The Best Lesson
Words by Julie Gerber // Images by Kelly Kee
A few weeks after my husband and I had our baby, my parents dropped by because they “just had to see their little boy.” They bustled in with their oohs and ahs and superlatives, each clamoring to hold our newborn son. As my father reached out for James, I tried to mask my reluctance. Even though he’s my dad and I love him dearly, I was a little tentative to hand James (his namesake) off to him. Call it New Mother Syndrome; I really didn’t like letting him go to too many (any?) people initially. But, gritting my teeth, I let my dad scoop him up and whisk him off into the kitchen.
After forcing myself to talk with my mom a few minutes, I almost involuntarily craned my neck to see what was going on in the kitchen. And what did I see but my father sitting with his head bent low over the table. Now, if you knew my father and his ability to slumber in any and all situations and positions, you would have drawn the same conclusion I did.
“He’s asleep!” I exclaimed as I rushed up, scared that at any minute James would topple out of my father’s arms.
“No—he’s praying,” assured my mother, reaching out to slow me down. Unconvinced (because not only do I know my dad, but I was still suffering from New Mother Syndrome), I snuck into the kitchen. Sure enough, my father was deep in prayer over our little boy. As I drew close, I could just make out some of his words. “And bless and keep Him, dear Father . . . May he know Your Son. . . . ”
My dad bent in prayer over James has become a very familiar scene. Whenever he holds James, I can be sure to see my father praying with him or repeating over and over to him, “Jesus loves you, James!” Whenever my mom holds him, I can hear her singing every hymn and praise song she knows—and, trust me, that’s a lot—as she rocks him.
In this, my parents have shown me something beautiful. They know that the most important thing they can give their first grandchild, the baby boy named after my dad, is a knowledge and understanding of our Savior. Sure, toy cars, keepsake blankets, and funny faces are great and have their place, but my parents don’t want to let a single time with their little grandson go by without sharing the truth about Jesus.
And it doesn’t stop with what they do while they are with little James. From what I can tell, my dad might show his love most by what he does when no one else is present. See, my dad sometimes whispers to me, “No little boy could be more prayed for…no family could be more prayed for than the three of you.” I think my dad views his primary responsibility as grandfather to pray for our little boy—and for his parents. He loves to pray for us. And, in order to do so, I know he has to rise before the sun. Even though he’s tired, even though he aches a little bit sometimes, even though his days don’t usually end until midnight, he gets up early to put our little family before the Lord.
What love this is! I could go on to share the countless other ways my parents show us their love—ways tangible and ways not seen, but it’s displays like these that take my breath away. These are the ones that instruct my heart most as a new mother. All of my loves and drives and passions that I want to instill in my little boy (a love of reading and for family)—all the things that I’m not that I want him to be (neat and organized!)—they’re good and helpful in this life, but they could and sometimes do distract me from the only thing that matters.
Am I demonstrating Christ’s love for him in everything I do and say? Am I taking our daily activities and using them to teach James about God? That’s such a tall order—and this side of heaven I will mess up (continually)—but my aim and prayer should be to act and react in a way that mirrors Christ for my son to see. Think Paul’s “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). Who in this world will imitate me more than my own child? He is literally learning how to live by watching me. Knowing that he will imitate me, my imitation of Christ becomes even more necessary. I cannot live without intentionality. Am I pointing him to Jesus each step of the way? Am I praying for him (and myself!) with the fervor that recognizes that his relationship with the Lord is the most important one he’ll ever have? Have I understood what my parents understand—that I can make every moment count?
At this stage of life, unintentional living is so possible. Sleepless nights lead to hazy days, lead to unthinking words and absentminded choices. (I recently found my phone in the refrigerator.) And yet I can make simple, daily decisions to live out Christ for my son, just as my parents have shown me. I can pray with him before he eats his solid food. My husband and I can have a little devotional time with him even from now—so that James never knows a day he didn’t hear God’s Word and pray with his parents. And it needs to go deeper than the habitual; not just for my sanctification, but to show my little boy Jesus.
My parents long and pray for the salvation of my seven-month-old, and so they share the love of Jesus before James can even recognize the words. They could care about whether James would follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a doctor, or realize my mother’s childhood dream of playing the drums, but they make no mention of these things. Instead, when my parents hold their grandson (something I no longer silently balk at, but welcome joyfully!), they look deep into his blue-gray eyes and sing or speak of Jesus’ love for him.