says, “since we are made right by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand…” In the midst of the fire—and the heat just gets hotter—we who are trying to follow Jesus have a peace that makes us fireproof: we know that we will get through this with God’s help. But Paul says something even more incredible will happen if we are willing to stay in the fire with Jesus—our sufferings, troubles, and pressure, “produce endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” Somehow, when we love during the pressure, troubles, and suffering, people begin to see that God’s love is real—real enough to stake their lives on…because we have staked our lives on that love.
We can never really be prepared for what it means to be a parent until we are in the thick of it. Even if we know how to do a job, that doesn’t mean we are prepared for what it’s like to work with other people until we are there. So much of life is just learning while we do it. When we are under pressure, do we keep trying to do the loving thing? When we are in the fire, do we hold out a hand of compassion to our co-worker to help them with their troubles? When we are suffering, do we stay cool and keep doing what Jesus would do? Wherever God has planted us, whoever is in our lives today, God has put each of us there for a reason. Our frontlines are where things can get messy, where the pressure can rise, and the heat can get hotter. Our frontlines are where God is growing and stretching us, shaping our character for even greater times ahead. In Lent—more than any other season of the Church—people often invite God to grow them with the pressure by giving something up or adding something in. Remembering how Jesus was tested in the wilderness, on our frontlines we too will be tested. How will we make it through? By trying to get closer to God. The psalmist writes,
Happy are those…[whose] delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his Law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
This Lent, let us be fruitful on our frontlines with God and so come closer to the Lord who saves!