Thursday, March 3, 2011

Will the Kids Be Okay?

This is the final post in the series on hope overcoming fear.

Our oldest son Andrew is now 22. 

He bench presses over 300 pounds and serves as a Navy Corpsman for the United States Marines.  Along with his Marine pals on deployment he has unflinchingly eaten things that I pay an exterminator to kill and that I call animal control to capture.  He does not need a firearm to be a dangerous weapon.

And I worry about him.


It may not be what you think.  My wife Joy and I do not dwell on the possibilities of another deployment.  Visions of Afghanistan and IEDs and radical insurgents do not keep me up late at night.

Instead, different matters tug at my heart.  Is he happy? What will his career path look like? Will he find a helpmate to share his life with, someone to love and support just as he is loved and supported? Will he continue to grow in his faith, finding strength, comfort, joy and guidance there?

That worrying business goes all the way back to Andrew’s infancy.

When we strapped him into the car seat at the hospital for the first time, I was gripped with the realization that I was responsible for caring for, guarding, guiding and nurturing this little guy.

I was so cautious in my driving that the normally 10-minute car-ride home took what seemed like an hour.

Sitting in the back with Andrew, Joy asked me, “Why are you driving so slowly?”

“There’s group of runners in the road in front of me,” I said.

About half an hour later she noticed that I had stopped.  “What’s the holdup?”

“I caught up to the runners again.”

We worry about what will happen to our kids.  We worry about our adequacy as mothers and fathers.

Sometimes we respond to this worry with a crushing hypervigilance so accurately called helicopter parenting.  We try to hover over every aspect of our kids’ lives to prevent the worst from happening and to insure that only the best will happen.

At the opposite extreme, some are so afraid of alienating their sons and daughters that they assume a permissive posture.  These parents don’t set boundaries because they want their children to see them as friends.  Love (understood as undiscerning acceptance) wins, as it were.

There is another way.  Scripture teaches it to us: Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me.” (Matthew 19:14)

Three times distressed parents sought Jesus’ healing for their children, and Jesus healed them each time.  Read the stories of Jarius’ daughter (Mark 5:22ff), the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:22ff), and the father with the boy tormented by seizures (Mark 9:24).

Each of these passages contains a range of lessons, but they also teach us about how hope overcomes the fears we have about our children.  Jesus teaches us to place our children in his care.

Before you roll your eyes at the simplicity of this, let me tell you how I experienced the truth of this myself and what it actually means.

Just as my daughter Meredith was learning to pull herself up and take her first tentative steps, we discovered that she had a hole in her heart.  She needed open heart surgery.

My heart surgeon friends might think of this as routine, but that’s my daughter we’re talking about!

Joy and I were sorely afraid that Meredith would die.  A priest recommended to me that I pray each day to Jesus, imagining myself handing Meredith over to him.  In the midst of one of these prayers, I snatched her back and said, “Hell no! You might not give her back!”

I don’t generally hear things, but I did at that moment.  Perhaps it wasn’t audible, but it was clear.  Christ said, “When you give her to me you give her to life itself.”

This didn’t come to me as a guarantee that Meredith would be miraculously healed or even as a promise that the surgery would go without a hitch.  

Rather, this brief phrase started me on the path of getting my head around what I was really doing as a parent.

Meredith was God’s before she was ever mine.  

He has entrusted her to me so that I could know the great joy of joining Him in nurturing, guiding and caring for her.  His risk in trusting me has been unimaginable.  

As much as I love my daughter, his love for her infinitely exceeds mine.

My fears about my children recede when I remember whose they are.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ does not exempt them from the chances and changes of this life.  And neither do the Cross and the Empty Tomb guarantee that my own heart won’t be broken as a father.

The mystery of the crucified and risen Christ reassures me that love—not sorrow or pain or tragedy—has the last word.  My hope resides in giving that love—not my own fears—the last word.

8 comments:

  1. As I am currently dealing with what could be described as a crisis with one of my children, this post comes as a particularly opportune time.

    Your remarks concerning exemptions, guarantees and love as the last word are particularly apropos.

    As I continue to adjust my thoughts from thinking of my situation ass a crisis to viewing it as an opportunity, I will remember your helpful point of view as expressed in this writing. Thanks!

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  2. Thanks, Karen! Prayers ascending!

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  3. encouraging words for a soon-to-be father.
    Thanks Dean

    Kevin Payne
    kpayne@rogerscarterlaw.com

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  4. All three of you are in my prayers, Kevin!

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  5. Jake, your words are just perfect....as usual. However, I don't imagine your philosophical outlook has lessened your "worrying" about any of your children, nor should it ever! I know that my "worrying" about Katie has not lessened since the day she was born. Furthermore, until their dying days, my parents reflected their care about how happy my siblings and I were...despite the fact that our roles as "care takers" had effectively changed. So, I guess I'm saying I'm not going to stop worrying, but it's reassuring to know "someone else" is worrying, as well.;-)

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  6. Thanks, Ann. I will always hope for the happiness and well-being of my children. Their joys delight me and their sorrows weigh on me, and i pray for the balance to be tipped decidedly toward joy! No question about it.

    But as I can confidently say about you and your love for Katie (and Josie), my faith really changes the hue of that concern for their future. Their happiness is my deep desire, but by God's grace not a source of gnawing anxiety or fear.

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  7. It's completely humbling and mind-boggling to remember that God loves my Thomas more than I do. I am glad that Thomas belongs to Him. These days I picture Thom walking around with an invisible fort protecting him. I pray that Thomas comes to love God back..Joy

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  8. I join you in those prayers, Joy!

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