One of the major challenges associated with being a father is leading your family through change. Recently, I was asked to write an article about stewarding the transitions associated with early adulthood. As my wife Elise and I worked on this article together, we enjoyed reflecting on some lessons God has taught us over the past eleven years of our marriage.
Some of those lessons are directly related to parenting; most are not. Regardless, I trust that these lessons will be a help to you as you navigate change in your life and shepherd your wife and children through change as well.
First Year of Marriage [Kristopher]
I was surprised by how difficult our first year of marriage was. Challenges included a cross-country move, new jobs, and grad school. On a typical evening, Elise and I would talk on the way home (we carpooled) and over dinner for about 30 minutes. After that, Elise would say goodnight for the evening, and I would hit the books. I was often exhausted. What did God teach me that year?
1. Be humble.
God used year one of marriage to expose my selfishness. I remember going into it thinking how godly I was. God humbled me by giving me fresh insights into my sinful heart almost daily. Elise and I never fought; but we had more conflict and misunderstanding than I care to admit. These were important growing times for me.
Transition may reveal your selfishness too. Avoid blaming your sin on your circumstances. Instead, admit the ways you need to grow and ask God for help.
2. Avoid overloading.
During my first several months in seminary, I was a full-time first-year teacher and grad student, and I commuted three hours per day. I barely made it to Thanksgiving break.
Sometimes busyness can’t be avoided. However, remember that God created us to need rest (Ps 127:12). During times of transition, we are often test-driving new schedules. We need to be quick to admit signs of burnout and nimble to make necessary adjustments.
God has blessed us with four wonderful children––three girls and a boy. Our oldest arrived while Kristopher was in grad school, and the next three came every two years like clockwork. With each child, big changes began the day we received a positive pregnancy test and continued rapidly through the child’s first birthday. Here are some lessons we learned.
1. Prepare ahead of time.
You may think I’m referring to stocking your freezer or cleaning your house, but no. I believe the best way to prepare for a second child is by training your first one. Ephesians 6:1–3 emphasizes the importance of teaching your kids to obey. How well they obey, in conjunction with independent play, will directly affect your ability to do things like nurse uninterrupted or catch a quick nap.
2. Remember your priorities.
It’s easy to get frustrated when you’re forced to take a step back from ministry involvement due to the demands of parenting. However, you must remember that serving looks different in various seasons of life, and clarifying your priorities brings peace.
Titus 2:4-5 speaks to the priorities a Christian mother should have. The order is 1) God, 2) your husband, 3) your children, and 4) ministry outside the home.
After grad school, we moved to California, where I became an assistant pastor. Little did we know that God’s plan was for me to become the interim pastor just one month into the job! The next year was the hardest one we have faced, but God was so faithful. Here are two lessons I learned.
1. We need the body of Christ.
While I was interim pastor, Elise experienced a difficult pregnancy. The day the doctor prescribed three months of full bed rest I was in shock. When I shared the news that night in prayer meeting, our church family rose to the occasion. They sent meals, helped with childcare––one dear friend even ironed my shirts!
Our hearts were knit together in powerful ways through that time. We needed them and they needed me. Church members always need one another, but we sense our need more during times of transition.
2. You will look back and be thankful.
It seemed like I may become the next senior pastor, but God had other plans. After nine months of leading the church, I went back to being the assistant pastor. At first, that was discouraging, but God’s way is best. The next five years were some of the happiest, most spiritually prosperous our family has known.
I cannot imagine my life apart from those nine grueling months or the five years that followed. God shaped us in ways we cannot describe and blessed us with friendships we will treasure for a lifetime. We did not choose the path for ourselves, but we are so grateful for what the Lord did.
God has allowed me to face two periods of sustained physical struggle during our marriage. First, while pregnant with our second-born, I was on strict bed rest for three months. Then, this past year, I got sick with Covid. Here are some lessons God taught me.
1. Look for ways to remain productive.
God created us to work, even when we are limited physically. Here are some ways that I tried to do that. While I was on bed rest, though couch-ridden, I tried to engage with our one-year-old daughter. I did my best to encourage others through phone calls or texts. Also, God gave me a chance to invest in a young lady who was helping care for me and our daughter. These are just things that I did. You may want to focus on prayer or listening to an audio book or the Bible. Be creative and keep your mind active.
2. Focus on pleasing God in the moment, not on pleasing people (Gal 1:10; 1 Thess 2:4).
After I got sick with Covid, I struggled with weariness and brain fog for several months. Although normally quite extroverted, I found myself withdrawing from conversations because I was embarrassed by my lack of memory. I struggled to recall names, the details of past conversations, or even basic facts from my week!
On top of it all, we had just moved back to Phoenix, so many people didn’t know me very well. I had to counsel myself to care more about God’s opinion of me than about the opinions of others. For me, this meant talking to people, including teens and their parents (my husband is the youth pastor), even if I thought they might think I was stupid or incompetent.
Last year, God brought us back to Phoenix, where I became an assistant pastor at the church I grew up at. Here are two lessons from that transition.
1. Take time and seek godly counsel before making a major decision.
Before deciding to move back to Phoenix, Elise and I sought lots of counsel. We also prayed a lot, searched the Scriptures, and searched our own hearts. As a result, we were able to make the decision with confidence.
Scripture warns against hasty decisions (Luke 14:28-32) and urges us to seek godly counsel (Prov 11:14). Sadly, many Christians fail to heed this advice and make poor decisions. If you are facing a major decision (like a cross-country move or a job change), I challenge you to seek your pastor’s advice. God will honor your teachable spirit.
2. Learn to love where God placed you.
God has been kind to us. In the last year, we moved into a nice home, were blessed with new opportunities, and I was able to rekindle old friendships and minister with family and friends. Still, the transition was hard.
No life situation is perfect. There will always be things you like and things you don’t like. The foolish man goes through life discontent, but the wise man learns to love where God placed him (Philip 4:11-13). Contentment grows in the heart that trusts and delights in the Lord (Heb 13:5-6).
In 18th century Germany, Kathrina Von Schlegel wrote a beautiful poem about trusting God amid transition and loss. Having been translated to English, Katharina’s poem became one of the best-loved hymns in our language–– “Be Still My Soul.” This line from verse one says it all: “In every change, He faithful will remain.”
Early adult life is a time filled with changes. However, through it all, God is faithful.