This blog post was written by Adventer, husband, father, and medical resident Josh Williams. The audio of Josh telling this story during the Kingdom Moment can be found at adventdenver.com/sermons. Feel free to use the comment section at the bottom of the post...
It has not been easy for me to be a dad. In fact, early on, the things of fatherhood grated on me. I did not like waking up every two hours at night, I grappled with losing my one-on-one time with wife Danielle, and I lamented the lack of my introvert time. I had things to do. I had medical facts to learn. I deserved rest from my 80-hour workweek. Sure, there was much joy for me in being a father, but I often found myself resenting losses of freedom and free time. In short, I had become embittered against my daughter, and while I knew that I loved her, I did not often feel it.
About two months ago, these feelings came to a head. Halfway through a 3-month stint of 80-hour work weeks, I found myself beginning a stretch of 5 night shifts on a busy pediatric inpatient ward. While working nights is terrible enough in and of itself, I was planning to finish my stretch Friday morning, return home and shower, and leave an hour later to fly to a scientific conference in Vancouver. There, I would present my research, get back on the plane, and return to Denver within 48 hours for my next shift.
So, on Sunday – the first shift of five – I felt stressed. On Monday, I developed a horrid vomiting and diarrheal illness. Barely able to make it through my shift, I returned home to spend my sleeping hours alternating between shaking chills in the bed and shaking loose in the bathroom.
On Tuesday, Danielle began a stretch of 3 night shifts as well. With both of us away at night, our nanny spent 18 hours a day at our home. When she left, Danielle and I agreed to take equal childcare shifts during the 6 hours she was away to let the other rest. And yet, Eden learned a new trick that week: screaming. Loudly. Every fifteen minutes. In so doing, she ended any real possibility of sleep for me. So, during my time with her, I was livid, and during my time in bed, I was nauseous and livid, drifting in and out of an angry consciousness punctuated by shrill cries.
On Wednesday, I learned my passport had expired three weeks prior. Having already spent over a thousand dollars for the trip, I refused to stay home. So, I journeyed to the Denver Passport Office to spend three of my six sleeping hours waiting in line, filling out forms, and responding to questions from Passport Agents.
On Thursday, I snapped at a coworker during my shift, thought I needed to admit myself to the hospital for dehydration, and spent another 3 hours of my 6 hours for sleep in the passport office. When I returned home, Danielle left to run an errand, asking me to watch Eden as she was about to take a nap. Begrudgingly, I agreed, and I took her into the bedroom with me. After spending fifteen minutes rocking her to sleep, I gently laid her down, crawled into bed, and closed my eyes. Not a minute later, our duplex neighbor started hammering a nail into the wall that separates us. Eden woke up and started to cry.
Unable to bear the burden of work, sleep deprivation, sickness, and screaming any longer, I sprung out of bed, grabbed the rails of Eden’s pack-n-play, and shook them.
“Shut up!” I yelled, tears in my bloodshot eyes shooting bullets. “Shut up! Shut UP! SHUT UP!” I raged. “Why won’t you let me sleep?!”
Eden startled and froze, every muscle in her body becoming as stone, a look of panic engraved on her face. Her eyes, always big as saucers, widened even further, and she held her breath – for a second. Then, in a flash, she went berserk. Arms and legs flailed uncontrollably while her screams reached a pitch I had never before heard, one filled with echoes of desperation and fear. It was a scream that cried out for protection…for love. And yet, in that moment, I could not hear her. I turned away, closed our bedroom door, and walked outside while she stormed. Sitting down on our front steps, I broke down, holding out my shaking hands: hands that just 10 days prior had baptized Eden.
Three weeks later, Ken came over to our place for RD. It was a Saturday morning and I had the day off, but Danielle was working, so I was watching Eden. I hadn’t told Danielle about the afternoon three weeks prior, and it seemed as though Eden had forgotten. But, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The day haunted me. I – a father, a husband, a Christian, a pediatrician-in-training – had shaken the rails of a crib while yelling at the infant inside. I was consumed with guilt and shame, and strangely, instead of turning my heart toward Eden, these feelings pushed my heart even further away. I felt more distant than ever.
Yet, just before Ken arrived, I managed to get Eden to nap, so I sat outside on our front porch, trying to skim the week’s material before he showed up. Ken came a few minutes later, greeting me with a big hug and giant smile as usual. We sat down on the porch and started catching up. After hearing from Ken, I started to talk – and realizing that I was speaking in a space that was safe – I kept on talking. I started with the horrible week on nights and never looked back: the vomiting, the diarrhea, the screeching, the passport problems, the sleep deprivation, and then – as tears welled up to sting my eyes – the shouting…the crib-shaking… and the panic of a terrified, screaming, daughter.
The guilt. The shame. The hands…my hands.
Giant salty drops ran from the bridge of my nose to pound the ground below, forming a pool of remorse. I stared into that pool, unable to lift my eyes to meet Ken’s loving gaze. Then, after a silence, Ken asked me a question: “Josh,” he began in a soft voice, “if Jesus had been in that room with you, what would he have done?”
At first, several thoughts raced through my mind, but in a moment of God-given clarity, one took hold. And it wrecked me. Blubbering through sobs, I said, “He would have bent down, picked up Eden, and held her. And when she knew it was safe, he would have held me, too.” Ken nodded, put his arm around me, and let me cry.
After a while, I asked Ken to help me pray for forgiveness. He offered a few options, and I chose to journey with him through a rite in the Book of Common Prayer: the ministry of Reconciliation of a Penitent. The text of the rite is below:
The Priest and Penitent begin as follows
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Wash me through and through from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions only too well, and my sin is ever before me. Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal One, have mercy upon us.
Penitent Pray for me, a sinner.
May God in his love enlighten your heart, that you may remember in truth all your sins and his unfailing mercy. Amen. “This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”
The Priest then continues
Now, in the presence of Christ, and of me, his minister, confess your sins with a humble and obedient heart to Almighty God, our Creator and our Redeemer.
The Penitent says
Holy God, heavenly Father, you formed me from the dust in your image and likeness, and redeemed me from sin and death by the cross of your Son Jesus Christ. Through the water of baptism you clothed me with the shining garment of his righteousness, and established me among your children in your kingdom. But I have squandered the inheritance of your saints, and have wandered far in a land that is waste.
Especially, I confess to you and to the Church...
Here the Penitent confesses particular sins.
Therefore, O Lord, from these and all other sins I cannot now remember, I turn to you in sorrow and repentance. Receive me again into the arms of your mercy, and restore me to the blessed company of your faithful people; through him in whom you have redeemed the world, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Will you turn again to Christ as your Lord?
Penitent I will.
Do you, then, forgive those who have sinned against you?
Penitent I forgive them.
May Almighty God in mercy receive your confession of sorrow and of faith, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life. Amen.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive you all your offenses; and by his authority committed to me, I absolve you from all your sins: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Priest concludes
Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost, and are found; you were dead, and are now alive in Christ Jesus our Lord. Go in peace. The Lord has put away all your sins.
Penitent Thanks be to God.
At the end, Ken added prophetic words of his own, words I will remember for years to come: “Josh, God does not regret sending his Son to die for you, Jesus does not regret being crucified for you, and the Holy Spirit does not regret living in you. You are loved.” As tears welled up yet again, guilt and shame fled in haste. I was lost, and now found. I was dead, and now alive. The Lord had put away all of my sins, and there was rejoicing in heaven for me. Ken hugged me, said he loved me too, and left me to my thoughts.
Eden woke up almost immediately thereafter. As the babbles and squeaks from her room echoed through our home, I was astonished to feel excited to play with her. I burst into her room, picked her up from her crib, and smiled as I brought her slowly to my chest in a gentle squeeze. I kissed her, pecking at her chubby cheeks and forehead over and over until she pulled away and rubbed her eyes with tiny fingers – code for “Dad! Stop it!” Yet, even as she stayed away, she looked at me and smiled; this time, her saucer-wide eyes conveyed a different message: I forgive you, and I love you.
A few hours later, Eden and I showed up at a park in the Baker neighborhood to celebrate Ken’s 30th birthday. He had encouraged me to stay home and spend the day with her, but the thoughts of good friends, delicious food, and birthday cake were too much to pass up. After an hour of party-going, some people ventured out to toss a frisbee. After checking in with a few ladies who didn’t mind sitting babies, I left Eden in their care and joined the game. Minutes later, as if on cue, the sound of Eden fussing echoed over the field, and I jogged back to the group. After trying a few tricks to get her settled, it was clear she wanted to be held, so I scooped her up and jogged back out to play as a team of two.
It was a beautiful, crisp afternoon. Fluffy white clouds hung suspended in an azure sky, and a golden sun illuminated the verdant field with snow-capped mountains in the background. Birds chirped, dogs barked, and – incredibly – Eden laughed. She laughed.
This was incredible. She had laughed only once before. For my mother-in-law. Allegedly.
And yet, as I jogged back onto the field, Eden’s light form bouncing up and down on my arm in a beautiful yellow sundress, she started to laugh. And she wouldn’t stop. With every throw of the frisbee, every catch, every jog to grab a downed disc, she burst out uncontrollably, and so did I. Her squeals were a salve for my soul, and as her giggles rose to heaven, my soul rose with them. Never before had I felt so much love for my daughter. Never before had I felt so much love as a son.
That afternoon, Eden laughed for another twenty-three minutes. I timed it because in the wake of incredible forgiveness, I saw no reason for God to bestow another blessing. Yet, in His mercy, He was pleased to give me laughter: a divine cherry on top of an exceedingly sufficient cake. Excessive love. Excessive grace. And I took it in with glee.
Today, fatherhood is still hard for me. I still lament waking up multiple times at night, I still hate cleaning poopy diapers, I still miss my introvert time, and I still make mistakes. Yet, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I remember that day on the porch and in the park, and I get up, clean, play, repent, and repeat.
Then, at the end of the day, I listen to a lullaby: the one Eden hears every night while she drifts to sleep. In the calming dusk after a busy day, I cuddle her gently while she grasps my thumb, and we both hold on as words of reconciliation and rest wash over us:
Be still my soul
Be still and know that He is God
Rest in his loving arms
For He is watching over you
Ever faithful, Ever true
So be still, my soul
Be still and know that He is God.