A short while after our Son was born, my wife and I went to see the doctor for a bit of a check-up. As we proudly sat down in his consulting room he looked at us with a twinkle in his eye and said, `Have you felt like bouncing him off the ceiling yet?`
We were a little taken aback at first –but it soon dawned on us that here was a very wise and caring doctor who was simply inviting us to accept the reality of the situation we were in- and not to worry about it. Yes, the joy of the birth and all the rest- but simply to accept that this was going to be hard work as well
My own take on this moment in life is to ask couples with somewhat older children whether they can identify at what point the child became `a flippin` nuisance`. At what point did their `ideal` family life assume a very different perspective? Because this- I want to suggest- is not the disaster it may seem- but a moment of growth.
It`s all about expectations and assumptions isn`t it? We want a baby- we get a person.
We want to be parents- we really don`t appreciate what a long haul that is.
We want one who complies with our will- we discover we can`t hold them.
We soon learn that they`re not a fashion accessory. They not about me and my fulfilment-
they`re a precious life held on trust- and to be nurtured.
We want them as friends and all too often they need to have us as authority figures to rebel against
For so many parents – these and other assumptions and expectations about how it`s going to be are challenged or simply blown out of the water. In reality, we soon learn that it`s far easier to say: `They have their own path to follow and their own mistakes to make`. To LIVE like this is this is a different matter.
And in reality the first joy at their birth doesn`t last. In fact nothing seems to stand still. The arrival of a child marks the beginning of that seemingly never ending quest to get into some kind of sustainable routine. And we never quite get there do we?
The arrival of a child marks the beginning of a relationship which will stretch, change and challenge quite as much as it will bless us. And we shouldn`t be surprised when we find ourselves joining that chorus of parents who find themselves saying – `I simply don`t understand or recognise my child anymore`.
No, the problem is that our assumptions and expectations are very firmly fixed and they become the cause of a huge amount of unwarranted guilt or pride. Surely, we think- how they have turned out is all about us- not so. We`re only part of the equation- and it`s as well to be realistic about this from the very start.
In a few months` time we Christians will celebrate the birth of another child- the birth of Christ at Bethlehem.
But one of the interesting things to note is the way- as Christ grows- peoples` assumptions and expectations about God are, in the same way challenged or blown out of the water. This is at the heart of why –to put it mildly- Christ is such a controversial figure. He dared to suggest that when we look into His eyes we see God.
Now I want to suggest this morning that the way of faith is for many of us, very similar to that experience of parenting. Life experience and the expectations and assumptions we have grown up with from our youth tend to clash- and many of us find ourselves saying I simply don`t understand or recognise this God anymore.
But more importantly, I want to suggest that this is not the disaster it may seem- but a moment of growth. It`s a moment which more often than not means that reality is dawning- and that it`s time to shed our (often) profoundly inadequate pictures of Him.
The way of faith- in our early years especially, can seem a fairly settled and secure thing. For many it can include an experience of joy and exhilaration. Our sense of identity as a Christian can seem firm and clear. But time and experience can knock the shine off some of this. This is quite natural- but the key to adjusting and growing in faith is to let a certain reality dawn. St. John the Baptist famously said about Jesus: `He must increase- I must decrease`. And in the same way we need to allow the Lord to challenge our underlying assumption that the way of faith is `all about us`- and or needs and preferences.
We need to dispense with any picture of him that implies that he is there to pamper or amuse us. He is not the `Santa` or `sugar daddy` occasionally to be brought in as an insurance policy or comfort blanket.
No, the Christian story is about the God who comes to us in Christ. Yes, it all begins with the joy of a baby`s birth- but he grows up. He reveals the God who calls us into a lifetime`s relationship where his agenda and intentions will come to the fore. He is God, getting under my skin, asking questions of me, calling me to maturity and stretching my horizons.
We sometimes play a little game with our children don`t we? We ask one another about their appearance.
`They`ve got grandma`s nose`- or `uncle Fred`s dimpled chin` we say. But I would ask us all to look again.
Who do we think this is in front of us? We might say: If we say, `my son` or `my daughter` and – perhaps we`re correct- but only up to a point. And it`s Baptism that reminds us that there is perhaps something more significant going on.
The question is not whether we love them. It`s whether we love our children enough to rid ourselves of our expectations and assumptions about who they will be. Again- we do not own them. They are not ours to shape, control or use for our own gratification. They are held on trust- to be nurtured in such a way that through our love they may come to know the love of God.
It`s this that turns the hard work of parenting into a holy calling.
But notice the similarity with the way of faith. Jesus asked the disciples `Who do you say I am?` He`s challenging us to rid ourselves of our false assumptions and expectations about God. And we know how inane and stupid some of those pictures can be.
The point is that when your life experience finally leads you to get disillusioned with the pictures of clouds, harps and the old man with the grey beard; and when this Santa in the sky becomes inadequate for adult living, give thanks that reality is dawning and take a look at Christ.
To discover God in Him is unforgettable- unmistakable. Because you`re about to let go of not only of some rather odd pictures of God- you`re letting go of all those expectations and assumptions of what you thought your life was about. And Jesus tells us that`s like being born all over again.