By Caroline Tate // Image by Dianne Jago
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” Psalm 127:3
I knew the verse. I had seen it printed on mugs or other gifts given to moms after bringing little ones into the world. I didn’t know that the reward of children would be much different than expected. I’ve never had a reward that required so much of myself. Just a few months before the birth of my first I was celebrating with friends and family. We all sat around smiling and storytelling. We were dreaming of the days to come, brainstorming names and playing games. I was sipping mocktails and drinking from a firehouse of advice. I was given books, all of them promising to deliver a baby that sleeps when you do or a toddler that behaves like a member of the royal family if you just follow three simple steps. I thought I was ready.
A few months later, our baby boy came. In my exhausted daze, I heard the nurses and doctor guessing at the weight of this big boy. “10.5 pounds!” a nurse exclaimed. She came and laid him on my chest. I carried a new weight, but not just physically. The next several months were a blur of feeding, crying (both of us), washing bottles and clothes, doctor visits and very little sleeping. I stumbled around trying to shoulder this new load. I blinked (and finally slept) and that little boy turned into a toddler with opinions, big emotions, and the best laugh you’ve ever heard. I was starting to see his heart, his character, and his ever so strong preferences. I was falling in love with my boy all over again, but also realizing I had a soul to shepherd.
Then on a cold February day a few years later, the doctor put my 8lb baby girl on my chest. There I was again, this time holding two heavy rewards. My arms were giving out. If children are a reward like Psalm 127:3 states, why did the reward feel like so much weight?
The books said they would nap at the same time. No one told me I would rather teach calculus to people who didn’t speak my language than potty train. There was poop. There were tears. There were moments of pulling a tiny, flailing body across a grocery store floor with a crying baby strapped to my chest. There were days of awkwardly carrying 2 babies up the stairs with our dog on my heels. And there was guilt. Oh, was there guilt. I couldn’t be all things to both these little people. And it crushed me. I felt heavy.
Jesus makes an audacious claim in verses Matthew 11:28-30. It’s one I never understood until I was given these two little souls to shepherd. He says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I believe my rewards felt heavy because I had the wrong definition of “reward.”
Making little disciples in my home has stretched me further than I imagined. I always thought discipleship looked like sitting at a quaint coffee shop, sipping a five-dollar coffee with a young girl who wants all my “wisdom.” While that may be the case for some and five-dollar coffees are indeed a gift from above, I was humbled to find that discipleship looks more like me explaining why we can’t just eat ketchup for dinner or put stickers in the toilet. My patience has been tried. My body has been pushed to its limits. Without the hope of the Gospel, I complain on the worst days or strive for the best. I can read blogs and “how to be a great parent” books and maybe learn a tip or two.
I can solicit advice from Facebook groups full of internet strangers and be overwhelmed by the thousands of ways to accomplish one goal. But if I don’t stop and connect with the Father and Creator of both me and my babies, what am I really gaining?
If I don’t admit my need and ask Him for His strength my soul will never receive the rest it needs every minute of every day. God promises us in Hebrews chapter 4 that Jesus is our rest and He puts an exclamation point on that promise with Ephesians 2:14 saying, “He himself is our peace…”
I deeply love having children. I love their laughs and the way their faces look when they see something for the first time. I love holding their little hands. I love how excited they are to see us in the morning. I love their energy and gusto.
But there are moments, several per day I might add, when we have to lay ourselves down for them. We have to make hard decisions and have hard conversations. We have to lay down our preferences and our desire to look like we have it all together. And it’s in those moments I think I can see the reward more clearly. It’s in the difficult moments that I have the option to ask the Holy Spirit for help. It’s in the moments I feel completely inadequate that I get to approach our Heavenly Father for wisdom. It’s in the moments I know I got it wrong that I get to trust God loves my children more than I do and there is an abundance of grace for me.
Perhaps the reward Psalm 127:3 describes isn’t only the way my son says “Goodnight mama” or the way my daughter squints her eyes when she laughs. Maybe the true rewards are the ever-present invitations to crawl up in our Father’s lap and say “help me.” Maybe our true reward is that we are actually being disciples by the best Discipler. Perhaps, as we seek His presence in the mundane of dirty dishes and nasty diapers, He Himself is our very great Reward (Genesis 15:1).