May 31, 2014 – A day different from all others for me. Half asleep and running on fumes, in the wee hours of the morning, I watched the birth of our daughter Lucy.
My life, sleeping patterns, and focus during Mass would never be the same again. It has been a year of highs and lows: from seeing Lucy’s face light up with a gigantic smile to cleaning a diaper explosion in the car seat; from hearing the word “dada” for the first time to hearing her scream for the one hundredth time as she is trapped in the prison chamber for babies known as the car seat.
Yet I wouldn’t change any of it. God has taught me so much during this past year of fatherhood that I would never have learned in the seminary or monastery. As much as I have begun to teach Lucy about life, God has been teaching me about his love as Father through Lucy.
Love is a choice. Sure, Lucy is cute at 3 PM walking around the house, smiling and giggling like only little girls can. It is really easy to love and kiss her then. The same child is much harder to love at 3 AM when she’s wailing due to a nightmare, teething, an upset stomach, or who knows what. Yet I have to love and take care of her just the same at 3 AM as 3 PM since this is my duty as a father.
Each yes to love opens me to a greater love for God. Every diaper change is an opportunity to love Jesus, for whatsover you do to the least of my people you do unto him. Am I perfect at this? Certainly not. Do I complain, grumble and get upset sometimes? You bet! Fortunately, it is happening a bit less now as I learn to be patient.
For example, three months into fatherhood, we were driving to visit my wife’s family in Ohio. Lucy began to cry in the backseat and would not stop. My stubborn nature did not want to stop the car but keep going to Columbus, yet Lucy continued to cry.
My wife asked me to stop at a nearby rest area and I relented, begrudgingly. Turns out Lucy needed to nurse and have her diaper changed. Thankfully my wife was stubborn enough to talk some sense into me to stop the car.
I realized that I was so fixed on the goal of getting to the destination that I became easily angered when I had to stop for something that was out of my control.
Little children quickly show you that your life is no longer your own. They have needs that only the parents can meet. Your own plans have to change to meet them.
The difficult sacrifice is also beautiful. Our lives weren’t given to us by God to manipulate and control. God gave us life so that we can love him and serve him through others. Is an ordered life virtuous? Sure. This is a cross for parents. We can’t keep everything in order with kids who are constantly throwing us into chaos.
Still, in chaos we can reflect on how God enters the messiness of our own lives and loves us despite our scars and shortcomings. I have thought about this while loving Lucy. I love her just because she is my daughter, not because of some cute thing she does, but because I am her father. How much more does God love us just because we are his children?
And that is the point of the family, to be a symbol of God’s love in the world. We may struggle to live this out in the world, but each time we fall we must get back up and try again. This is God’s will for us: to show the world we are Christians by our love, beginning in the home. May we all take the daily crosses of family life and offer them to God with love for the sanctification of the world.