Practicing Parents

A Double Portion

~ by Corey Fields

Spaghetti
photo by Matt Clingan

I recently got to try my hand at single parenting…for 10 days, anyway.

My wife just returned from Nicaragua. Before she left, she helped me get a lot of things prepared, and at one point she asked me, “What else can I do to help you?”

I answered, “Let me have a double portion of your spirit.”

OK, I didn’t really say that. But while my wife was gone, one of my daily scripture readings was 2 Kings 2, the last interactions between Elijah and Elisha before Elijah is taken up into heaven. Before the best known part about the chariot of fire, there is some fascinating dialogue between Elijah and Elisha, culminating with this:

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

In biblical times, the first born son was entitled to a double share of the father’s inheritance relative to what younger sons received, and Elijah was something of an adoptive father to Elisha.

But the request for a double portion of one’s spirit was unique, and Elijah responded to the request by saying, “You have asked a difficult thing, yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

Here’s a modernized version of what Elisha asked for: “If I could be just half the man of God that you are, I will manage OK.”

“Double portion” did not mean “twice as much.” A first born son was not getting double what his father had, but merely double what was customary. Nor was Elisha asking to have double the power that Elijah had. It was a bold yet humble request, asking for more than what is customary while simultaneously saying that he himself felt that he was nothing on his own.

This is something like what I found myself saying to my wife. “Please, before you leave me to be a single parent for 10 days, just tell me how to be half the parent you are, and I’ll be OK.”

No, that’s not tongue in cheek. I greatly look up to my wife as a woman and mother and always feel highly incompetent as a parent next to her. I’ve also always said that I don’t know how single parents do it. As the adult in the family who works full time and is gone more, I’ve always admired how my wife can handle the children by herself when needed. The thought of ever having to do it myself for an extended period of time always freaked me out a little, so before her trip, my nerves were definitely getting the best of me. I can relate to the conversation a little earlier in 2 Kings 2 when Elijah keeps reminding Elisha that he was going to be taken from him soon, and Elisha responds, as it actually reads in the NIV, “Yes, I know, so be quiet” (kind of like putting his fingers in his ears and singing, “La la la la”).

I learned a few things while my wife was gone. Number one: I’m pitiful. I didn’t even have to do anything hard. I need to get that out of the way before real single parents are ready to throw things at me. We didn’t have any major mishaps (unless you count the kitchen sink faucet coming off in my hand), we didn’t have any illnesses, and I didn’t have to make a major trip to the grocery store. Oh, I almost forgot: I wasn’t working either. So all I can say is that true single parents are superheroes. I stand in awe of you.

But I noticed something else: I surprised myself. When my wife was still around, I was psyching myself out. Once she left, the reality that I was alone and my children were dependent on me was all I needed to get up and going. Her departure produced more energy and motivation, not less. There was something in me that I had that I didn’t know I had until I was required to use it.

As it turns out, things like spiritual gifts and “double portions” have a tendency to be latent until they are called forth by an absence or loss.

In the Bible, “double portions” and other inheritances were only imparted once the giver, parents, mentor, etc. was gone. Of course, my wife being gone was only temporary (thank God). But the same pattern could be seen in those 10 short days. Granted, I didn’t do everything my wife’s way (something she quickly became aware of upon her return), but I have to wonder if I would have ever fully perceived my commitment and potential as a parent had I not experienced this absence of my wife. No, I’m not normally an absentee father; it’s just that my wife is home more and definitely takes the lead.

Read on in 2 Kings 2. After Elijah was gone, Elisha then realized his ability to tap into the power of God to perform miracles.

One of the great losses of this century was the cancellation of the radio show “Car Talk” on NPR. I know nothing about cars, but listened to the show’s hilarious hosts religiously. I clearly remember one show in which a teenage girl called into the show and asked for advice on getting the hang of operating a manual transmission vehicle. Her father had been riding and working with her but she felt she was getting nowhere and it always ended in frustration and arguments. The advice that hosts Tom and Ray offered that seemed to connect most with the girl was to try driving without her father. Ray shared that he had a similar experience with his own son. When he got out of the car and told his son to try it for himself, “15 minutes later he came back and he was all set.”

When we look up to or depend on someone, we are timid about stepping up ourselves, if we are even aware we can. The loss or absence of such people can be painful and disorienting, even if it’s temporary. But what if that’s precisely when God will call us forth and make His power known in us?

In our spiritual lives, we sometimes even feel the absence of God, an experience that has received a lot of attention in spiritual works. Many have spoken of a “dark night” within the soul, from St. John of the Cross to Mother Teresa. Even Jesus Himself echoed the psalmist’s experience of the absence of God (Matthew 27:46/Psalm 22:1). It’s painful, hard, and agonizing.

But what if God occasionally allows us to experience (or perceive) absence for similar reasons like the father needing to get out of the car and let his daughter go?

No, God never “leaves us or forsakes us” (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5). It’s just that we, in our finite existence, perceive it as desertion. Some absences are empowering.

So whether you’re a single parent, married parent, grandparent, etc.: be encouraged. You can do it. We all need our own parents, our own mentors, our spouses, our friends. They’re there for a reason. But know that when they leave you–temporarily or permanently–that it’s only then that you may find out, for the first time, that you have a double portion.

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