J.P. Southey said:
The Lord’s answers to our prayers are infinitely perfect, and eternity will show that often when we were asking for a stone that looked like bread, He was giving us bread that looked like stone.
I, for one, know what it’s like to have asked for something in prayer only to have God send an answer that looked like stone. At some point during Tonya’s pregnancy with our first child, Ryan, it dawned on me that someone was going to have to babysit the kid. At that time Tonya was teaching middle-school and her income was necessary for us to pay our bills. So either she was going to have to quit her job and become a full-time mother, which would also mean selling our house and downsizing, or some other arrangements would have to be made. By the way, neither one of our mothers could help out because both were still working at the time, and we couldn’t afford to pay an outside babysitter.
And so we put our house on the market for a reasonable price and I began praying that God would send us a buyer. If we could sell and get that big mortgage off us, Tonya could resign from teaching and we could buy a smaller house that we could afford on my pastor’s income. Or perhaps God would send me to a church that offered a parsonage as a part of their salary package. Either way made sense to me, and I devoted a ton of prayer requests to the situation.
But as the months passed it became increasingly obvious that God wasn’t going to let us sell our house. Oh, we had plenty of people look at it, but no one was serious enough to buy it. Then, on June 17, Ryan was born. Since school started back the first of August, we had a window of six weeks or so with Tonya at home with him. After that, though, the inevitable came to pass as the first day of school rolled around and Tonya headed off to her job. That left you know who to step up to the plate and babysit. I was available because we pastors, for whatever it’s worth, have the option of setting our own schedules.
Now, did I want to become Mister Mom? No. Did I think that I could be a better babysitter than Tonya? Of course not. Was I a little ticked off at God for not letting us sell the house? Yep. You see, in my mind, I had asked for a piece of bread and God had sent a rock. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Ryan. That wasn’t the issue. It was just that I thought that Tonya would make an infinitely superior babysitter for him.
Anyway, to make a long story short, I kept Ryan every day, from morning until afternoon, for all the years until he started kindergarten. Tonya took over on weekends and during the summers, but the rest of the time the responsibility was mine. My daily routine consisted of fixing his meals, bathing him, cleaning up his messes, making the beds, tidying up the house, and doing the laundry. If I had any spare time, or if Ryan took a nap, I worked on sermon preparation. Any pastoral visiting I needed to do had to wait until Tonya got home from school. Trust me, all that wasn’t how I would have chosen to carry out my life and ministry during those years. It was, however, the answer that God sent.
And do you know what God did a few years later when Tonya became pregnant with our second child, Royce? He kept that exact same plan in place, and I served as Royce’s babysitter until he started school, just as I had done for Ryan. I did get a slight reprieve with Royce because he attended preschool for a couple of years before he started kindergarten. Other than that, though, my years of keeping him looked a lot like a rerun of my years keeping Ryan. Oh, and just for the record, along about the time Royce started school a guy called me out of the clear blue and asked if we would be interested in selling our house. I answered, “Yes,” and a few weeks later the papers were signed. I remain convinced that if Tonya and I had had a third child we wouldn’t have sold that house until I had babysat that child as well!
Well, all of that seems like another lifetime ago now. In a few days Ryan will turn fifteen and this coming December Royce will turn twelve. I have my weekdays to myself now, just as I did before the boys came along. But you know what? I’ve actually reached a point where I miss my babysitting era. I think about the fact that back then I could still protect the boys from life’s heartbreaks. Surely friends like Barney, Bear In The Big Blue House, PB and J Otter, and Teletubbies meant them no harm. Also, there was such a sweetness to those days, an innocence that children get robbed off, little by little, as they grow up. Yes, it’s all a part of the ebb and flow of life. I understand that. I also understand that God wants little boys to mature into fine young men who serve Him out in the real world. But don’t blame me for sometimes longing for those simpler years. The fact is, they allowed me to forge an intimate relationship with each of my two sons, a relationship that continues to grow deeper all the time.
I’ve heard more than one pastor bemoan the fact that he missed out on his kid’s childhood because he spent so much time doing “church work.” Well, I’ve now accumulated enough wisdom to realize that God was doing me a loving favor by seeing to it that such a thing didn’t happen to me. There I was, thinking all the time that He was being mean and sending me “stone” when in reality He was sending me some of the best “bread” I’ll ever know in this life. Truth be told, it’s bread that I wouldn’t mind tasting again if such a thing was possible. But the best I can do now is catch a whiff of its aroma by looking at pictures or watching old videotapes. That fleeting smell always brings a smile to my face and reminds me again just how wonderful that bread was, and it makes me question how in the world I could ever have classified it as stone.