When my firstborn son was a toddler, I had a particularly memorable bad dream. I was with a small group of familiar faces. In the way that only makes sense in dreams, we knew we needed to get to a certain destination and we were headed in that (ambiguous) direction. Determined though we were, around every corner of our journey we were met by another life-threatening obstacle. Quicksand, falling rocks, medieval weaponry—the obstacles became more and more terrifying and relentless. In the dream, I remember feeling real fear. I also began to dread the next turn in the journey because I knew something else was coming, most likely more awful than the previous passage.
I don’t know about you, but this dream feels strangely similar to my experience as a parent. No one ever warned me about the anxiety that can come with parenting before I had my firstborn, but I felt it almost immediately upon his arrival.
“Is he getting enough to eat and gaining weight properly?”
“Is he sleeping enough? Should he be napping more?”
I often thought, “Once he’s a little bit older, there won’t be as much to worry about.” Then came the typical toddler concerns.
“Is he saying enough words?”
“Is he developing on schedule?”
“Should he be napping more?!”
The anxiety did not, in fact, go away over time. I now have two more young children and still find myself anxious as I parent them.
“Why does it seem like they fight all the time?”
“Am I reading to them enough?”
“How can I help my children seek justice and walk humbly in this world?”
No matter what circumstances you face or how old your children are, I believe that fear and anxiety often accompany parents. God has placed these little humans into our care, and the weight of that responsibility, combined with the threats we face, and the decisions we have to make…it’s all heavy. And I think fear and anxiety continuously try to convince us that they will go away when the circumstances change.
“If I just figure out where my son is going to preschool, I’ll stop worrying about it.”
“Once I get back to my regular work routine, I’ll feel more settled.”
“When the school year starts and the school calendar is finalized, I’ll have more peace of mind.”
While the changing of circumstances can perhaps curb the anxieties of parenthood, they cannot cure it. Whether it’s a developmental milestone or a global pandemic, there will always be causes for concern or worry as we raise and parent our kids. Around every corner, there are new obstacles, challenges, and questions.
Fortunately, the memorably bad dream I had didn’t end there. And God doesn’t abandon us to a place of endless obstacles and anxiety.
The group I was with finally made it to what we thought was our destination. It was a place of respite and peace. Then we were shown an image of the next part of our journey, and there was a voice speaking the same phrase over and over again. I heard the words repeated, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”
When I woke up from this dream, I knew I’d heard that phrase before but could not remember where or when. It didn’t take long to find it at the end of Psalm 23:
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Rather than being continuously flooded with fear and anxiety as we raise our children (even in the darkest valley, in the shadow of death), we can trust in the presence and promises of God to be with us. We can rely on God’s goodness when the world is scary and uncertain. We can rely on his mercy as we navigate parenting, even if we misstep.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow us....