Recently I asked a group of young parents to describe kids. We got the the easy adjectives out of the way first: fun, curious, innocent, sweet, full of life, and so on. But as a parent myself, I knew that was only half the truth, so I gave the group permission to tell the other side of the story too. Quickly we agreed kids can be exhausting, expensive, myopic, and sticky.
I asked if anyone had more disposable income, more free time, or less grey hair now than they did before they had kids, but no hands went up.
No one could make those claims, of course, because the truth is kids come at a cost to their parents. At the same time, none of the parents in the group wanted to go back to live without kids because they loved them and knew their life was better with the kids around.
Kids are great and hard. That’s okay. And that’s where I think God wants us to learn something.
Psalm 127 says children are a gift from God. Sit with that idea for a moment. If that’s true (and I believe it is) and if all the words we used to describe children are accurate (and I think they are) then we’re onto something really important.
Try as we might to resist shallow, binary thinking in matters of life and faith, we all fall into the trap now and then. Personally, I developed a habit of thinking of people and situations as either a gift or difficult and messy. Until a few years ago, it never even occurred to me something could be both, but I think that’s what God is showing us through these little bright-eyed object lessons we call kids.
In children we encounter gifts as both precious and persnickety, tender and trying, exhilarating and exasperating. In them, God is hinting to us that we’ve been tricked into thinking about gifts all wrong.
Contrary to what we’ve been taught in fairy tales and luxury car commercials, gifts aren’t golden tickets, magic potions, or easy streets.
Gifts are deeper, truer, and more transformative.
The best things in life are sometimes exhausting, costly, demanding of our attention, and sticky, but they’re still the best things.
About this time last year, my head was spinning. I’d started a new job in a new organization, and it was a struggle to keep up. I was dropping balls, forgetting names, and hoping no one noticed. Since that time I’ve found my footing, but this position still stretches me week after week. I’m still making mistakes and being pushed out of my comfort zone. It has been hard. And great. And exhausting. And life-giving.
The trick is I never found myself waiting for the job to stop being a challenge and start being a gift, in the same way I’m not waiting for my kids to stop being insane and start being gifts.
A few weeks ago, when a friend and I sat down to lunch, he asked how the first year in my new job had gone. “It wasn’t perfect and it wasn’t easy,” I said. “But it has been a gift.”
God is telling me the same thing over and over again. In so many ways he gives beautiful, challenging gifts in the form of people and experiences. And I’m starting to listen.