Thursday, April 28, 2011

Stopping The Train

I wrote in January about the biography John Adams by David McCullough.  One of the things that struck me most while reading the book was the strength of Abigail, John's wife.  She spent years separated from her husband and her children, and although she struggled, her faith and sense of purpose never waivered.  Recently, I found a reference to one of Abigail's letters in a different book.  Here's what she wrote:
"It is not in the still calm of life...that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When the mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman."
On its own this quote is inspiring, but when considered in context it becomes powerfully convicting for me.  This letter was written in the winter of 1777-78 and was directed to her nine-year-old son, John Quincy.  His father had recently been appointed commissioner to France, and it had been determined that John Quincy would accompany him as he "ardently wished".  Abigail would remain at home to manage the house and care for the younger children.  As the scheduled departure grew near, John Quincy began to have second thoughts about his choice to travel with his father.  After all, it could be years before he returned to familiar territory, and sea travel was treacherous.  Abigail's greatest fear in life was sea travel, so she surely understood her son's apprehension; however, she gently but firmly redirected her son and insisted that he move forward as previously decided.  Her encouragement to him was to embrace the difficulties he was sure to face and allow them to shape into a stronger person. 

I found the quote above in the book Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas.  His point in that specific chapter is to encourage parents to be strong enough in our faith to allow our children to face difficulties and struggles.  By allowing our children to experience fear, uncertainty, and even failure we allow them to discover how desperately we all need a Savior.  Their failures help shape them into stronger individuals.  Thomas states that "we must become strong enough spiritually to watch them [our children] hurt, to see them become disappointed, to hear their cries.  Otherwise, we risk raising safe and compliant kids with an empty core.  In this area our own immaturity and spiritual weakness can handicap our children". 

As I read the chapter I found myself heartily agreeing with the author.  Of course I need to allow Sam to discover and learn without constantly protecting.  I've never been the "over-protective" type.  I'm much more likely to tell my child with a skinned knee to "rub some dirt on it" than I am to cuddle him and comfort him.  I don't think I'm the kind of parent that will quickly jump to the rescue when things get difficult.  Sometimes I cringe when I read about the emotional struggles of parents today.  I'll even admit that I take pride in the fact that I understand how crucial discipline can be. 

And there's the problem - that sense of pride.  Because the night after reading that chapter and congratulating myself on not being "that parent" I got the rug pulled out from under me.  That same evening a situation arose with my husband.  I got some information that made me angry about some of his actions.  I could foresee how those actions were destined to fail and it seemed to painfully obvious to me that his choices were incorrect.  I ended up calling my friend, Jill, in search of some wise counsel.  I believe my exact words were, "I need to vent to someone because if he comes in the door right now I'm going to attack him with a coat hanger".  After allowing me to vent for awhile Jill calmly told me that she had advice for me, but she didn't think I wanted to hear it.  I told her to "bring it on", so she did. 

(For the record, don't tell Jill to "bring it on" unless you really want it.  One of the many reasons I love her.) 

Jill had many things to say to me that night, but one is still ringing in my ears.  She reminded me that I have to let my husband make his own mistakes and allow God to shape him.  By trying to correct his actions and prevent him from failure I was "throwing myself in front of a train", and really all I was going to accomplish was getting myself hit by that train.  I needed to be strong enough to let my husband make those mistakes and trust that God is in control. 

And suddenly it hit me.  My biggest struggle with Sam is probably not going to involve getting overly emotional about watching him hurt or struggle.  (Not that I think this will be easy, but I can logically work my way through those times).  My biggest struggle is going to be allowing him to make decisions that I consider to be incorrect.  There is something in me that just can't stand it when I see people doing things and I "know" there's a better way.  It's that control freak monster that keeps popping out at inopportune times.  Rather than allowing Sam to make mistakes and learn from them I can see myself "teaching him" to not make mistakes.  Which, in turn, has no hope of preventing him from making mistakes and will probably only result in the creation of another control freak.  My biggest spiritual flaw will be passed on to my child.  Isn't that what Gary Thomas was talking about when he says our spiritual immaturity will handicap our children?  Uh oh.

Why is it so difficult for me to relax and let God be God?  Why is it that, although He has proven Himself over and over and over again, I am intent on making my own plans and enforcing my own expectations?  I'm proud to say that I'm making progress, but I still have a very long journey.  I don't want to pass on my flaws to my son, but in some ways it's inevitable since there is no such thing as a perfect parent.  Strangely enough the next chapter in Sacred Parenting deals with handling guilt.  I'm thinking that chapter will be very beneficial if I can stop planning long enough to digest it. 

1 comment:

  1. From one "control freak" to another....

    Good for you for realizing what your biggest struggle will be with your son. It took me years to realize this and even more years accepting it and during that time lots of struggles with my relationships with my children. Now, I am dealing with the guilt of how I was such a control freak with them and how that has affected them now that they are adults. It has taken me years to get to this point. It sounds to me like you are listening to God and allowing the Spirit to lead you in these realizations. I'm so proud of you! :-)