Our Children Need the Whole Church [Guest Blogger: Ryan Estes]

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The first time I heard her cry, saw her tiny footprints inked on the piece of paper, it was like a switch got flipped inside me. My heart in my throat, chills down my back—the actual physical sensation of love. It was a relief in some ways—I had heard of this from friends with kids, and worried. What if I don’t feel anything?

I hesitate to write this. Kelly and I have many friends who long for a child, who have grieved over miscarriages, who are still slogging through that pain. I hope you can hear my heart in this. I write with you in mind.

Nine years ago we brought V home on a sunny April Monday morning, bright red tulips blooming outside our apartment. And I gained a new perspective I didn’t expect.

God says he’s our Father. I knew what that meant… I have a dad. He loves me unconditionally. Was (is) always there for me. Disciplined me. Taught me. Provided for me. I always saw this from the viewpoint of the child.

I’d never considered it from the perspective of the father. Language can’t convey the depth and breadth of the love I felt for my daughter. That I’d give my life, move mountains, change time itself, to keep her safe. And it hit me: This relationship was designed to portray not just a child’s safety in the arms of her father, but also the extent of a Father’s love for his own.

Three years later, daughter #2 arrived at 10:45 on a Sunday morning. I worried again. What if I don’t feel anything? How can anything possibly match what I felt for her sister? I heard the cry, cut the cord, held my daughter, and learned that love doesn’t divide, it multiplies.

Time passed, they grew up. They lost teeth, gained confidence. And as every parent does, I looked around at the world and knew I wasn’t up to the task. The headlines didn’t help: earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars. ISIS, hurricanes, failing economies, rising seas. What kind of world will my daughters live in? What happens when I’m gone?

And even more important: What about their immortal souls? What grace: They were born into a family who worships the living God. What responsibility: to train them in the way they should go. Will they believe? Or will they walk away as they grow older? My dearest prayer for my kids: Lord, may they grow to love you with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. May they spend themselves in the service of others. There is no magic formula for this.

I forget this sometimes. I try to carry it on my shoulders, and that’s a recipe for anxiety if there ever was one.

The Bible reminds me it’s not mine to carry. Paul, speaking to the church in Corinth, said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6–7 ESV). My role? To plant seeds, to till the soil of my kids’ hearts. But making that seed grow is beyond me.

Here’s something else about this Church we’re a part of: Kelly and I can’t provide all the water those seeds need. Our parents water them. Our siblings. And our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ—those who are younger, older, those with many kids and those with none, those who long to be married, those who long for children. They (you) water as well. You are instruments of grace in my girls’ lives. They need you. I need you.

And then it’s up to God to give the growth.

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It doesn’t mean my job is done. As that growth happens, I’m told to keep tending, watering, pruning, training. I’m not a farmer, but I imagine some days on the farm are easier than others: It’s a crisp 55 degrees, the sun peeks over the horizon, the fields are full and tall, the air smells like earth and joy. There are days like that for me as a dad.

Other days, I wake up with a cold heart. The fields are dry and cracked, or maybe that’s just how it appears to me. A house in chaos, shoes left on the stairs, a Saturday morning fight when it’s my one day to sleep in. (Kelly once said to me in the middle of one of these times: “Do you realize you're having a Paul Tripp moment right now?”)

Those times are sobering for me. My heart is exposed, the tiny throne I’ve erected crumbles beneath me, I’ve been making mud pies in a slum. God uses these times, too. How many times in Scripture has God used even the very thing he hates to show his power and redeem his people? Eleven brothers selling Joseph into slavery. Pharaoh saying, “No, you may not go.” Crowds, religious leaders, and soldiers, spilling the blood of the Son of God. He who turns even murder to his own good ends can do the same with my own sin.

And so this scene has occurred and reoccurred many times: I am tired, frustrated. Maybe I yell, but more often it’s a cold remark, devoid of love, spoken while my eyes don’t even leave the iPhone, usually a command: Knock it off. I will talk to you later. Clean. This. Up. Now.

In these times I utterly fail to image my Father. Their Father. But there’s grace here, too: I can model repentance. So I walk down the dark hallway, knock gently at the door, sit down on the edge of the bed, confess my sins to them and to God, hug them, sit with them, show them this practice that’s central to redeemed humanity. Does heaven rejoice again and again, over a sinner who repents again and again? I imagine so.

But even this isn’t enough. Dear Church: We need you. We were made for community. Our kids (not just mine, but the whole gaggle running around each week) need you. Depending on who you are, what that looks like will be different. But three things come immediately to mind:

Love them. My children need to see that they’re valued members of this body. That they have gifts to offer. They need the hands and feet of Jesus… I’m guessing that means sometimes you get to be the lap of Jesus that they climb up and sit on. Sometimes, a gentle correction. Sometimes, an enthusiastic high-five. Or some day, it might mean a rescue.
Pray for them. There’s a woman at our previous church who prays for me and each of my seven siblings every week. When I learned this, did my eyes well up? I don’t remember… but as I think about this, they do now. This gift is priceless. Pray that our kids will see the absolute beauty of Jesus Christ. Pray that they will count the cost of following him, and pay it gladly. Pray that they will pour themselves out in his service. (Come to think of it, please pray the same for me.)
Let them see your repentance, and your worship. We approach the Lord’s Table every week. I love this. After I sit down, I watch you all, taking the bread and wine, saying, This I believe. And then we sing. My girls see me do this. They see you do this. And as they grow older, I believe this visible picture of the death of Jesus will become even more important: not just their parents, but a hundred or so others, bending the knee, open hands receiving grace, with nothing to offer but all we are and all we have.

Dear Church, Kelly and I, and the rest of the parents you see looking just a little bit tired on Sunday mornings, should not, cannot, raise our kids alone. We need you. Our children need you. All of you.