I have neither qualification nor desire to lay another “how-to” straw on the bending back of my fellow parents. Given that raising children is my daily life right now, writing about it from time to time is inevitable. For those of you likewise on this roller-coaster, I offer the following as encouragement, food-for-thought, and the beginning of discussion.
When God grants us stewardship of the next generation, our first and longest task is to remember why. Pursuing that, every other responsibility begins to take form.
As long as men and women have borne children, we have sought to control the outcome of the juggernaut that is “growing up.” Surely even Adam and Eve, raw to their new world of sin and death, wanted the best for their sons—somehow to escape the chains of evil fixed from the womb. Their firstborn murdered his brother, unleashing thousands of years of horror among the rest of their descendants. Children, always the repository of our hopes and dreams, have a fair shot at becoming instead withered cisterns of our fears, disillusionment, and re-enacted mistakes.
Just as often, however, the results come back positive. The rub comes as we wrestle with how to determine one product over another. We all know perfectly wonderful people who sprang from the cradles of awful parents. Likewise, we know those parents who “did everything right,” yet managed to go to their graves panged by the choices of one or more wayward children. Perhaps this sword pierces your own heart also.
Parents are pulled taut in every direction, preyed upon from all corners by those nourished on their fears. A thousand voices cry out, promising the cure for uncertainty—this diet, that discipline scheme, this medication (or avoidance thereof), that education method, my routine, will set you free—delivering your offspring safely to well-adjusted adulthood. Do this, and you’re off the hook. No sooner does one of these fads gain traction with the hopeful masses than a counterinsurgency roars to life, cleansing again the temples of parenthood.
Thus distraught, manipulated, and marketed to, what are parents to do? Finding ourselves as still-young men and women vested with this incredible responsibility, the pull to choose a parenting camp and do battle on their behalf is strong. Many (most?) of us hesitate, though, with mounting doubts. Fear closes in whenever silence allows, outmaneuvered only by fatigue. Like Elijah, we find ourselves despairing in the cleft of the mountain, doing our best to ignore the quotidian earthquake and tune out the whirlwind of “solutions.” But the still, small voice breaks in yet, calling us to take courage for He has not forsaken us.
For me, that voice repeats a chance conversation many years back with a friend’s mother (when I was less than a year married and a lot more certain about how to raise children than I am now as father to three girls). Asked how she was doing, she replied that she was headed to court to see her youngest son arraigned on drug charges. Somewhere in the chain of words stumbling after fell this gem: “The only way I can keep from blaming myself for their bad decisions is to remember that I can’t take any credit for the good ones.”
This is the way of grace. I am not the guarantor of my children’s fate, or even of my own, but merely a steward charged with faithfulness. This watchful waiting weighs on us, but it is a trifle compared to the burden of causation. This is freedom indeed: to give life, to love, to learn even as you teach. “Growing up” doesn’t begin at birth; it doesn’t end when we have children of our own. We grow with our responsibilities, shaping our lives as they shape us.
Loosed from those bonds, we are constrained by love to lead our children into that same stewardship. Even so, raising a family by the seat of one’s pants is as untenable as those stringent procedures on constant offer from everyone else. What equips and sustains us for the adventure is vision.
A vision is not a plan, or even a goal (though these have their place). It is articulated longing, hope given voice. Vision allows the end of the trail to remain in focus through countless climbs and descents. It imbues daily joys and struggles with glory beyond their simplicity, chiseling destinies from stones of circumstance and personality. Vision gives peace to an exhausted mother after yet another day of providing for, teaching, and cleaning up after often-ungrateful kids. It strengthens a father to work long hours at home in support of his wife after the long hours he put in to pay the bills are passed.
This too, is all of grace. Were our vision contingent on our own power, it would constrain and condemn as surely as any other scheme. The family vision that sees children, grandchildren, and beyond in faithful relationship with their Father and ours, begins only with that prophetic vision of Christ crucified. Any hope for our lives and our children fixed elsewhere leads to destruction. Seeing the eternal Son of God—descending, suffering, exalted—gives purpose to life and death, renders the agonizing endurable and the mundane luminous.