For Every Cradle, an Altar

The daily sacrifices of parenthood

When I was 4, my dad built me a spaceship—using scissors, tape, and his imagination to transform a box that once housed an appliance. He cut rectangular cockpit windows in the front and affixed cardboard delta wings to each side of the ship, with another one atop the tail end that called to mind a shark’s dorsal fin. She was a good ship, and as her captain, I soon found myself adrift in endless space in my parents’ garage, subsisting solely on small boxes of Sun-Maid raisins and the love a boy feels for his father.


I could hardly believe Dad built me something so out-of-this-world.

At the time I had no reason to consider the sacrifices my dad made to construct this ship despite the demands of the pastorate. I paid no mind to the sermons he needed to write, the sick church members awaiting hospital visits, or the struggling married couples in need of counsel. I had no knowledge of what weighed on Dad’s mind; I knew only this interstellar sailor felt loved.

Before becoming a father six years ago, I assumed parents did things for their children because they wanted to, and this is often true. Since my daughter entered the world, however, I have concluded that parenting often involves putting her wants and needs before mine. Sacrifices are everyday events in parenthood. For every cradle that exists in a house, there is an altar, too—and parents can choose to offer themselves on it daily.

I know now that every time Dad turned his attention from his flock to the little lamb that lived with him, it cost him something. Even in simply spending time with me when he needed rest, he sacrificed self-care for me.

Even in spending time with me when my dad needed rest, he sacrificed self-care for me.

We tend to overlook sacrifices like these because they seem small when compared to the gift Christ gave us on the cross. But we should not overlook the small ways in which the Lord offered Himself for humanity, apart from Calvary. Even though Jesus was all-powerful God in the flesh, during His earthly life He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil. 2:7). Instead of commanding worship through conspicuous displays of power, He humbly served humanity, putting the needs of His creations before His own.

Whether as parents, spouses, siblings, or in relation to foreigners in our midst, when we lovingly give of ourselves and our gifts so that others might prosper, do we not follow in the footsteps of our Master? When we share a cold cup of water with a stranger in need, do we not surrender something of our comfort by choosing to reach out despite our fear? (See Matt. 10:42.) Do we not participate in the sacrificial life of Jesus when we give of ourselves in this manner?

Dad did just that when he built a spaceship for me, something I recognize now after building something similar for my child on a day when I wanted to do anything but be an engaged parent. The stresses of being a stay-at-home dad in the summertime had trimmed my already-short fuse to a nub. Evie was in her room building a makeshift fort out of pillows, blankets, and chairs as she often does. These “forts” occupy vast swaths of space and drive me absolutely bananas.

Before I could audibly groan at this prospect, a rogue thought entered my head: I could help her build a better fort. One she might remember as I do the spaceship Dad made me! Instead of napping or remaining disengaged while Evie built another fort in her room by herself, I chose to offer myself on the altar of parenthood that day.

We drove to a local appliance store, procured two dishwasher boxes, and joined them together in Evie’s room. I lined the fort’s ceiling with Christmas lights and blank DVDs installed shiny side down, so the bulbs would reflect with dazzling iridescence. Then we mounted her iPad on one box wall like a tiny television and added a cat bed so she could share the space with a furry friend.

Over the next few days, Evie rarely left her room. In her fort, with her bedroom light off and blackout shade drawn, she subsisted on yogurt-covered raisins, while bathed in artificial light. I’m so glad I chose to enter into my child’s world and build a fort instead of taking a much-needed nap. It felt as if I’d built an outpost on the moon for her—the sort of place a boy might visit in his spaceship.


Photograph by Chad Thomas Johnston

Related Topics:  Family

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7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

42 And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward."

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