Nothing has opened me up to God more than becoming a parent. I believe this is also true for the parents sitting in your congregation right now…
I remember the first time I held my oldest child in my arms just a moment after she was born. Such pure joy! I looked at this newborn baby girl and fell madly in love. I looked at my husband with tears in his eyes; we both knew our world was forever changed. We felt the immensity of it all, but it was woven with such grace and beauty and joy. It’s no wonder tears were so close in those early days. I felt blessed and newly complete, yet inadequate and so very unsure.
“Pray always.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Before children, I thought I had everything figured out, thought I could handle anything, and was never good at asking for help. Reality sets in quickly when you get that baby home. The only thing I understood was that I couldn’t do it alone. It would take my husband and I, our loved ones, and even some doctors to get us through those early days. I wasn’t yet thinking about how I might teach my child to know God, or whether or not she would accept or reject my own faith, but I was immersed in miracle and in prayer all day, every day—“Thank you, Lord! and “Oh, God, please help me.”
“Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
As a parent, I felt dependent on God almost immediately. But the first time I felt completely helpless was when my daughter was just over a year old and needed surgery. All I could do was pray. But even then, I didn’t always have the words. This would happen again and again with each child of course: when my infant son was hospitalized with RSV, when my youngest daughter was in a car accident as a teenager, and when my son was deployed overseas. I learned to surrender to God day after day, year after year. Surrender is the central focus of our relationship with God, and parenting naturally funnels us toward it.
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“For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
I also knew I would make decisions and even mistakes that might matter more than any decision I had ever made up until then, more than any other blunder I had committed previously. My children taught me so much. I pondered the big things in life more deeply. The stakes were higher. I believe I’ve become more of who I was created to be because of my children, because of all the lessons parenting offers. And my calling as a mom surfaced characteristics and values that I believe drew me closer to the heart of God.
This was a love I had never imagined, had never really known—a completely unconditional love. Although connected to something much bigger, parenting also made me feel small, so fallible, so completely inept at times. I look back and know I expected too much, too soon from the oldest (we had all three of our kids close together). I shouldn’t have assumed my youngest was just like me, a bookworm who’d rather be home reading than out with friends on a Saturday night. I wonder if her high school years might have been different if I knew more about anxiety back then. But in learning to surrender to God, to be utterly dependent upon his grace, I learned how God worked in all of that too.
Today, as I watch my son, a father himself, ponder the joys and worries of parenthood, I am grateful to have witnessed to my children this God-dependent posture. And when I hold my grandson, as he begins to let sleep fall upon him, we gaze into each other’s eyes, and I wonder if God gazes upon us in this way. Fr. Richard Rohr says, “When we allow ourselves to be perfectly received, totally gazed upon by the One who knows everything and receives everything, we are indestructible.” This describes true surrender, and this is the strength we need as parents.
Denise Utter, M.A., is a freelance consultant, writer, and a speaker—she’s been coaching with Vibrant Faith since 2018. She has worked in ministry and education for 30 years. Denise loves to inspire ministry leaders to reimagine faith formation, put families at the center of faith, and provide innovative approaches to faith formation.