Friday, December 12, 2008
Today, I cease parenting.
I mean it. I am finished with all the how-to's, the tips and tricks, the continual praying and begging and pleading for answers in how to raise these children, these teenagers, these young adults.
I no longer want to examine my motives, discuss my authority, or scour my mind to all its nooks and crannies looking for an appropriate consequence to some misdeed.
No more will I run through every incident in my brain with the question, "What do I do now?" And no longer will I even glance at the question, "What will they think of me when they grow up?" I will no longer lay awake in bed--for hours--tormented by wondering if they have heeded my instruction.
Pray for them? Yes. Of course. Always and forever. But my responsibility--that tremendous backpack overloaded with efforts to equip them enough, teach them enough, talk with them enough, pray for them enough--that overweight backpack has slipped from my shoulders and thudded to the ground.
My own journey is enough. I want to walk upright beside my loved ones. I want both hands free to walk with them hand in hand. And I will no longer parent.
Instead, I will love.
Oh, surely, these are the same.
No, they are not.
Parenting has been my role, my position, and my privilege. It has been my office, my calling, my goal.
But it is not who I am. And, now, it is no longer what I do.
If I were to read all there was to read on parenting, I would still not feel equipped. Not to say that books, professionals, seminars, and classes are not invaluable resources in an area where I feel woefully ignorant and inadequate.
But my constant searching for "What to do when...? What to do if...? Why won't they ever...? And when will they be...?" is hereby declared over and done.
One Book. One Guide. And He is constant and ever present.
I am commanded to love the Lord my God with all my heart soul, mind, and strength. And I do. I worship, I thank, and I see Him with all that I have.
But now I will love my neighbor as myself. And that includes our children.
I have so much to do. In the earthly realm, I am responsible for earthly things--our home, our yards, our meals, our clothes, our money, our schedule. But, really, God has told me to do only two things.
So now, when our daughter looks at me and absentmindedly asks a question, I choose to look at her with all that I have, and I listen. I don't have the answers to her ten-year-old troubles--I really don't. But I love her. And so I listen, not only with my ears but now also with my heart.
As our fourteen-year-old son delays his coming home late into the night, I, through love, look at him and know he is developing a habit that will hurt him. I will love him as I love myself, and be more concerned with teaching him to pace himself through the day to get adequate rest than to throw all my attention to his disobedience and defiance.
Love will pray. And love will wait for the answer.
Parenting defines and describes only a portion of my actions in relation to our children. Loving surrounds them. Loving goes beyond definition. Loving is looking at each child, each day, each instance, and giving my full attention. I will "tend" to them, sincerely and earnestly.
Loving will take time.
Loving will alter my schedule.
Loving will slow me down.
Yes, it will.
So be it.
Monday, November 24, 2008
I’d finally managed to arrange a day off. It was early and my wife and I were rushing to take our sons to their separate schools. As my older son and I sat in the driveway warming up my old car, Karen appeared at the front door making “phone” gestures. “It’s Willard,” she shouted over the engine’s roar, “sounds important.”
Great, I braced myself for the usual litany of Willard’s personal woes. How right I was. When I picked up the phone, Willard spoke in his usual slow-talking drawl. “Pastor, we've had quite a bit of damage done to the church building. It looks like somebody had themselves a field day chucking rocks through our windows.”
So much for my day off.
Talk about personal; it hit me right in the gut. It felt like a judgment against my entire ministry. I felt insulted, I felt enraged. As I drove anger grew within me. I saw everything and everyone on the road as an extension of my problems. Traffic lights seemed timed to delay me. Old men dawdled in ancient pickup trucks clogging the streets. Creeping across town in slow motion, I mentally added up the possible breakage. I wondered how much money we had left at the tag end of the month. My depression deepened. I considered thoughts gloomy enough to dispatch Kenneth Copeland AND Robert Schuller to the pits of despair.
By the time I arrived at the church plant I had whipped my wrath into a fine lather. Then I saw the damage—Ouch! Seven windows starred, holed, and just plain shattered! The windows down one side of the building had been enthusiastically attacked by a storm of rocks. Stones and shards of colored panes littered the auditorium. As my shoes crunched through broken glass, I honestly think I would have preferred to handle a tragedy, even a death. At least those were problems within my area of expertise.
A workday to replace these same windows would have been cause for rejoicing. Now however, I was depressed at the thought that anyone would do such a thing to a church building. To be honest, my righteous indignation was not unmixed with fleshly self-pity.
We had called the sheriff and the window glaziers. What was keeping them? I ached to clean up the mess. My building—God’s House!—had been desecrated. It reminded me of the time my son broke his collarbone and I fumed over the time it took to relieve his pain. Finally, a sheriff’s car appeared, followed presently by the glass truck. While the deputy made his report, he informed me that vandalism of a synagogue or a church was a felony. At that moment—God, help me—I secretly hoped it carried the death penalty.
Anger was a reaction I could have anticipated. It didn’t really surprise me. What I did not expect was the feeling of vulnerability I experienced afterward. I felt defenseless. When the windows had been reglazed, floor swept, glass shards vacuumed from the pew cushions, I saw my fresh, matching golden windows not as an improvement but rather as liabilities. There they were—targets, monuments to vandalism. Here I glaze mine Ebenezer. They could be shattered again—all too easily. I found myself reluctant to leave.
Less than a week later, the windows were attacked again. The same seven were broken. I determined to foil the miscreants. I resolved to catch these vandals—obviously lineal descendants of the original barbarian tribe. I went to work collecting evidence. Willard took photographs of the crime scene. I measured sneaker prints in the dust. My son identified the sneaker brand by the tread pattern. I staked out the building at odd hours. I bided my time until they fell into my trap.
Wise as serpents, eh? I said to myself. I'll show ‘em.
And then one afternoon it happened. Driving into the parking lot I saw three boys walking across our property on their way home from the neighboring junior high school. As I parked, I heard the raucous clatter of breaking glass. The building alarm began its earsplitting razz. I ran around the back in time to see the boys sauntering out the other side of the lot. They studiously ignored my call of “Hey guys, I want to talk to you!”
What could I do? I yelled in a taunting manner, “What’s the matter, scared of an old man?” They stopped.
I stopped too. Then, in as friendly a voice as I could muster I said, “We really can’t afford to have any more windows broken here. It’s cost this church seven hundred dollars in the last three weeks.” They responded by informing me that they had never been, were not now, and never would be involved in such a reprehensible activity, no sir. At least that’s the best translation I could make of their inarticulate mumbles.
There they stood: radical hair, dangling earrings, counter-culture T-shirts, and expensive footwear. I thought briefly of how I’d like to punish these guys. What I actually said was, “I don’t know or care if it was you guys or someone you know. I’m not the police. I just want to say please don’t do it again. If I’ve done anything to tick you off, I’m sorry. I’d like to apologize.”
This time the response was easier to decipher. A sullen, “We didn’t do nuthin’.”
I trudged back to the building to reset the alarm. Sherlock Holmes solves another case. I had physical proof. One of their shoes appeared to match, but without the services of the FBI forensic crime lab it probably wouldn’t be considered admissible. I didn’t really want to put three more kids into the juvenile system anyway, in spite of my hard-nosed philosophy of criminal justice.
As I swept up the mess one small rock had made I heard hesitating footsteps in the hall. Two of the three boys had returned.
“We’re sorry,” they mumbled. “We won’t ever do it again.”
“Thank you,” I said, stunned. “I appreciate your honesty.” They turned and left me alone with my dustpan, and my God.
How do I explain what had just taken place? I hadn’t taken the opportunity to share the gospel with them. I failed to get their names for my prospect file. One thing I do know, grace occurred. It happened to them. It happened to me. Forgiveness of a debt that could not be paid had once more been placed on Jesus’ account.