Author: Brian Donahue
It hit me in my pride like a sucker punch. I was a sucker and reality was the clenched fist doing the punching. I didn’t know anything about being a parent, how hard it was, or the stamina and patience it took to be a good one.
I was standing in the grocery store checkout line with my beautiful, perfect little angel. She was about 1 year old, and I was considering myself to be a candidate for dad of the year. My daughter, Payton, was a gift from the Lord, and I was God’s gift to parenting. Or so I thought!
Before having kids, I would witness the occasional outburst of an unruly and misbehaving child in public such as in the grocery store checkout line or a restaurant. The screaming child would go on and on and the parent would just stand there seeming to do absolutely nothing. Nothing. They would just stare off into the distance like a Broadway actor pretending to fall in love on stage or dreaming about a better future.
I would click my tongue, shake my head, and declare to myself, “That’s a parenting problem! Obviously, that parent allows this nasty child to get away with such behavior at home!” Additionally, I would say to myself, “That will never happen to me if I ever become a parent!”
You’re probably shaking your head and smiling at my ridiculous assumption that I knew anything about being a parent when I had never actually been one before. Well, years later, after a whopping one year of experience under my belt, I thought I had it all together until that fateful day when it happened to me!
I was a good dad. My daughter was a laid-back, well-behaving little girl who loved to please her parents with her obedience. She hardly ever cried in anger or selfishness. I believed that I was raising the world’s first perfect child. Then, my wife and I take our perfect little family out to eat.
We had done this several times in the past and felt we were excelling in this area. We were above-average parents in our minds and had no fear of being publicly humiliated by our perfect little angel. Until that night! Suddenly, for no reason at all, my little angel became demon-possessed. She started screaming and screaming and screaming at the top of her lungs. I’m talking about the type of screaming that makes you want to curl up and fade into oblivion, it’s so loud.
My wife and I made several attempts to please this alien sitting before us, this person we didn’t know existed, this spontaneous combustion of rebellion and selfishness. We failed and we felt like failures. In a few moments, I found myself staring off into the distance trying to get to my happy place. I sat there in stunned shock as the realization hit me: my child had lost her ever-loving mind! I mean, what was the matter with her? Did she not know the love she enjoyed and the great privilege of having us as her parents?
As I sat there just like a Broadway actor, staring off into the horizon of a better future, I came into remembrance of my attitude towards parents in my previous lifetime. I call it the “time before” which is that space in my life when I knew nothing that I thought I knew about anything. It was a spiritual moment for me as the Lord began to minister to my heart. My pride began to break down while sitting at that table as I realized this one-year-old was incapable of being reasoned with at that moment.
It was I who needed to be reasoned with by the Holy Spirit. My foolish pride had convinced me that I was more capable and patient than I was. So far, besides the sleepless nights, parenting my daughter had seemed easier than I had imagined. Therefore, this over-assuming first-time parent had leaped all too quickly to the conclusion that I was a genius-level parent. As my daughter screamed her face off, I repented every prideful and arrogant judgment I had ever placed on those poor parents in my past.
We couldn’t even finish our meal. The waitress was nice to us as we asked for our check and boxes so we could take our food home to eat later. We needed to escape the current humiliation as soon as possible and allow the people around us to eat in peace.
As we walked out with our screaming child and our food in our hands, we must have looked pathetic and embarrassed, because I noticed something: an older couple sitting in a booth who were watching this spectacle take place. They titled their heads in apparent solidarity and gave me a look that seemed to say, “It’s going to be okay. It happens to the best of us. Keep going!”
At that moment, I was reminded of the grace of God and how amazing it is. In that chaos, God was teaching us patience, humility, and a little about the perfect love He has for us. Moments prior, I wanted to drop-kick my kid through the front window of the restaurant! However, as I began to recognize the grace of God over my life and how He loved me through some pretty dark and shameful times of my own, He never abandoned me or stopped loving me.
He let me kick and scream and embarrass myself until I calmed down enough to recognize that He loved me and nothing I could ever do would take away that love. As I put my daughter in her car seat and strapped her in a little tighter than normal, I kissed her little red cheek and said, “I love you, my daughter.”
She paused for a moment, sucked her snot back up her nose, looked at me, and proceeded to scream her face off even louder. Thankfully, I was now refreshed in the grace of God and had been gifted an extra measure of love and patience for this wonderful gift God had blessed us with.
Also, it was a good thing my wife was driving home.