I do not want to be a bad mother. I don’t want to raise cynical kids. I want to come at parenting with faith and hope. I want to have a happy and healthy marriage, and I want to have happy, faithful kids. But I reject the pervasive cultural lie that a happy marriage and the faithful kids are somehow the byproducts of some rigorous and largely unattainable personal or moral perfection.
Lies have power only if no one is willing to tell the truth. The Bible reminds us that the truth can set us free. But I can count on one hand the women and men I know who, in the first days and weeks of parenthood, when they were bewildered and tired and afraid, turned to the Bible or got down on their knees to pray for guidance. It doesn’t really occur to many of us. It didn’t occur to me, and I’m a pastor.
At any rate, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit that liberates, is present in a lot of places, and many of us might miss it if we’re not careful. In the days and weeks and months after my daughter Fiona was born, I experienced grace, and the Word of truth—that sustaining hope, the relief of laughter and shared pain—in conversation and relationship with friends, particularly others who were asking the same questions and looking for the same courage in parenting that I was. The lie that everyone else had it together, had their babies on a schedule, and had no doubts or fears was banished by the comforting knowledge that I was not alone. In the parlance of my Wesleyan tradition, these relationships that brought such knowledge could be called Christian conferencing, or holy conversation—and they’re a means of grace.
There are other, critical, means of grace in Christian life, even for those in the first years of parenting, though some of these means may require hiring a sitter. Kids can share in Holy Communion and hang out while parents read the Bible and pray. The very young and unvaccinated may not want to accompany mom and dad when they’re visiting the sick and imprisoned and working with the poor.
Lee Hull Moses and I have been friends for a long time now, and, I believe, we’ve been useful in helping each other find an anchor, or some solid ground, in the turbulent first years of pregnancy and parenting. Lee has been a means of grace in my life. In the weeks when our daughters were both so new, I know how much better I felt when I called her and found she was as hungry for adult conversation as I was, as excited and exhausted. When I talked to Lee, I was no longer the only new mother in the world. We could manage it, maybe, if we stuck together.
We’ve been nervous, as we’ve told people about this book and tried to find the words to describe it, that we were portraying ourselves as “having it all figured out.” We’d really rather not contribute to the big cultural lie. Instead, we’re hopeful that as we share our lives—the trials and tribulations and incredible joys—other parents will feel inspired to reflect on their own experiences, and perhaps even to consider new ways in which their own faith is relevant to their identities as parents. We hope that, to borrow a phrase, others might gain “eyes to see” the means and very real presence of God’s grace already at work in their lives.
Being a pastor is a wonderful calling, for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons is, for me, that I have developed over the years of doing this work a growing familiarity with Scripture and the hymns of the church, a familiarity that increasingly allows me to engage with the ancient stories of faith and to hear echoes of my own story within them. I was pregnant with Fiona over the Advent and Christmas season, and whenever our congregation sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” with its line about “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight,” the phrase captured my imagination. That’s what pregnancy and parenthood felt like to me, even in those first weeks: the hopes and fears of all the years. All those hopes and all those fears might have proved significantly more daunting, however, if I hadn’t had the reminder that a lot of women, a lot of people, have faced hopes and fears, bound up together, since the beginning of time.
Bromleigh McCleneghan and Lee Hull Moses have written a book about being not-perfect parents in a not-perfect world. Hopes and Fears is a joyous celebration of child-rearing in which any parent—no matter how perfect—can share. This is a perfect Holiday gift for any young parent!
This article is adapted and excerpted from Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People by Bromleigh McCleneghan and Lee Hull Moses, copyright © 2012 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
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Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People
by Bromleigh McCleneghan and Lee Hull Moses
Bromleigh McCleneghan and Lee Hull Moses have written a book about being not-perfect parents in a not-perfect world. The result is a joyous celebration of child-rearing in which any parent—no matter how perfect—can share. Hopes and Fears is neither a “how-to” book nor a mere meditation. Rather, the authors seek to find the beautiful and the spiritual in the sometimes mundane activities that parents have performed since the beginning of history, while at the same time allowing beautiful and spiritual insights of the past to inform and shape the activities of modern parenting.
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