Being a parent, especially attempting to be an intentional parent who wants to raise my children to know and love God, plays on every fear that lives inside me. Let me show you how.
On a typical night, I will send my 11 year old up to get ready for bed and then,15-20 minutes later, go in to say goodnight, tuck her in, tell her I love her, and pray with her. But here and there, it goes more like this: I go in to say goodnight and find that she hasn’t even started getting ready for bed. We’re already running late because I lost track of time and it’s now a half hour past bedtime. I see her reading in her bed and can’t hide the disappointment on my face. She thinks I’m mad at her and maybe I am a little mad at the fact that she has completely ignored me. But really I have already jumped to how she’s going to have a difficult time getting up in the morning, which means she’ll be running late, which means she will barrel down the stairs and wolf down breakfast before running out the door screaming, “The BUS IS HERE” as if it’s a surprise to her that the bus comes at 7:04am every day. And all of this means that I will not have time to read a little devotional with her before she goes to school and I won’t be able to pray with her, even briefly, and I won’t have the opportunity to model for her that Jesus comes first. And I won’t be able to remind her that she is loved by the King of the Universe. And all of that means that she won’t think about Jesus one single time that day and when she has problems with friends, she won’t turn to Him. And when a teacher shames her in front of the class, she won’t find comfort in Him. And when she rides home on the bus by herself because a friend has put on a “mean girl” persona for the day, she won’t turn her heart toward the only source of true Comfort. In short, because my daughter is not ready for bed at this exact moment, I have utterly failed at raising her to know Jesus. Period.
The look on her face when I tell her again to get ready for bed is inscrutable. What exactly can I glean from her blank eyes, slumped shoulders and barely audible, “ok…”? Well if the high-pitched crazy voice in my head that emerges most powerfully when I am feeling insecure and likes to sneer nastily at me as it whispers, You suck, would shut up for just 5 seconds, I might be able to interpret her blank look as a simple, “Oh crap, I was really into this book I’m reading and lost track of time.” But instead, everything in me is tingling with anxiety and fear and it’s all I can do to walk calmly out the door.
Everyday seems filled with a hundred scenarios like this. I encounter a somewhat normal situation (getting the kids to bed) and am suddenly gripped by some version of paranoia, fear and the shocking presence of that voice mocking me in my own head. And this experience is never more powerful then when I am trying to engage my children in some sort of spiritual practice.
Simply hearing another parent talk about some gloriously rich practice that they are doing with their kids fills me with such loathsome dread that I find I can barely move at times. Because, you see, I love God. I love Him. I want to know Him better. I (mostly) want to please Him with my life. I believe that all of life is about Him: His glory, His purpose, His plan, and that I am a part of that great big wonderful story. I believe that all of creation and every man, woman and child, echoes His name, His character, His image. I am deeply aware of my sin and the wicked webs that I weave in my own heart, mind and life. I see the pride in my life that keeps me from admitting when I’m wrong and from moving toward people when I think I’ll look stupid or weak.
I am very aware of my need for a Savior. And I want my children to need a Savior too. Let me rephrase: I want them to be AWARE of their need for a Savior. Which is why, at the dinner table, when it is time for one of my children to pray (we TRY to build in a practice of thanksgiving, of slowing down to honor and contemplate how everything we have comes from this good and loving God) and they both shrink away from me, literally trying to hide beneath the table, that I begin to hear that voice in my head again: laughingly pointing out that I am a failure and my kids will surely have a terrible life because I am clueless. That they will not have what they need to know God. That they will bumble and fall and break all their bones and shatter their lives into a million trillion pieces before they are ever able to look up and see that they are so loved by the God who spoke and BAM, life existed. And. I. Don’t. Want. That.
I am terrified of the pain that my children will experience in life and I want so badly to save them from it. To rescue. To help them see NOW, while they are young and the risks are so small, that they can trust God, that He is all wisdom and pleasure. I want them to see NOW that the way He has designed us to live brings LIFE and that seeking life in other places only leads (despite what the commercials and media and friends say) to death…death of the heart. Death of personhood. Death of the soul. And I would really, really, really like to make sure that death doesn’t touch them (anyone seeing the problem with my logic yet?) because I am afraid. Terrified.
In my battles with fear, I imagine horrible horrible things happening. (Perhaps it’s not imagination but the fact that I read the news and have my eyes open long enough to see that the world is screaming out in pain.) I imagine my husband and I being ripped from this world, leaving a wake of destruction in the lives of my children. I imagine equally horrendous things happening to my children: death, paralysis, addiction, making it almost impossible for them to believe that there is a God out there who is both Love and Justice, completely and mysteriously. So when my children shrink away from me at the dinner table after a light request to thank God for our many blessings, this is where I jump to: right off the bridge of sanity into the depths of neurotic fear and despair as I watch them turn their backs on God and die. The end.
Whew! Now that I got that all out (it was very cathartic for me…how about you?), I find that I cannot simply stay here. I can’t stay in a place of fear and despair because that is not who I am anymore. There are times that, while my life looks pretty good and steady and happy on the surface, I experience something more like a long trudge through the valley of death; sometimes alone, sometimes with my family.
Sometimes the lurking danger is a threat to me; sometimes it is a threat to them. Sometimes it comes in the shape of a near-miss car accident; sometimes it comes creeping in at dinnertime, or bedtime. Either way, I struggle to walk tall and certain through that valley and I must chant some truth to myself over and over again (perhaps the only spiritual discipline that I have come close to mastering), just as I have done since my earliest memories as a child as I struggled then to fight the paralyzing fear of shadows, monsters, and the certainty that Chucky lived in my closet (If you don’t know who Chucky is, you are blessed indeed).
And so I chant, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil [or cancer or death or paralysis or Chucky dolls or bad car accidents or loss of faith or rebellion or pain in marriage], for you, Jesus, are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Slightly adapted from Psalm 23:4, ESV).