Hands-off Parenting

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“If knowing answers to life’s questions is absolutely necessary to you, then forget the journey. You will never make it, for this is a journey of unknowables – of unanswered questions, enigmas, incomprehensibles, and, most of all, things unfair.”

– Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon

I often hear God speak to me through reading fictional stories in books and watching films in a way that methodical Bible study can’t. It’s helpful to have developed the fine art of bone-spitting because sometimes the precious morsel that nourishes me is buried in distraction.

As I lay in bed, too sore after surgery to sleep anymore last night, I watched a British movie, Housewife, 49. The film tells the story of a woman whose role as an attentive mother was no longer required. The problem was that her sons had grown up and she was learning the art of hands-off parenting just as World War II was breaking out over their heads where they lived near the shipyards in England. She suffered from severe anxiety.

Her story is one of gradually rejecting the defining edges of the box others put her in. She discovered, under duress, she was capable of more than she knew. The crisis came when her beloved son, who up until that point served in a relatively safe post close to home, wanted to volunteer for a much riskier assignment.

It’s one thing to learn to trust God to guide your own life through unforeseen twists and turns in the road. It’s another to take your hands off your children and let them take risks when you have first-hand experience of seeing the negative consequences of  decisions made by friends and family over the years. You have read a lot more news stories and bailed out a lot more people from wrecks along the way. It’s so hard not to try to convince your adult children to play it safe.

In the film our heroine (for she was truly that) discovered that much of the frustration in her life had been because of her husband’s need to keep her shut up in the house like Peter the Pumpkin-eater tried to keep his in a pumpkin shell. He finally confessed it was his fear for her safety that motivated his actions. But it was those actions that increased her anxiety and feelings of meaninglessness.

She realized she could not impose her fear on her son, even if the consequence was his death on the battlefield. She let him go.

I’ve had to make those letting go decisions with my own kids. More than anything in the world I wanted to be a mother. I enjoyed being a mother. At one point you could say I was a professional mother, filling in and taking foster children into our home until their mothers could care for them again. But there was always a time to let go – and it was always before the road ahead was smooth and predictable.

My daughter moved to a Caribbean Island to take a teaching position. I still have a photo of her the day she left smiling in anticipation of “awesome year in the sun.”

It was not awesome. She was in two seriously life-threatening-sized hurricanes in the first month. Her job was not as advertised, everything she owned was stolen from a storage facility at home, including tax information and personal diaries. She nearly died of sudden hemorrhage and experienced emergency major surgery in a tiny six-bed hospital that did not provide linens or food or fly swatters. That’s where she was told she had a condition that meant she would be unable to have children. The man she loved told her he was marrying someone else. She became homeless because of greedy developers, and one day, while out jogging, was chased by a pack of wild dogs with evil intent.

I had a lot of questions about why God didn’t give my precious girl an awesome year in the sun. I was reluctant to do any letting go for some time after that.

A few years later she went through a really tough time. Nurses brought her into a room in the ICU to say goodbye to her husband who lay dying from flesh-eating disease. I was with her at the time and was amazed at her faith and ability to praise God in the worst  circumstances.

He didn’t die. He was miraculously healed and now they and their three miraculously conceived children are on another adventure. People asked how she had such faith and she pointed back to her time on the island, particularly the moment when she faced the wild dogs knowing she was defenseless and there was no one around.

She heard a voice that said, “Stop!” She obeyed, stopped running, turned and faced the dogs. Instead of lunging at her throat they dropped their heads, whined, and disappeared into the undergrowth. She met the God who is her keeper on a hot dusty road that day.

Parenting adult children means taking our hands off so God can put his hands on. God has no grandchildren. They need to know for themselves that he is their God, and not merely the God of their parents. They need to know he will take them farther along the road than we have gone.

It’s been a struggle. Hands-off doesn’t mean heart-off. If my kids or grandkids need me I am willing to drop everything and go. I pray constantly, but I am still learning that prayer for family means standing in the gap without standing in the way.

God is God and I am not. He is much more capable of loving them than I am.

When they became parents, our kids all invited us back into their lives. They’ve included us in business and creative partnerships and encourage us to be active influencers in their children’s lives. They are all competent experts in their own fields and we frequently consult them. I love them very much and am proud of all of them – and their spouses. If we were not related it would still be an honour to know them. God is good.

Our daughter and her husband wrote about his miraculous recovery. It includes chapters by one of the attending physicians who verifies the medical aspects of the story and their bishop who gives insight into the spiritual implications of the events. Details, photos and videos here: While He Lay Dying

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Trust Me

 

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I have encountered enough narcissistic and sociopathic personalities in my lifetime that if a charming new acquaintance says, “Trust me,” I’m pretty sure I should do just the opposite.

In this time in history the Lord seems to be exposing hidden corruption in formerly trusted institutions. Whether revelations involve government, media, medicine, education, religion, or even dark family secrets mouldering away in too many basements, it is easy to become jaded.

When the foundations are crumbling, what can we do?

We are facing a national and international crisis of trust. Who do we believe? Who is not secretly self-serving? This is not limited to individuals who lack empathy. Special interest groups and even entire countries seem to be following a me-first narcissistic agenda.

Many people are shouting, “You’ve got to do something!” Few people have helpful suggestions.

As I face situations all around me which I cannot possibly fix and am tempted to go into over-responsible eldest child overdrive I hear my heavenly Father’s voice.

Trust Me.

I do, Lord. Mostly. I wish I could trust you more. I just don’t know how.

Grace.

Grace?

Grace not only allows you to see who I am, it reveals who I am not. My Grace trumps the world’s expectations.

I pondered this. My past experience taught me to expect punishment, criticism, disapproval, disappointment, nasty surprises, betrayal.

Then I watch the little grandchildren I have been caring for. They are so sweet. I don’t have to be fashionably attractive, or legally vetted, or financially well-endowed, or Good Housekeeping-approved to earn a genuine spontaneous hug. They trust me.

I make mistakes, and accidentally step on toes or forget which coloured bowl they prefer, but I adore them and would never intentionally do anything to harm them. They know that. They trust me to protect them, nurture them and have their best interests at heart. They take me at my word and don’t question my motives.

Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Our Father in heaven is not like the authority figures who have let us down. Not even close. A lot of the process of learning to regain child-like trust involves letting go of lies we have been believed about God.

A song from my childhood has been playing in my head this week.

“‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!” 

-Louisa M. R. Stead

Here’s the thing. Babies don’t trust parents because they have read a resume or done a performance evaluation or run a background check. Babies trust because they have no options. Becoming like a child is simply resting and letting God be who he is – someone who knows and loves every hair, every cell, every heartbeat.

Unlike our own parents he will never drop us on our heads or use us to serve his unmet needs. He will not place responsibilities upon us that are too heavy for our level of maturity, nor will he enable learned helplessness by restricting our freedom to grow.

I hear him say, “So you’re out of options. I’m not. Trust me.”

IMG_0224But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18: 16,17 NIV)

On his lap. It’s the best place to be.

 

Unafraid

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You will not be afraid of the terror by night,
Or of the arrow that flies by day;
Of the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
Or of the destruction that lays waste at noon.

For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways.
They will bear you up in their hands,
That you do not strike your foot against a stone.

(Psalm 91:5-6, 11-12)

Anxiety can be one of the most crippling aspects of dementia in the elderly. It is so difficult for people who have always been in control to allow others to help them.

Psalm 91 was a great comfort to my mother. Songs remain in the mind after many other memories have faded. Musical settings of scriptures full of assurance can be such a comfort. Thank God for the strength of music.

Without those treasures buried in our hearts throughout a lifetime of learning to trust, the darkness can be very dark indeed. I see the difference in my four family members who have walked or who are walking this memory loss path. We reap what we sow. The fruit of a lifetime of sowing seeds of faith and the fruit of years of sowing seeds of fear look very different when night falls.

Lord, teach us to trust you and dwell in your shelter now, so that it will always be a familiar refuge we can slip into easily.