Last weekend, dad and I took a three day getaway to Door County. We’ve been stumbling and somersaulting our way through the last five months as the relentless calendar pushed us ever forward. And though we had scheduled this retreat months ago, other than booking a hotel and jotting down a few must try restaurants we had done absolutely nothing to prepare for our time away. Along with every other Wisconsinite last weekend, we suffered severe whiplash when the weather spiked a 90 degree, sun-filled weekend after offering up only cold and rainy days for months. We had packed for much cooler weather. I neglected to bring a backpack for hiking, bug spray for the woods or sunscreen to protect us against this alien source of scorching heat at which we were obliged to squint. There was no bottled water, no stocked snacks or breakfast foods for out hotel room or hikes through Peninsula State Park. We forgot to bring cash and were even denied coffee from the hotel vendor while we waited for breakfast one morning. Our frustration finally turned to hilarity when Dad unhooked our bikes for our first venture through the park and we realized he had packed not my adult-sized conservatively-colored bike helmet, but Haven’s bright pink kid-sized one.
I tell you all this to say that this unpreparedness for our getaway last weekend has become my personal metaphor for my parenting of you this last year.
Once upon a time parenting seemed so straightforward. I was prepared. I had an organized parenting survival kit of everything I might need to excel as your mom. I saw my way clearly. I even summed up the good and the bad in your life and presented it in a neat little package each birthday letter. (I’m over a month late with this year’s letter!) But this year has been a sobering one to be your mom. I see that the waters of your heart are deep and I wonder if I have the wisdom to draw them out.
You’re pushing for greater independence, sometimes forgetting that you’re still a child. You hate to be reminded of your age. At times you resent our authority or the demands we place on you as your parents. I remember watching you as a toddler–a little firecracker of a thing–wondering what God would make of all that aggression, independence and focus. When I sat across the table from Mrs. Schroeder at our parent/teacher conference this year, I heard her (with great personal pleasure) complimenting your drive and self-motivation, your diligence and self-mastery, and realized again that we are already seeing the fruits of those qualities we noticed (but admired a little less) when you were a baby. And when you won the hustler award at our end of season soccer party, we knew there was no more fitting accolade for you. Whatever your hand finds to do, you do it heartily. Though you often greet whatever our hands find for you to do with hearty resistance!
With each achievement and with each passing year, I can’t help but notice how attached you’re becoming to this place. You’re always searching out pleasure, fun, and new things to try and achieve. I have never been overburdened by the desire to make your childhood magical and perfect, though I know you wish I’d try =) Life is full of ordinary moments–days and months of routine and repetition, punctuated by periods of intense joy, moments of almost unspeakable pleasure. But there is joy to be had in the routine and in the repetition as well. It has taken me the better part of three and a half decades to stop wishing for the next big exciting thing, and to stare the moment I’m in unflinchingly in the face without giving way to dread, frustration, laziness, worry, anger, despair and the like. When Dad preached several weeks ago at church from Ecclesiastes 1, he spoke about holding the “futility” of life in one hand all the while firmly grasping the “joy” of life in the other. It is possible to approach life here on earth with acceptance of the kinds of trouble and hardships that accompany it with a settled joy–knowing that your permanent home, full of unmitigated joy is just ahead. This knowledge helps us not to overemphasize either the cursed nature of life here under the sun or the many good gifts God has graciously given us to enjoy while we wait. It turns our eyes to the good giver and away from the gifts themselves so that we do not keep a strangle hold on them, trying to squeeze out more joy than they can reasonably offer. But you’re quick to reject the futility, allowing yourself to become unhinged by it at times. And far too often you allow these smaller joys to pass by undetected all the while trying to wring out soul satisfaction from life’s bigger moments. But you’re only just 9. I don’t suppose you’ll learn these truths much quicker than your mother.
The trend I see developing in your life is this desire to make it perfect–to achieve much, and to exercise absolute control over your circumstances so that life will always be good and happy. So I look into that neatly packed parenting survival kit of mine thinking I’ll find just the right tools to help correct your thinking. But instead of finding that perfect tool, I see only a disordered, arbitrary compilation of odds and ends that simply won’t do the job. And after a few moments of panicking over my poor preparation, I go where I should have gone first–to my knees. And as I pray, I am struck repeatedly by this thought:
God’s ways are so good, Asher.
Everything in life is a variable. God is the only constant. And this same God who you began to learn about as a toddler is the same God you pray and sing to now, the one who “knows your failures, speaks forgiveness, [and] gives you strength to try again.” It is this same God who will be with you in the uncertainties of your teens, the strength of your twenties, the achievements of your thirties, in the trials of your forties and in the losses of your fifties. It is he who will lead you through the valley of the shadow of death to a table he has prepared for you in his presence. He is always there. You can always speak to him. The unpredictable nature of this life is in sharp contrast to the eternal and unchanging nature of God. In this earthly life, change and inconstancy rule the day. Just when things seem good–really good–we blindly stumble again into that brick wall of futility, and are reminded again that this place is not our home–it will never satisfy. Sometimes it seems like it might, but in the end it always disappoints. God alone can show you the path of life. In his presence there is fullness of joy and at his right hand, pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
It is this good God who designed the family–your family. And although the family institution itself is impermanent and under the curse of sin like the rest of this world–it is one of the more constant “variables” in each of our lives. There are few better predictors for success in this world than a person’s home life as a child. Stability, security, love, provision–all these things coalesce to form a springboard for children, ready to vault them into successful adult lives. The family is God’s intended nursery for children and his plan was flawless. And with God’s help, Dad and I are following this good design and we intend to parent you!
But in this sin-sick world, parents abuse their authority and children rebel against their parents. In this sin-sick world disease and death separate families. And in this sin-sick world parents shirk their responsibilities, marriage is devalued, families fall apart and children suffer.
The whole world labors under this same sin-sickness. There is no perfection. Not here. And certainly not in our family. Even as a new nine year old, you are well aware of your parent’s flaws. We don’t always make it easy for you to obey. We aren’t always fair. We don’t always see things clearly or come to the right conclusion. But there is a goodness to seeing the far reaching effects of sin. God cursed the world because of it, though this cursing wasn’t strictly punitive–an act of a merciless God, but rather pronounced from a heart of wisdom and kindness. Recognizing that this world is not as it should be stirs in us a longing for a better one. When we look hard and long at the futility and when we feel our own fragility and mortality, it is then we sense that we were made for something better, something permanent–for a relationship with the only perfect parent–our Heavenly Father. And when we submit to his design we begin to feel its goodness. We begin to see the evil in the world as God’s way of driving us back to him–the only source of true joy.
Now I see you trying to figure this world out. I see you creating the habits of Bible reading, journaling and prayer. I hear all your questions–many of them still the black and white of “do we do this?” but far more often the complex “why’s” and “how’s”. You’re tapping into the unsearchable judgements and inscrutable ways of our great God and it thrills my heart. I can tell you this–that if you seek God you will find him. I used to read the OT with such reservation, afraid of the God I would find there. He seemed to me so far off, so austere, so unmerciful. But as you read and read and read his word you slowly become transformed by it. Your perspective changes. You begin to look at the world with God’s eyes. The words of his book pierce your soul. You begin to see humans (ourselves too, God help us!) as the rebellious, ungrateful, God-hating race that they are–creatures who boldly grasp at all the good he has given in this world without so much as acknowledging him as the giver and maker of it all. We take credit for the talents and skills he has gifted us with. We eat his food, enjoy his sun, explore his world, find joy in the work he has given us, exalt the creativity and ingenuity of the human mind without even a nod at the one who designed it all. And we shake our fists at him for speaking of his good purposes for our lives. We are bent on hating him and rejecting his ways.
But as we read we come to find how this merciful God sent his son not to destroy and condemn us, but to save us and to bring us back to him. He loved us even while we hated him. And, he can teach our hearts to requite his love, putting us on the only path of true joy. As the words of one of my favorite hymns say:
Thy mercy is more than a match for my heart,
Which wonders to feel its own hardness depart;
Dissolved by the goodness, I fall to the ground
And weep to the praise of the mercy I’ve found.
Keep reading, my son. Learn to love God and his good ways. Let both the futility and the joys of this life continually drive you back to the only source of true joy. Happy 9th, Asher. We’re so grateful you’re ours! And though we may have a poorly-packed parenting survival kit, we’ve got access to the one perfect parent who delights in hearing our prayers and imparting his wisdom.