These emails and notifications contain (mostly) good stuff: the tips and strategies, the road-tested ideas of ways to live well as a family in this challenging time of COVID-19. Yes, things really settled down for us as a family once Jannah’s “Epic Timetable” (that’s the file name) kicked in. Yes, we’ve been getting out for a morning walk before “work” and man it makes a difference to life with three boys. And yep, Teddy Bear spotting—309 bears is the record so far.
But there’s something about the challenge of this moment that’s showing up the limits of schedules, creative prompts, and psychological tips. It’s not that such things aren’t helpful—they can be. But I’m realising I can’t let techniques lead my fathering, as if my role as parent were a kind of coach-counsellor, wrapped about by a suite of soft management tools. Living well as a family in this strange time, and fathering well, is primarily not a management problem—however much it might feel like that at the moment. Indeed, I find that if I put my trust in such techniques, I increasingly function like a domestic version of Anna Rampton, the fictional Director of Better at the BBC: “the fact is that we need to identify what we do best and find more ways of doing less of it better.” Yup. It’s that clear.
And it is, then, a question of trust. I find myself obsessively tidying, or tweaking the schedule to maintain a Work-From-Home Business-As-Usual while trying to please three lads who are stoked Dad’s around all the time. I notice these things; and I ask, Where does my trust lie? How can I love (rather than manage) the people I’m in lockdown with?
Here’s what I do: I get up, and shower, and I go to a quiet place. I’m learning to do what the writer of Psalm 143 has learned before me: “I hide myself in you”—I hide in God. I set aside my schemes and parenting skills, my ordering of our small life in the midst of this great disorder. And in this still and simple place, I turn and trust. “Good morning, Lord God.”Cares come to mind—I hand them over. My sons and my wife come to mind—I ask “Lord, what do you want to say to me about my life with this one or that one?” And in this hiding place I sometimes remember: parenting—indeed, life with others full-stop—is gift. These boys—these people—have been entrusted to me for a time. They’re not an arena for Better; they’re not a coaching challenge. They’re being gifted to us. And while I find the gift so challenging at times, the Lord knows what he is doing—best to trust and ask him how best to honour his gift today.
The day that flows out of this hiding place is as varied as ever; it is just as likely to contain problems and upsets. But there’s an ease to things, a question of trust that is settled and not up for grabs, not vulnerable to this or that hot tip for how I can be Better. I’ve an inkling—just an inkling—of what Psalm 37:23 means when it talks about the Lord delighting in a person’s way. How is this? That the Creator of all things should delight in our ways! It’s there in verses 3 and 4 of the same Psalm:
“Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the Lord…”