Posted in Faith, Family

When You’ve Got No Clue How to Parent

He tends his flock like a shepherd;
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.”
-Isaiah 40:11 (NIV)

Have you ever had a season of parenting that you were deeply unsure how to navigate? To be fair, that’s every season of parenting for me. But there are some moments that are more profoundly uncertain than others, moments when I feel not only like I have no earthly clue what to do with and for my children, but I don’t even know how to help them.

I’m there right now. I will spare you the details because my kids are old enough to care right now about me spilling their beeswax, but suffice to to say that it involves epic meltdowns, me getting screamed at, and a child goofing off with their friends at inappropriate times. We have no clue what to do here. UGHHHH!!! WHY IS IT SO HARD?

Jeff and I are not the first parents to feel this way- not now, and not throughout history. In this blog post, I’m going to share what God had to say VERY CLEARLY AND EMPHATICALLY to me during one such season and also what Yahweh had to say to our forbears in the faith, the people of ancient Judah, when it came to navigating uncertain terrain.

When Cam, the older of my two kids, was about 8 months old, he lapsed into an epic sleep regression. Four months of fighting bedtime for hours, refusing naps, awake for 2-3 hours every single night. It was BAD, bad. WICKED BAD! If you want to play the “Well, did you try…” game, the answer is yes we did. We tried it all and nothing worked. I questioned every decision I made and cried buckets. I got a maximum of five interrupted hours of sleep each night for four months on end and spent at least as much time each day and night trying, either actively or passively, to get him to sleep.

One night, I sat in the glider in his nursery, rocking a stubbornly wide-awake Mister Cameron, with my heart aching so profoundly that I felt physical pain in my body. He needed sleep badly and I did not know how to help him get it. We were both beyond exhausted and I didn’t know what to do.

As I rocked, I asked God to give me a Scripture- any Scripture, to help. I was not even picky about what the verse had to offer- comfort, guidance, whatever. I just needed a WORD in that moment. Not often do I hear concrete words in my head from God, but in that moment I clearly heard,

“Isaiah 40:11”

And that was it.

No lines upon which to meditate, just an unfamiliar address that, as far as I could recall, meant nothing to me. “SO! UNHELPFUL!” I huffed to myself (and also to God) and continued rocking away, grumbling about random Bible addresses that WERE NOT IN THE LEAST BIT HELPFUL IN MY MOMENT OF TRIAL!

Awhile later, after I had placed him in his crib and retired to my own bed to listen to him not sleeping on the baby monitor, I finally remembered to look up Isaiah 40:11.

It reads, in the NIV which is the Bible I was using at the time:

“He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.”

I felt all breath whoosh out of my body and I physically doubled over with the impact those words had on me.

First of all, one thing to know about me is that Handel’s Messiah, Handel in general really, is my jam. This is a text from a Messiah aria, it’s the front half of “He Shall Feed His Flock/Come Unto Him,” which is generally sung by the Mezzo-Soprano and the Soprano soloists. I had never sung “He Shall Feed His Flock” portion as it’s typically done by a Mezzo, but I had sung the “Come Unto Him” part more times than I can count and just hearing the introduction makes me weep because it’s so gorgeous.

Take a listen here (this singer does both halves herself):

The personal hug from God aside, the imagery associated with the verse is breathtaking, and its implications for a struggling parent are powerful.

“He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads those who have young.”

In a moment when I felt I was failing to sooth and comfort my child, I pictured God holding Cameron close to His heart- so close that Cam could hear God’s heart beating. We are told as parents that our heartbeats are very soothing to infants because of the months they spent in the womb, cocooned in warmth and safety to the rhythm of a heartbeat. Skin-to-skin contact is scientifically proven to have a measurable impact on attachment and on babies’ vital signs. The imagery here is incredibly powerful: God holding Cam close and soothing him when I could not, holding him so close that Cam could hear God’s heartbeat, which would be even more nascent to him than mine…just wow.

And gently leading those with young! It’s me. I’m “those with young.” God could carry Cam and lead me on my journey with him at the same time.

What’s more, I realized that to God, I am also a lamb. He also gathers me in His arms and carries me close to His heart. I’m His child every bit as much as my children are and the while the world is quick to look past a mom and her needs to those of her child, God is not.

In terms of context within the Bible, Isaiah chapter 40 begins what many scholars call “Second Isaiah,” a group of prophecies that are widely believed to have been penned during the exile of the people of Judah in Babylon. Jerusalem had been gutted by Babylonian troops and the Temple, the place where the Judeans’ faith held that Yahweh resided and was to be worshipped, had been burned to the ground. Much of the Judean population had been taken into exile in the city of Babylon where they were forced to learn to do life in a foreign culture and to wonder where their God was, both physically and metaphorically. The Temple was no more, they were far from their promised land, what comfort was there for them? Had Yahweh abandoned them? First Isaiah (Chapters 1-39) contains some scoldings, admonishments and warnings about the cost of unfaithfulness to Yahweh – one might even conjecture that the Judean people had landed their very own selves in exile by their disobedience and failure to keep Yahweh’s laws. If they were anything like me, many Judeans might have actually believed this to be true and would have carrying worry and guilt as they wondered how to raise their children in an unprecedented situation.

Despite all of that, Isaiah 40 begins with the words, “Comfort ye, my people” (which, incidentally, are also the first words sung in The Messiah). Isaiah 40 speaks comfort to a people who are unsure what to do next, a people who surely had to be wondering how to raise their children under these new circumstances. They are reminded that Yahweh is with them guiding their steps, protecting them and their children, even when they don’t know what steps to take.

Back to my present moment. I’m questioning my decisions in this moment, even questioning whether my decisions in the past have CAUSED this moment. So that’s fun. I’m writing this post more for me than for anyone else, I needed to be reminded of this story today and I figured it was time to write it down so the details don’t escape me next time I come into a similar season, because it’s not like it ever stops happening, right?

I’m going to end this post by encouraging you to meditate for a moment on Isaiah 40:11. What images does it bring to mind that you can hold close to your heart? In what ways do you need for God to hold you close right now? In what ways do you need guidance with your “young?” What comfort can you draw from the knowledge that God holds your babies, no matter how old they are, at all times- when you’re holding them yourself and when you can’t? I am going to hold these images close to my heart in the coming hours and days. I may not make all the right decisions because I’m not perfect, but God is carrying my kids and me along the way. Praying for His comfort for me, for them, and for you and yours.