By Wayland Shih
The few weeks leading up to the birth of my first child were a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and fear. I had never developed paternal feelings and emotions toward infants. I never volunteered to babysit, I never had the desire to hold someone else’s baby (they just seemed slimy and dirty), and I always sought a place of quiet and relative solitude. Part of me was gripped with fear — that I would become bitter at my child with how my life would be changed by his addition — goodbye lazy weekends, sleeping in, watching sports, romance, and autonomy with my time at home, with friends, and at work. Because of this, I feared that I would not be able to provide the love that my child would need. How would I be able to love a child when I never saw myself as being able to or experience the capacity to love and sacrifice in this way? But the moment my son was born, God’s Spirit covered me and quieted my fears. There is no other way to explain it except that I was immersed in the presence of His love.
One of my favorite stories about Jesus is of Him walking on water and calling out Peter. Like Peter, I was so focused on my worries, my plans, my changes, and my own feelings of inadequacy that I started to drown in my anxieties and fears. This is a habit of mine. Instead of trusting God and walking with security and confidence even in uncertainty, I allow the worries to get the best of me, and in some cases become paralyzed in inaction. I focus on how everything revolves around me instead of keeping my eyes on the plans God has purposed, and mostly His plans aren’t about me at all.
I have been learning in recent years that my worries are usually self-serving. No matter how I break it down, the fears and anxiety I experience are rooted in selfishness. I can’t be a Husband and Father if this is how I live my life. I am unable to build up my family selflessly if most of my thoughts are flooded with what I might be missing out on or with the constant worry if I am doing enough, as if there is a checklist of what a good Christian Husband and Father should be. This has led me to a prison of doubt, comparisons, and the anxiety of failure.
I am taking greater comfort now in Jesus’ call to Peter. It was Jesus who called Peter to take courage, to not be afraid, and to “Come.” When I’m with my kids, I’m often reminded that He called me out to be more than a contributor to half their genetic make up, but to step out and be a Father, He will equip me with whatever and however He needs me to be so that I can be His vessel to pour out His love and prepare my children for whatever He has planned for them. When I am with my wife, I am reminded that it was He who called me to “Man up!” and to change my self-serving desires as a Husband years ago, and reminded me that every word that passes my mouth and every action in the home should build up my wife.
I love coming home and just being with my family. If they want to watch a program and I’d need to give up a ballgame, I’ve got no problem with it. If I need to volunteer for their extracurricular activities over the weekend, that’s just fine with me. If something needs to be fixed, installed, or cleaned in the home, I think I’m doing a better job of addressing it in a timely manner (I haven’t received the glare and sigh of disappointment as of late!). Of course I want to sleep in, and watch “sports ball,” but my eyes are more on Jesus and the role He has charged me with. All the other stuff doesn’t matter so much anymore. There is enough time in a season for that leisure and I haven’t felt I have been lacking.
I am also now more comfortable with failing and making mistakes, not worrying so much about what a perfect Husband or Father, or what a Christian family should look like or feel like. I often ask my family if I have said or done something that has hurt them. It’s a blessing to hear them out and to seek forgiveness and receive forgiveness. There is tremendous freedom in that kind of love and it binds us even closer. Those things about perception and keeping a list only stokes my anxiety and takes away the freedom and joy of being those roles.
Feelings of fear and doubt will creep in, especially in times when I don’t see a moral right and wrong and big decisions need to be made. We moved recently, so I struggled with worry…“Is this the right decision? What if this is a mistake? How would this affect my years of service before I retire?” My kids are growing up fast so I worry “Have I done enough to foster their faith in Jesus? Are they developing community in the church? Am I doing enough to develop their skills and giftings?” I usually don’t know the answer. In those moments I wrestle with those thoughts and still my heart and find strength in God’s declaration to Peter, “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” My faith will fail and it’s easy to make everything about me, but as He calls me to “Come,” to be a Father, to be a Husband, and to “Man Up!”, as long as I am moving towards Jesus with my eyes fixed on Him, even in the storm of fear, anxiety, and doubt, I remember that His faithfulness will never fail and His purposes will be fulfilled even if He has to reach down and pull me out of the water.