A closer look at a poem – Build me a son, O Lord

I love cards of all sorts and sizes – birthday, Christmas, big or small. From time to time, I go back and read the cards I have received over the years and it always draws a smile on my face. In my pile of cards lies one that I hold dearly. It was given to me by an old couple when I was preparing to move abroad in 2015. They invited me for dinner to bid me farewell and offer a few words of advice and encouragement. Before leaving their lovely home, they gave me a card in which was pasted a poem – now my favourite poem of all time. The words of this poem have been special to me in numerous ways. In my last year of college, I stuck the card on the wall across my desk so that whenever I was seated in my chair, I could read a line or two from the poem. Despite doing this and having the poem for more than 5 years, it was only last week that I managed to commit the whole poem to memory. In my defence, it is long hahaha. There’s 251 words in it!

So why does this poem matter so much? Well, let me paste it below before I say why?

Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishbone will not be where his backbone should be; a son who will know Thee and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge. Lead him, I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clean, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

Then I, his father, will dare to whisper, “I have not lived in vain.”

-General Douglas MacArthur-

Isn’t this a powerful poem? Wouldn’t any parent say such a prayer for their child?

The first thing that stands out is the very last line of the poem. Reading and reflecting on that makes me ask myself; “why would a father’s life be in vain if he did not have such a son?” Too many thoughts come to mind but I will try and be concise. (Perhaps a part two to this blog is in order?). My immediate thought is that we live in a culture that despises children. Of course we love seeing children videos on Facebook but large and by, we despise children. What are your thoughts when you see someone with more than three children? What about a person who sets their primary goal in life to simply raising their children? Especially if it is a woman. What do you think about them? Do they lack aspiration or better things to do in life? What would be your reaction to a young person who said they want to be dad/mom when they grow up? Would you call them insane? In most cases, we can tolerate people to dream of becoming anything they want. Anything but becoming a parent.

As usual, I have to state what I am not saying. I am not saying or advocating for everyone to forsake their careers and become full time parents. Further, am not calling on all (young) people to (get married and) start having as many children as humanly possible. What I am saying is that our perception of children leaves much to be desired. We see children are burdens and disruptions to our lives. We have forgotten that children are a blessing from the Lord and that blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them.

As a result of this amnesia, we go on to purse life and whatever life can offer. We forget that we were commanded to go and be fruitful. That we were commanded to go and subdue the Earth. That we were commanded to go and make disciples of all nations. All these commands rest on the assumption that children will be borne and trained to continue this task. If we don’t, all our efforts of fulfilling these commands will come to a grinding halt in a generation, literally.

The second thought that comes to mind runs throughout the poem but it so easy to just move past it. Once you get it, you can find it incompatible with the last line of the poem. But it is absolutely not! What runs through the poem is the author’s cry to God saying; “build me a son.” Why then would he say he did not live in vain if he did not have such a son? If it’s God’s job to build such good children, why would parents’ life be in vain when/if they don’t have one? Well, to start with, only God can build a son/daughter such as the one described in the poem. Parents, with all their wisdom and skill can do everything in their power but a good child is not guaranteed at the end of their endeavours. Ever seen two siblings with the same father, mother, household and upbringing but end up leading two divergent lives? Where one may be a Christian and another as lost as can be? Only God, through his kindness and grace can offer parents, a child who will seek after God’s own heart and who will live to bring glory to Him. Does this mean parents should sit back, relax and see how their child turns out? NO! God not only ordains the end but also the means. That is why parents are called to train and disciple their children. They are called to fall on their faces and cry to God on behalf of their children. They are called to set an example to their children also.

What shall we say then? Dear parents, realise what you are called to. You are training warriors who will fight in God’s army. Do ever let anyone belittle your work. Yours is the highest calling. Serve God diligently in that area. Teach, train and disciple your children. Realise also that your work is futile if God is not at the centre of it all. Dear child, fellow child, may God build such a son/daughter as in the poem. May we live to honour our fathers and mothers. To all of us, maybe it is time to just pause and reflect on what we think about children. What names have we given to what God has called a blessing? How are we doing in meeting the mandates of being fruitful and spreading the gospel. Until then, maybe only then, shall we look at an infant and see God’s awesome plan.

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