On New Year Day, the first day of 2023, David and I began our day with an argument.
It was Sunday, and our church had canceled church service for Christmas and New Year. David and I had found another nearby church that we could attend instead, and I had been excited to check out this church. Except we forgot something: We have a baby who scoffs at our plans.
Church service starts at 10:30. It was 10 am, and Tov decided it was nap time then. We shouldn’t have been surprised– that’s usually when he starts getting extremely fussy and tired. We put him down for a nap. And then came time to make a decision: Do we wake him up mid-nap and risk him being super loud and tired during church service? Or do we skip church and be bad Christians?
David didn’t want to risk it. The church we were visiting is a small church– maybe about 25 people. We are new, and it’s already 10:15, which means we will be late. It would be awkward, he said. What’s more, we had a full day ahead of us: We were renovating the kitchen and bathrooms, so we had to move out to an Airbnb that day, and we really needed Tov to be calm. Can’t we just worship and pray at home instead?
I wanted to go to church anyway. I didn’t care if people stared at us– we have a baby! People will understand. Who cares if we enter late with a screaming baby and people look at us? The point was to be at church. By then I had already missed several church services because of travel. I wanted– needed– spiritual fellowship.
We argued back and forth, and 10:15 became 10:20 and then 10:25. My frustration fizzled out like a shaken Coke bottle. By then, I lost all desire to attend church as well. I was feeling bitchy, being a bitch, and thinking really uncharitable things about my own husband. What’s the point in going to church now? I’ll be carrying into a sanctuary the worst attitude to worship God.
“Forget it,” I snapped. “Let’s just not do church.”
“We can pray,” David offered.
“And who’s going to pray? You?” I spat.
Then Tov woke up. He must have been stirred awake by my sharp, raised voice. And he was hungry.
I took Tov to our room to nurse him. He looked up and smiled at me, oblivious to the turmoil in my heart. I forced a smile on my face.
As I nursed him, I felt like a fraud. What a contradiction– here I was, nurturing and nourishing my child, while inside, the contents of my heart were toxic, chaotic, harsh. I was feeding my child while starving my own soul, and poisoning my husband, the father of my child. This wasn’t a one-time thing– for some time, I’ve noticed myself getting irritable over everything, and the target of my ire was often David.
Meanwhile, Tov looked up at me and smiled and smiled with such adoration.
“You have no idea who your mother is,” I whispered to Tov. He smiled, delighted that I was talking to him. Will he look at me with that same love, even when I inevitably also lose my temper with him one day? Is this the kind of mother I’m going to be to my child? Then I broke down, shaking with silent sobs, overwhelmed by the giant conflict in my soul.
Tov must have sensed something, because he was no longer smiling. He went still and nestled on my lap quietly while I hugged him and wept. “You poor thing,” I said, “You poor thing. You are innocent of all of this.”
We parents often obsess over creating a safe and secure environment for our kids. We have a baby camera. We got a baby-proof gate for the stairway. We will be getting rid of the sharp-edged coffee table once Tov becomes more mobile. Our strollers and car seats come with all these annoying but safety-minded straps and buckles. We even got a dechoker (out of a moment of weakness while watching an ad, in which crying parents thanked the dechoker for saving their baby’s life after he choked on dinner).
But if Tov grows up in a home in which his own parents don’t get along, all those physical safety measures won’t protect him from the trauma of emotional instability and unrest. David and I currently have a good marriage. We get along well and rarely argue. But I could see, if these little tiffs and irritations and flare-ups don’t get corrected along the way, we might end up in a counselor’s room five years down the road, when by then, Tov would have already sensed something is off.
All statistics say that the vast majority of couples report a steep decline in their marital relationship after the arrival of a new baby. Mothers are more likely to report dissatisfaction, often because women tend to become the “default parent.” I already feel like the default parent– and I don’t want to become part of that statistics. Marriage is meant to reflect the love of Christ and his church. I don’t want to model a skewed vision of that for Tov. I don’t want to introduce any impediments to his relationship with God.
As I held Tov and reflected on my own heart, I thought of the verse I had pinned for 2023: “Be still, and know that I am the Lord.” Well, if this isn’t confirmation that this was the right verse for me this year. I took a deep breath and tried to quiet my soul, and be still in the Lord. I kissed Tov’s forehead, and thought of God kissing my own forehead. I caressed Tov’s brow, and thought of how I used to caress David’s brow. I looked at Tov’s handsome face, and remembered how handsome I think my own husband is, how beautiful and perfect a creature we created together.
And then I got up and sat next to David on the couch.
While I had my moment with God, David had his, and his eyes were red and wet as well. He had just read Psalm 51. He turned on some soft instrumental worship music his mother used to love. He shared what he heard from God, and I shared mine. We apologized to each other, and then we hugged and kissed– a group hug between David, Tov, and me.
Tov, crushed between us, squealed and giggled. Even at 7 months old, I notice that Tov loves it when David and I are together, when we show affection to each other. It’s incredible and awe-striking, what an infant can sense at a time when he can barely express himself. Truly, God’s design for marriage and family is real and beautiful. And it’s amazing that He uses a little 7-month-old to remind me of that.