Christmas is such a wonderful time of year. For most people. But I’ve been thinking about the folks I know who are really struggling this year, particularly people who have lost children. My heart aches for them. Parenting is such risky business…it is risking the shattering of our hearts.
I wanted to write a Christmas post this year but I just haven’t been able to. Here are links to old posts.
Why I Will Not Join the Fight to Keep Christ in Christmas
A Charlie Brown Christmas Tree
Instead of a Christmas post, I felt compelled to finish this one that I attempted to write months ago, then again a few weeks ago. I’m not sure why…now doesn’t seem like the greatest timing. But I’ve learned to listen to those promptings, so here it is – a bit disjointed since it has been started and stopped on a few occasions.
You Can Raise Healthy, Wealthy And Wise Children…and Other Outlandish Tales
Scott handed my laptop back to me. “That’s what I say every time I read your blog,” His voice was unusually serious, which may have been because he’d just gotten over a stomach bug and had nothing to do with THIS BLOG POST about my favorite season that he had just read. I looked at him quizzically. “This one is my favorite post,” He explained. “Every post I read, I think this one is my favorite. I shrugged off his words.
‘Cause although he remains my biggest blogging fan, he is my husband and is prone to say kind things just because, well, he’s my husband.
“It’s likely the last post,” I told him. This time he brushed MY words off. He has heard that refrain many times before, but more and more I’m feeling like my blogging days are coming to an end. Writing in a public forum is hard.
He once confided to me, this husband of mine, that he doesn’t often write to me – letters, cards, or lengthy notes – despite the fact that he knows my love language is words, despite the fact that he knows I love phrases and sentences and notes the way some people love new cars or big homes or expensive jewelry. I don’t write to you, he told me, because I look at the things I write and they look so awkward and childish compared to yours. It doesn’t come easy for me like it does for you.”
So he crumples up the notebook paper, deletes the e-mail and gives up and I never get to see his thoughts, his handwriting.
The thing is, writing doesn’t come easy for me. Sometimes I go back and reread posts or e-mails or Facebook messages that I have sent and I cringe over the mistakes, the way that things didn’t come out sounding how I intended them. How stupid or prideful or ignorant or sophomoric I sound.
Writing is difficult for me.
Really, really difficult. It means stilling my body (a challenging task!) and stilling my mind and spirit (an equally daunting task!)
It is time consuming and I’d rather (selfishly) spend the time with family and friends or in the craft room or taking a long walk or reading someone else’s writing. Or even losing at online Scrabble.
Writing leaves me feeling vulnerable and I have literally gotten sick to my stomach over some things I have written, the personal aspects of my life that I have shared.
Writing publicly, for strangers to read, can be hazardous. Though usually the feedback is gracious and encouraging, and I’ve made some lifelong friends through my simple posts, every once in a while I get a hate mail or an ugly note from an atheist that leaves my insides a puddle of ick, that makes me feel skittish. It happened this week. Right after a sweet note from “J” telling me to keep writing for a long, long time, I received a somewhat scathing, lengthy note that ended with the “gall and audacity of Christians” and “the idiotic statement that God’s ways are not our ways” and how “religion is an invention of man and not of god” (I kinda agree with the last part of that. Religion is from man. But the Holy Spirit of God is not.)
Writing is difficult for me. And one of the toughest things for me to write is parenting advice.
I often get requests for parenting counsel, and I never know whether to laugh or to cry. Perhaps it is because I have raised so many children that people ask. It could be desperation – they have no where else to turn. Or maybe it is because I’ve been doing it for so long that people assume I’ve got some answers on how to raise healthy, wealthy and wise kiddos.
For the past six or seven months I have been trying to write a post in response to some of these requests, requests from people I know and people I’ve never met.
“Writing is the best way of codifying your thoughts, the best way of learning from yourself…what you believe” –Warren Bennis
As I struggled to put advice into words, I realized something.
Here is what I know, what I believe: The thought that you or I can raise healthy, wealthy and wise young people is an outlandish tale.
You read that right.
An outlandish and impossible tale.
In a recent discussion with Feisty Girl, our youngest child, she had these very sage words for me: Mom, my mind is my own. You cannot control it.
(Uh, yeah, I know that full well. And believe it or not, lovely daughter, my goal is NOT to control your mind. It is to win your heart, and love you with an everlasting love. To direct you and encourage you and pray for you.)
I’m not advocating lazy parenting, I’m not promoting an anything-goes-and-just-hope-for-the-best attitude… but the reality is, parenting is hard, it is risky business and we cannot control the outcomes of our parenting. Our greatest joys come from parenting. And sometimes? Sometimes our greatest sorrows come as parents. Sure, our kids might end up healthy, wealthy and wise. And they might not. We can’t make it happen.
In The Beginning: The Desire
Our children arrive, bundles of soft, peeling skin and the sweetest cries and suckling noises and a love grows in normal parents so deep, so profound, so aching it defies words. Every protective instinct, every desire for happiness and wisdom and nurturing towards another human is born alongside the miracle and wonder of new physical life.
And we think, if we just get this parenting thing down right, we’ll have healthy, wealthy and wise children, children who accept our values and our beliefs as their own, who grow into the happy, healthy adults we desire them to be. Or at the very least, we’ll raise wise, respectful and responsible human beings.
But there is a pridefulness in these thoughts; they place us in a position above God.
’Cause God is the perfect parent and, uh, some of His kids have wandered, rebelled, made poor choices. And continue to do so. Or at least this child has that tendency.
What makes me – in all my imperfectness – think I can do better than He can?
In the Now: The Reality
The reality is, our kids do not come with guarantees. They are uniquely created beings who are going to make their own way, despite what we do or what we teach them, or desire for them, even when what we desire is based on Scripture.
There are so many examples in the Word – from the very beginning we see that Cain and Abel came from the same parents, same environment, yet turned out completely different. And Cain ended up murdering his brother! In the books of 1st and 2nd Kings we read of various kings who followed God but their children did evil in His sight and vice versa: evil kings bore children that did what was right in the sight of God.
We tend to have this God-complex and think that WE create the people that our children grow into. We (silently of course) applaud ourselves for their accomplishments and we agonize, we wonder (out loud) what we have done wrong when they make bad or harmful choices.
So my advice is this.
Stop taking credit for their accomplishments and stop blaming yourself for their poor choices.
Instead, focus on God’s greatest commandment: And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment of the Law? And He (Jesus) said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it. ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:35-40
No where in Scripture are we commanded to raise perfect children, just to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, to not provoke them to anger, to not leave them to their own devices, to lovingly discipline. (Ephesians 6:4, Proverbs 29:7, Deuteronomy 6:6-7 are some examples.)
Our greatest commandments however, are these:
Love Him, and love others.
The most important thing we can do for our children is be healthy adults ourselves…and the best way to do this is allowing God to make us whole, to let Him shine His light into areas of our lives that He wants to heal, blind spots He wants to reveal. We can boldly ask Him to show us His character, to let us really KNOW Him. Because as we understand the greatness of His unconditional love for us we can’t help but love Him back. As we allow Him to transform us -rather than pleading with Him to transform others – unconditional love becomes who WE are. Which empowers us to live out the second greatest commandment.
Love others. Without stipulations.
I have said it before, but I am going to say it again: our children (and others) are often most in need of love when they are in the midst of their most unlovable moments. Just like us.
I’m not sure if when people ask me for parenting advice, they are unaware of all we have been through. So let me tell you a smidge.
I have heard a barely audible child’s voice crack over a phone line: “Mom, I’m in detox. Can you come pick me up?” Scott and I have had a child experiment with cutting. We’ve had surly and rebellious teenagers.
We have a couple of young adults who have different world views than we do.
And though we have definitely made mistakes along the way, Scott and I have learned to love unconditionally, we’ve learned the importance of living out the same grace that we’ve been shown.
Don’t get me wrong.
We haven’t absconded from parenting duties. We do have certain responsibilities when our children are under our authority; unconditional love doesn’t mean an anything goes attitude.
But it is possible to drive ourselves crazy, to drive ourselves into depression or feelings of failure if we attempt to take every bit of “how to” advice that books, and seminars, or wonderful preachers and other parents throw our way and emulate them. When it doesn’t look the same on our kids, or when they still choose dangerous or unhealthy paths, we feel we have failed. (Or we might be tempted to be puffed up with pride when our kids do great things, thinking it is our doing.)
If you have more than one child, you already know this reality: what works for one doesn’t for another. (We have six mostly grown up kids. Raised in the same home, with the same parents. And no two are alike! In fact, we have some polar opposites.)
I recently read an article that said that in order to really love our daughters, to develop a close relationship with them, we must ask them questions every day. I laughed out loud. While that might work with ONE of my daughters, the author obviously doesn’t know Feisty Girl. She hates questions. The quickest way to alienate her, is to ply her with questions. So glad I’ve learned that just because something works for one parent, for one child, doesn’t mean it’s gonna work for all of ‘em.
The safest thing to do, is draw close to our kids’ Creator and ask Him how to love ‘em best. He lovingly created them with unique personalities and His Spirit will counsel us in how to deal with them individually.
’Cause the Word tells us to pray without ceasing. And that command is for our benefit. When we connect with God, when we cry out to Him in our parenting impotence, He offers His peace that passes all understanding. So pray. And pray some more. While doing laundry, while cooking, while waiting to pick them up or waiting for them to come home…use available moments to corral your thoughts and bring your kids before His throne of grace. Because God is the One who changes hearts.
So yeah. My parenting advice is this:
As 2015 comes rushing in, let’s make a commitment.
A commitment to let go of the God-Complex, of the unrealistic expectation that WE (you or I) can create healthy, wealthy and wise children. Instead, let’s seek to love God with all of our hearts, minds, and souls. Rather than consulting a dozen books or articles or people, instead of blaming or applauding self, let’s seek their Creator on how to parent each one. And as we follow through on the Spirit’s promptings, as we love them unconditionally, as we lift them in pray, we can leave the results to Him. He loves ‘em even more than we do.