Monday, February 15, 2010

Peace-filled Parenting, Part 1

Does that title sound like an oxymoron?

Our house is anything but quiet. And for many years, it was not peace-filled either. Until the past few years. Now, and with utmost humility, I can boast in Christ who has made our home peace-filled. More particularly, He has made our hearts peace-filled.

If you will indulge me so, let me explain a bit...

As if it were only yesterday, I remember my first pregnancy. We were so excited for the huge changes - both to my belly and to our budding family. However, it wasn't long into my pregnancy before I started to get questions. And not innocent, "how are you?" questions. They went something like this:
  • Do you plan to breastfeed?
  • Will you use formula?
  • An all-natural birth?
  • An epidural? Inducement?
  • Home birth? Hospital delivery?
  • Circumcision or not?
  • Are you finding out what you are having? Or not?
  • Are you going to immunize? Or not?
  • Are you sticking to a specific diet? exercising?

I started dreading the grocery store for fear of a mini-Inquisition starting on the produce aisle. Are you really going to eat tofu while you're pregnant? No. You're not? Well, you really should consider it... sheesh, I was just reaching for the bean sprouts, Peoples.

The questions continued throughout the pregnancy, and I'm sure if you have been on the pregnancy end of things, you might have experienced this phenomenon. Many people have very strong opinions about certain things - immunizations, homeschooling, natural versus modern medicine, organic eating, environmental protection, saving money, breastfeeding...the list goes on and on and on. What I found, though, was that these were not just opinions, they were passions. That was easy to discern - opinions are easy to hear, but passionate people - when they state their cause - can sometimes leave you feeling remiss, or at the very least, in the dark about an obviously important topic. I am this way when I talk about Jesus. People are usually offended or at the very least, leave feeling in the dark (or that I'm in the dark). Passion is not a bad thing. Sometimes, however, it can get a little intense to those who listen. I remember one lady telling me how terrible sliced deli meat was because all of the nitrates in them could hurt me and the baby. I was so desperately hungry for a turkey sandwich! But to her, it was obviously the wrong choice to make. I made it anyways, and as far as I know, Punkin survived the nitrates.

The doctor did little to ease my fears. With many generalizations and rules of thumb, but no sure formulas or guarantees, the repeated words, "Every woman is different," did little to calm my anxieties.

Little did I know, this was just the tip of the iceberg. We weren't out of the hospital with the awkward wheelchair and carseat before someone was recommending that we homeschool. Again, an admirable venture for those who are called to it. But at the time, it only added to my anxiety. How could I possibly do it all right?!! As we loaded the baby into our 1994 Toyota Camry with the Mercedes emblem on the front hood, the humor of our little life wasn't so funny any more. We couldn't just eat cold cereal for dinner any more. We were parents. There were rules to this game. And if we were lucky, there might be a formula we could plug her into and watch a good outcome pop out on the other side of the equal sign.

It was up to us to decide her health, education, character formation, how many siblings she would have, what she would eat, how she would sleep, where we would live, if she would throw tantrums or not...the weight of it all was mind-boggling, especially for a sleep-deprived couple.

Peace was far from us. Both spiritual and physical.

I had heard Proverbs 22:6 growing up but it took on new meaning as I became a parent: train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

In some ways, this comforted me. If we could only train this little puking, pooping, cooing, sweet unpredictable bundle in "the way she should go," well, then, all our prayers would be answered. It was a guarantee, right?!! Here was the formula we were looking for!

In other ways, this verse brought me great distress. If Gil and I did not train her up in the way she should go, we were going to have a spiritual rebel on our hand, right? Isn't that what the verse was saying? She would rebel, walk away from the Lord, because we did not train her up in the way she should go.

Suddenly, all of those moments when I inwardly rolled my eyes at somebody who had a passion for their issue (when those issues were not areas I was passionate about) were moments I needed to retrieve, find the right answer, and shove it down Punkin's throat with the all-organic rice cereal.

And then, of course, the floaty phrase "the way she should go" did very little to calm my anxieties. What was the way she should go????!!! All those grocery store ambushes came rushing back to haunt me...
  • Did successful moms breastfeed or formula-feed?! Oh the dilemma!
  • Did successful moms homeschool or private school or public school?! Oh the sheer terror of making a mistake!
  • Never mind a Bradley method. What do you do with a tantrum?! Did successful moms spank or give time outs or have some other amazingly creative trick up their sleeve?
The truth of the matter is, I believed a big lie: that there are "successful" parents that produce "successful" children, who love God and never rebel. The worst part, I believe, about this lie is that it immediately dismisses the otherwise useful wisdom of great parents simply because they did not have great results. In other words, loving, faithful parents whose children rebelled were somehow faulty in their parenting, and therefore, their advice wasn't as valuable. Unless they wanted to admit what they did wrong. Of course, I was far too good of a Christian to admit this in words, but I was definitely thinking it. I apologize if you were one of those mothers. Because I'm one now, too. I'm not a "successful" parent. If success is producing born again Christian children, I can claim no success. Only God does this work, not me. And even then, it's really up to our children to make those daily choices to abide in Him.

It was here, in a surrendered place of giving up on "doing our kids right," that I entered REST. I don't understand it all completely, I feel like I'm at the very beginning of a long growth process (duh.). But Proverbs 22:6 has brought up a crossroads for me. For that reason, I'm very thankful for an otherwise bothersome verse. It brought out a lot of hidden pride in my own life. (for details, see the paragraph above.)

Now, I have four options in looking at this verse, train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
  1. All successful parents will produce God-fearing, born-again children. Conversely, all unsuccessful parents will produce rebellious, non-Christian children.
  2. If #1 is not necessarily true, my second route is to cut out this Bible verse. If great parents have rebellious children and non-Christian parents have godly children, this verse is wrong. It's not true.
  3. If I don't want to throw out Bible verses, I must consider, then, that God doesn't keep His promises. He promised Proverbs 22:6 and it doesn't seem to be maintained.
  4. If I believe God to be the Perfect Promise-Keeper, I must consider that Proverbs 22:6, albeit all of Proverbs, was never intended to be a promise. It was never a promise of God. God keeps His promises, the Bible is true, this is not a promise.
I am placing all of my confidence on Door #4. This is an easy one for me now. I know Door #1 is not true. And because I know Jesus and His Word, I easily dismiss #2 and #3.

This is not some earth-shattering new realization (except to me, perhaps). Most biblical scholars understand and agree that the book of Proverbs is one of general guidelines, definitely not "If...then..." statements to plug in names and circumstances for our comfort as promises.

Real rest has come to our home in realizing that "train up a child and when he is old, he will not depart from it" is a general rule of thumb, a great maxim for all parents. As all of Proverbs is, it is a generalization, never a formula to follow. Like the doctor's guidelines when we were pregnant, we all follow his or her advice but we understood that there are no promises for labor, delivery, and baby, even if we followed all of his or her instructions. That's just life. Every woman in the world who is pregnant understands that no matter how many thousands of women have had babies before them, there are no promises when it comes to childbirth. There are only lots of patterns, and general rules of thumb.

Similarly, there are no promises when it comes to child-rearing. Except that perhaps, they all will eventually bring us to our knees time and time again.

But I think most Christian parents stress out far more than they would admit about how their children will "turn out." Will they do it right? Will they not do it right? And the evidence will either pat them on the back or slap them in the face with every mention of grown children.

Such freedom in my house, in my heart, as I have let all of those questions and doubts about my own inadequacy fall away! Gil and I press toward the goal of the upward prize, forgetting what is behind. I approach the throne of grace with confidence, on my knees for my children and their hearts. I am a Peace-filled parent when I choose to walk in His strength, and I am praying for Peace-filled children.

I will end for now. But of course, since this blog is of my own volition, you all are stuck with more talk next time.

I'll try to make this much more practical in part two. Until then,

Resting in Him,

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