I have asked some difficult questions in my twenty years of parenting.
Is this lizard I pulled out of the washer real or a dollar-store toy? (It was real, dead, and cold in the palm of my hand.)
How many dead frogs are in the algae-coated terrarium in your room? Four? (There were Billy, Billy Bob, Billy Bob Joe and Frank.)
How can you not smell that odor in your room?
Seriously, did an animal die in here and you forgot to tell me?
Are those boogers finger-painted on the hallway wall?
How do boogers dry as hard as cement?
You pooped in the neighbor’s yard? Did anyone see you?
Do I have stupid written on my forehead?
Why did you start a fire in a canning jar in your room?
Why are your toenails falling off?
As I parent, I have made strange declarative statements:
If you put on any more lip-gloss I will personally make you rub lip gloss all over your body.
I will never, ever, EVER, look for that snake if it gets out of its cage. I will leave the house and you will search for it.
No! Don’t put peas up his nose!
I promise you, I’ll let you take ALL your clothes off at home, just let me get this shopping done.
I found 19 dirty socks in your bed! Are you a hoarder of socks? And where is the 20th?
I am not your maid! I’m your mom! There is a difference.
I went to school – I finished. School is your job. It’s what you do. I won’t do third grade math again.
I don’t know if I’ve ever cleaned purple puke out of the carpet before.
I don’t think he should bang his head on the table anymore. I think there’s a dent.
There are other things to do with one’s life besides having kids. A lot of other great, important and vital things. But if you have a child, you know this: Raising your child is the most humbling, terrifying, beautiful, purposeful thing you’ve ever done.
No question. Even if raising them causes you to question your insanity or wear your underwear inside out and backwards all day.
You may be proud of your education, your job promotion, your new boat, that amazing non-profit organization you work with, your ability to fit in your skinny jeans…and for good reason, but nothing makes you more ecstatic than those first, few unsteady steps across the living room floor, or watching your child, the one you swaddled into a little burrito (wasn’t it just yesterday?) walking across the stage to receive his diploma, or that shimmering, beauty taking the arm of her prom date.
And nothing hurts like watching them hurt, nothing scares you more than their suffering, nothing stings so much as their failure. So this, today, is for you parents.
Nothing hurts deeper than watching your child be rejected by her friends, not make the team, or struggle with even liking herself.
And no one can wreck your heart like your children can.
They have special access and backstage passes to the heart-places where we keep the memories of our own wounds, the unfulfilled longings, the moments of red-faced shame, the weighted burdens of our own failures. Sometimes we reach back and look at our own experiences in order to find the burnished and glowing hope to offer. “See, I remember,” we want to say, holding out the fragile bits of our own as an offering as proof that a person can be broken and whole, fractured and free, “I know it hurts now, I know you’re angry, but it’s going to be okay.”
Sometimes, and this is crushing, our kids seem to break all the broken things in us. As they kick and rail against the unfair forces that seem to rule life, they shatter once again our broken places. They scare us and make us turn inward with angry questions and accusations.
Not long ago, my girl cried her eyes into swollen puffs, because navigating friends (and enemies) in middle school got wily and unmanageable. As a middle child and natural born pleaser, she was paralyzed by the reality that people may not like her.
I pulled her close, soothed her and drew from my resources words to rub like salve into her fears and calm her. It worked and the storm passed and I helped her.
But sometimes I stand and take the daggers of anger as my kids stare hard and blame me for their torrents, their attitudes, their fears, their failures. They use their backstage access and seem to find all the sharpest edges and meanest memories and hurt me as they’re hurting, make me afraid as they’re afraid, make me the enemy because I am the safest of allies. Because life is hard and frightening sometimes, and the world where they go to school and work and establish relationships is unpredictable and unfair.
It hurts me. And it takes all my strength to not budge, but stand full in the light of grace. It takes all my strength to speak truth and be love at the same time, to reach back and pull the door shut on my insecurities.
It takes all my strength to stop talking and making my case and start listening. It takes all my strength and then I remember, I don’t need to run out, I have a Helper and we can push through, stay in the game, win the day for my kids.
Perhaps its part of our culture, this idea that we, as parents and mom’s especially, are supposed to follow our instinctive nature and protect our young. Perhaps we don’t want them to “learn the hard way”. Perhaps we enjoy a semblance of peace, or even prefer busyness and distraction. Perhaps we believe we can “teach them the way they should go” and fully equip them for it BEFORE they get on the path. Perhaps we think if we take all the flack and work hard to make their lives happy, we’re doing our job.
Perhaps we’re just scared?
I think of the words of Jesus when he addressed those beaten down by the pressure of trying to be saved by following the law, his friends and disciples who were failing and fearful and weary of trying and he said:
“Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)
As I engage in learning the rhythms of grace, I can invite my children to come into step with me and my savior. The ideas of the world are ill-fitting and heavy. This generation of kids is heavy-laden indeed with messages, messages, messages.
To remove our kids from the barrage of the world’s messages will certainly protect them, but will it prepare them?
In Jesus’ invitation are three verbs: walk, work, watch. It’s a daily regimen that requires engagement, participation, ownership and diligence. It’s a training plan, a working internship of learning the skill of living in grace.
The path is fraught with failure and obstacles and friends and enemies and a quadrillion What-Ifs.
And it IS scary. We drove to the summit of Mt. Spokane on a summer day where I took this picture of Nikko standing on the rocky top overlooking all of Spokane and into north Idaho. HE SKIS THIS MOUNTAIN in the winter. This little, tiny guy rides ups the ski lift –without me–and skis over this treacherous terrain, at high speeds and loving every minute of it. Seeing him standing there in the summer, looking at all the hazards and potential disasters made my mind spin and my breath shudder.
Your kids may be full-grown or still in the golden halo of early adolescence, but will you hear me? This plan works. Protecting our children is ultimately God’s job and I need to tell you, keeping them safe and happy is less important to God than their HOLINESS! As they follow Jesus, walking, working and watching him, they are becoming set apart, like him, and unburdened with ill-fitting messages of this world.
As they follow Jesus.
The point is, parents, we have to realize that we have less and less to do with their holiness when we want Jesus to become more and more important to them. We have to trust God as our kids learn the unforced rhythms of grace because it isn’t a free-pass from anything that hurts them. They will be tested and bested, bedraggled and beat up. This grace school is a school of hard knocks.
“Keep company with me and you’ll learn to walk free and lightly,” Jesus says. It’s not always safe and predictable to keep company with Jesus, in fact, just the opposite. But it is always our best option.
When I want to step in and be my children’s savior (as in, take the God-spot) I’ve learned to ask myself these questions:
Isn’t learning to walk yoked with Jesus the most amazing thing I’ve discovered yet in my own life?
And don’t I want more than anything for my kids to choose this full-abundant-scary-good-life?