If anybody ever invents a time machine, I want the first one off the assembly line. I’ll have a thousand things I want to do. I’ll explore history and find out what really happened on a number of occasions. I’ll return to my childhood and try to make peace with some of the painful things that happened to me and revisit the happy times at Grandad’s farm with my cousins. But the very first thing I’d do, is go back to when my children were little.
Oh, what I’d give to see my big boys small again. I used to get bored sometimes with pulling them in the wagon or pushing them on the swings, but I’d give a lot to be able to do it again. I don’t think I’d ever tire of it. To carry them on my shoulders again; to tickle them ‘til they screamed. To have nobody around who knew that Dad wasn’t perfect, that is, except Mom. To be able to hug and kiss my boys without embarrassing them.
Back in my beloved house painting days, I was working on a big house for an elderly lady who was a true gentlewoman. It was the summer of 1979 and it was hot. Marilyn had dropped by on her way home from her prenatal visit to the doctor. I climbed down off my ladder to hear the news. Marilyn was due to deliver soon and I wondered what the doctor had said.
“He said I’d better hurry up and get home,” she told me. “Said it could come any time.”
We were planning our second home birth. Marilyn had been treated so callously at the hospital where Tim was born that I vowed I’d never take her there to give birth again. So we had had Nathan at home, much to the shock of our neighbor, Sandy, across the street. I wish I’d had my camera ready. I’d gotten several pictures of Nate very early in his life but I’d sure have saved film for a shot of Sandy’s face when Marilyn first threw the covers back if I’d known what her reaction was going to be like.
When Marilyn drove away, she agreed to call me immediately if she had any strange sensations before my regular time to arrive home. I saw Mrs. Holt, my customer, a few minutes later. When I told her it looked like a new one would be along soon, she smiled.
“You’re a rich man, Mr. Boyer,” she said warmly.
And I was. And I am. But it’s striking how often I forget and have to be reminded that I really am wealthy. Sometimes, I feel sort of poor. I’ve long suspected that whoever said that the best things in life are free never paid an obstetrician’s bill.
Looking back on our marriage, we see so many times when we wanted to know why the pressure was on us and whether it would ever end. It would be very gratifying to think that those trials were partly for the purpose of preparing us to share hope with those who come behind us.
We see the past through rose-colored glasses to some extent, but still we have a pretty good memory of how it was. The future we see as through a glass darkly, but we have our experience to give us some idea what it will probably be like. It’s usually the present, or at least some features of it, that’s hardest to focus and examine.
When I was a boy, my cousins, brothers and myself used to swim in Grandad’s muddy pond in the back pasture. There were cows in that pasture and the pond was their watering hole. It sickens me to think of swimming in that water now, but you know how boys are. We loved it and that smelly mud just served as something to soften the pond bottom and as ammunition to throw at each other.
But one thing we couldn’t do in that muddy water was see anything. Once I was swimming under the water trying to sneak up on somebody when my hand struck another hand in the mud of the bottom. Aha. Somebody was trying to sneak up on me at the same time. I grabbed the hand and gave a jerk, hoping to startle whoever was on the other end of it, maybe even assist him in swallowing a little water. But the hand wasn’t attached to anything.
I panicked. I managed to get my feet under me and scramble to a standing position in the waist-deep water. I had just enough breath left in me to give a terrified shriek as I threw the hand halfway across the pond. It was a frog.
The boys all laughed at me just as you’re laughing at me now, (shame on you), but you would have thought it was a severed hand, too, if you’d seen as many scary movies as I had.
Visibility in the agitated water of a farm pond is not good. So it is with some of the stressful situations of family life. When you’re outside the pond, you can tell a lot about it and you can see plainly that it’s not all that far across. But when you’re the one swimming underwater in the middle of it all you know is that you’re getting very short of breath.
One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. It’s a good reminder that good times and bad times come and go and that we need to be prepared to experience some of each. In honor of those in the trenches of parenthood and especially those younger than my wife and myself, I’d like to offer the following thoughts on this passage as it might apply in to parents.
Ecclesiastes 3, verse 1: “To every thing there is a season, and time to every purpose under the heaven.” God connects times with purposes. He doesn’t promise to tell us what the purpose is while we’re in the time, and He may not tell us before we enter Heaven. But remember in the tough seasons, and the peaceful times as well, that God has His purposes. Especially in the season of pressure, use minimal energy trying to discern God’s reasons. (He may not want you to know them yet.) Learn to rest in the fact that your Father never wastes suffering.
Verse 2a: “A time to be born, and a time to die”. You were a newborn yourself and it wasn’t so long ago. The time will come when you will be called away from this planet. Between those two times, there are many seasons. The one you’re in will end and another will begin. Remember that life has a beginning and an end, and let that humble and motivate you. Your children are your bequest to a needy world you’ll be leaving.
Verse 2b: “A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” There are times to sow good seed in the hearts of your children. The time you spend reading his or her favorite Bible story for the umpteenth time isn’t wasted. There is also a time for pulling weeds. Be alert to pluck up unworthy attitudes or false philosophies the enemy tries to sow in your wheat.
Verse 3a: “A time to kill, and a time to heal.” My first dog had to be put to sleep because he was very sick. I was only a small boy and in bed with measles when my father gave Sport the pills hidden in some meat. His end was peaceful which made it a little easier for me. It must have been hard on my dad, knowing how attached I was to my little dog. But he had to make the call. He was Dad. There were times when pets were nursed back to health, too. And the day when Dad carried me into the emergency room with burns from firecracker powder on my face. Parents need help with healing, too.
Verse 3b: “A time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” There was a time to weep when my Grandad died and I couldn’t afford to go home to be with the family. At other times, I’ve cried when I felt I had failed as a parent. There’s been a lot of laughter, too, at the goofiness of a teenage clown or the antics of a toddler.
There’s a time to grieve over the loss of a little one who died before birth or soon thereafter. There is also a time to rejoice in a healthy birth or celebrate the acquisition of a fine son-or daughter-in-law.
Verse 5a: “A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together.” At times, I’ve thrown rocks out of the yard into the garden so I could run the lawn mower and then thrown what I was sure were identical rocks out of the garden into the yard so I could run the tiller. Occasionally, some rocks have been gathered up with other junk and hauled to the dump. I’ve sometimes been guilty of casting away stones when I would have been wiser to gather them. The little foibles of maintaining a home are part of the season.
Verse 5b: “a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” Guiding your child in relationships with others is an important job that spans many seasons. Many temptations come through companionship and decisions as to whom to embrace and whom to avoid are critical. The day comes, in fact, when a choice of a life partner has to be made and committed to. It’s a season for parents to stand firm and families to stand together in supporting the new couple for life.
Verse 6a: “A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.” We have some gains, we have some losses. Some things are worth the time and effort to acquire and own, other things only distract from our purposes with their demand for maintenance and protection. Blessed is the parent whose life is uncluttered with excess possessions so he has time to enjoy his family undistracted.
Verse 7a: “A time to rend, and a time to sew.” There is a time to repair a damaged garment and a time to throw one away and go shopping for a replacement. Some clothes, like some associations, aren’t worth repairing because they never really fit properly anyway.
Verse 7b: “A time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” From time to time, a parent has to bite his tongue and let a little person learn from his own mistakes. On the other hand, there are those times when a warning or instruction or rebuke is just what the doctor ordered. Blessed is that parent who has the discernment to know the difference.
Verse 8a: “A time to love, and a time to hate.” Parents know what it is to love, to have one’s heartstrings so entwined with the woven strands of a loved one’s life experiences that the other’s joy and pain are his own as well. Because they know the holding power of love, they yearn to teach their children to love that which is of God in the world and hate that which is wrong or unworthy.
Verse 8b: “A time of war, a time of peace.” So much of our life is a battle. But the war is won and some day the last skirmishes will end, and peace will settle over the landscape. We have battles, especially spiritual battles, for our children and grandchildren. But the lulls between fights are the seasons of peace we need to rebuild our strength. As we look forward to the lasting peace at the end of the campaign, let’s remember that the exertions of the battle will be rewarded.
Consider the next few lines from Ecclesiastes 3:9-11a: “What profit hath he that worketh in that wherein he laboureth? I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made everything beautiful in his time…”
And parenthood, though labor, is beautiful.