Friday, November 23, 2018

Good Father?

Last Sunday, my husband and I were part of a musical team that led songs of worship at Bow River Alliance Church in Carseland, a small hamlet east of Calgary. The team leader asked me to introduce the song "Good, Good Father."

"Today is the birthday of my only child," I began, "and when he was an infant, I just hated to see him cry."

Of course, a crying baby can be distressing, especially to a brand new mother. Usually it is more distressing to the mother than to anyone else around, yet even when we were alone at home, I felt somehow I should be able to keep my baby happy and contented.

He wasn't a colicky child, and the crying was primarily when he was hungry or needed a diaper change--easily resolved--and he was content again. However, getting him to sleep was a different matter. Often when I put him down to sleep, he would cry. So I would pick him back up and hold him until he drifted off to sleep. This was a precious time for me, holding my newborn, cuddling him, even napping with him in my arms while he napped. But those of you who have had children will already know why this isn't ideal as a regular habit and what happened as a result.

My desire to care well for my child was at the core of what I did, but when a child becomes accustomed to always going to sleep in their parents' arms, that's the way they always want to go to sleep. When they wake in the night (as infants do), it's difficult for them to return to sleep without the routine of those same arms around them.

As we were approaching six months and I was going to have to return to work soon, I knew I needed to break my habit of cuddling him to sleep. I tried to let him cry himself to sleep, but even just writing that statement revives anxious thoughts now even 26 years later. As a nursing mommy, hormone-laden, still battling postpartum issues, I just couldn't leave him to cry.

"He shouldn't have to cry," was my thought.

But I was getting very sleep deprived and life came to a screeching halt whenever it was time for him to nap or sleep. I expressed this to my doctor in a followup visit. He looked at me quizzically.

"It's good for him to cry," the doctor asserted, "It's healthy and very normal and you should let him cry."

I must have looked at him in shock, because he continued. "It strengthens his lungs, and the muscles in his core."

"So let him cry," the doctor urged. "He'll be okay."

Disclaimer: This was specifically about crying himself to sleep. If you google the subject, some writers won't agree with the doctor's reasons, however, the aim of letting a baby learn to go to sleep on his own is well-supported by recent studies reported by The Telegraph, CNN and Harvard. The act of self-soothing and self-regulating is a life skill important to a child's development. 

It took quite some time, but my son eventually settled and routinely went to sleep in his crib by himself. He also was able to get back to sleep most times he woke in the night.

So how does all this relate to a song?

Each of us have our own biases regarding what we define as "good." It can be subjective but generally we reach agreement on many things that are "not good." When life takes a negative turn, and we are impacted by illness, problems, broken relationships or bereavement, we'd probably concur that life isn't "good." These are the times when some may grow angry or lose faith in God, blaming him for allowing these bad things in their life. We don't really believe we should have to cry. We don't think it's good.

Confession: I have been there.

Why does God allow bad things to happen? Negative circumstances? Cancer? Disease? War? A blog post doesn't allow time or space to develop this thought fully and thoroughly, and many others much more articulate than I have written volumes about this. (See Dr. Kirk Durston's take here and here.)

God is love. He is just. He is kind. And he is all-knowing. He knows the end from the beginning. He has the big picture. He does give us good gifts, as the scripture promises:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:11
But as we also see from examples in scripture and from our own lives, he doesn't hesitate to let us cry when it will help us learn to self-regulate and mature in dealing responsibly with issues in our lives. While Job was a man of God, he was subjected to great loss and distress. Yet in the middle of the test, though he felt he couldn't see God's goodness, he made this declaration in Job 23:10:
But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Joni Erickson Tada, reflecting on the 50th anniversary of being a quadriplegic says, "Ten words have set the course for my life: God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves. Like allowing Jesus to suffer death by crucifixion so that the world would be saved,  Consider also the story of Joseph and his suffering: sold into slavery by his brothers, he endured false accusations and imprisonment, but eventually he saved many from famine. He told his brothers, ‘God intended [my suffering] for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’” Gen. 50:20.

So when we feel God is not being good, or fair, consider that he may be testing us, trying us, so that we can come out the other side as pure gold. Can I learn to trust my good father, in faith and patient endurance? James 1:2-4 instructs us to "Consider it pure joy...whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

Besides joy, suffering from our good father can also bring hope and a new sense of His love. In Romans 5, we are challenged to "glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us."

So my only conclusion here is that crying is good for us. A gift from our good, good Father, who has our best interests in mind. He promises ultimately that he will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). But in the middle of the pain, he is near to the brokenhearted, he is an ever-present comforter, saving those whose spirit is crushed (Psalm 34:18). He can handle our tears, in fact, he keeps track of all our sorrows, and catches each tear in a bottle (Psalm 58:8).

This is our hope, our joy, and our faith-stretching confidence in our good Father: he is working in all things for our good.


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