Sunday, June 20, 2010

Promises I Have Not Kept - A Father's Day Reflection

I have the world's greatest kids. I am really bad at letting them know that I know that. I am quick to teach, to explain, to correct. I am too quick to discipline, to come across as biting, to undercut. Without intention, I too often make them feel small.

When they were born, I made promises to them, to Gena, to myself, to God. When I looked forward, I had no doubt that I would be the Dad with the intimate, sharing relationship with each of my kids. There would be nothing that they could or would not tell me. I would be full of compassion, kindness, and patience. I, who have been such a recipient of the grace and lovingkindness of God, would be a conduit of that same grace and lovingkindness to my kids.

I have not kept those promises. I am not patient, not nearly patient enough. I speak unkindly far too often.

Oh, I have my excuses. I have high expectations for my kids... I see things in them that they don't see and to which they need to be pushed ... The world out there is tough and they need to be ready... I am tired... They know better...

I could go on and on.

But to push my kids to meet my personal expectations in the midst of a tough world was not my promise. My promise was to be patient and kind and to model for them the incredible grace that has been shown to me. I fail.

I think I know why. Oh, of course part of the "why" is my own selfishness and my own inflated ego. Part of the reason is my unwillingness to take my eyes off my own goals, whether they be goals for them or goals for me.

But the real reason is self-reliance. I have thought for years that I have this parenting thing figured out. I know what is best and I know how to get there. I have smart kids, and they will figure out what I intend and what I know - even when I don't bother to verbalize those things - and cut me slack when I am ungracious along the way. If everybody will just follow my plan, the results will be wonderful.

That is so counter to everything I know about the gospel. The point of our lives is that we cannot help ourselves. I am stuck in a miry pit. I am a sinner. The hymnwriter says I am a wretch. How can I possibly keep these promises?

I cannot keep these promises myself. Years of empirical evidence prove that only too well.

Of course the gospel does not stop there. Patience and kindness are not something I can gin up on my own, but I have a Helper. Patience and kindness and goodness are fruit of the Spirit. They are His work, not mine.

It is time for me to get out of the way. It is time for my kids to see less of the promises and more of the Promise.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Half Pint and Me

Melissa Gilbert is in town, playing (ironically) the mother in the musical version of "Little House on the Prairie."

I am a child of the 70s. Melissa Gilbert is my age, give or take a year. Like most kids my age, I grew up watching her on TV. Like most boys, I never actually admitted to liking "Little House," but I nevertheless had a crush on Melissa Gilbert. I have watched her grow up as I have grown up. I have admired her.

The newspaper story about the musical mentioned her recent autobiography. I have a new Kindle, and I decided I would download and read it. Surely I would find out more about my secret junior high celebrity crush.

Turns out her life was not what I imagined when seeing her as Laura Ingalls... a life of Hollywood celebrity in the 70s and 80s that was complete with sex and drugs and the whole nine yards. OK, I get it. I saw a well-crafted image, and I fell for it.

That is not what speaks to me. What speaks to me is the life that so many lead. I wrote a blog a while back about how I recognize that my life is vastly different from that led by so many. And I know that contrasting my sheltered, straight-laced Southern Baptist upbringing with the Brat Pack lifestyle is not a stretch.

But it is not just Hollywood. I have a good friend who shares many of my values. This friend would be considered to be much "like" me by folks who meet us both. But this friend's life has been much different from my own. Choices - both moral and emotional - have been so different. Experiences that for me would have been earth shattering have instead been routine. Conversely, this friend is astounded at how I have lived my life, never really believing that anyone took seriously some of the things that have dominated my decisions.

My parents were visited last week by distant relatives who, according to my mother, "come from another world."

We are surrounded by people from another world. We interact with them every day. One of the great faults of my culture is the assumption that everyone else is "like me." Oh, it is easy to assume that those Hollywood nuts are running wild, but to think that the person I talk to every day has tried things and experienced things - and liked them and thinks they are perfectly acceptable - that I would consider taboo is a critical reminder. I cannot assume that my particular bubble describes everyone else - or even anyone else.

We are all different. How we see the world is different. When someone disagrees with me, I would do well to remember that.

I am not nearly as judgmental as I used to be. I still know what I believe to be right and wrong. I am no more inclined to situational ethics or relative morality than ever. But I also am learning more and more that everybody has his or her own parameters and viewpoints, largely shaped by environments and influences that were not chosen.

I can still admire Melissa Gilbert. And my friend and I are continuing to forge a relationship. In fact, all of my friends and I forge relationships out of our varied histories.

God placed us in a world of interactions with all kinds of people, all created in God's image. Having our eyes opened to more and more varieties of people - who have made choices different from our own and have had experiences we would never approach - does not taint us. It enriches us.

Open your world. Aristotle said that it is the mark of the educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it. Jesus said that we should welcome the stranger. It is no compromise to have relationship with those different from you, to hear of their experience, to consider their point of view.

My life is fuller because of all the people in it.