“It’s a dump” says All Mr. Business evaluating the hotel we have checked into. After 2 weeks on the road, taking in multi-star sheets and whirlpools, the room we are peering into makes us all a little queasy. And I wonder why. No foul smells. The sheets are fresh, the sink basin clean. At this stop we wanted a place as close to our chosen location as possible, and no impressive hotel sits just here. Hunting down the finest grand places for the price seems to have harmed the character of our 10 year old son, and mine for that matter. How much charm and hospitality can a person take before it warps us into no earthly good? I don’t like the idea of choosing the worst accommodations for the purpose of my child’s soul, sometimes the prices are exactly the same…. so what to do?
We have never lived in five star accommodations. The house we now live in we built ourselves – unfinished, no granite, no fireplace, nor trim round floors, doors and windows – none yet anyway. Still, we live in a neighborhood that would be considered upper in every way. This is the home our youngest children have always lived in. My husband and I, however, have lived in old college apartments, in a travel trailer almost 2 years, as children, in simple places with no frills – one bathroom to share. Regardless, when we stay in a hotel able to “up” the other options in town with its upgrades and beauty, our acceptance of simple and clean seems to have disappeared. Almost as though having the best shrinks the portion of the heart that holds contentment.
The road trip has afforded some extended conversations. Adored Husband and I have been discussing what Jesus meant when he said it’s harder for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. I told him I thought Solomon might say it like this…. “I have seen one thing on this earth, no two. A man makes foolhardy financial decisions early in life, and as the years fly by too fast to correct these problems, the man dies before the mistakes can be rectified. Another man makes wise financial choices from the beginning, and because of reaping what he has sown (significant financial gain) he thinks himself far wiser than the average, becomes prideful and because pride creates arrogance and relational distance – he self destructs bit by bit till both men end of life arrive at the same place…. at a state of regret.”
No Mother wants her child to make foolish financial decisions, foolish decision of any kind… or for her child to see himself as desperately in need. Nor does a mother want her child to make such a collection of poor decisions that over time causes him to reap hard times later in life. And yet, if life is about growth toward Jesus, maybe she would.
The natural inclination is to give our kids everything we never had – and more. To shelter them from things that hurt us, and from what others have that they may not have – make sure that they feel cared for by giving and giving and giving. Even the Bible acknowledges that God, like any good parent, likes to give good gifts to his children. Nothing wrong with that. Then if giving is OK, yet because of being human, our kids come to expect… become entitled, how do they grow to become comfortable with people and their surroundings that have much less than themselves? How do we help them relax in a situation that is clearly lacking in every way? In my estimation, in order to be the hands and feet of Jesus, we all must be able to relax enough in various environments and with a variety of people to love people well. You may be envisioning a judgmental child mocking someone’s old car… that may fit. I am thinking, however, of pictures I have seen of poverty so sever – often in third world countries – that basic cleanliness is lacking, fumes from the filth are painful to experience. And everything in-between.
I know that I am most accepting when I remember where I once was, where God brought me from, and what He has given me that I have not deserved. These ideas have grown my love for others. The question then is, what is it that develops gratitude toward God for His grace and mercy towards us? For myself, this has been best learned inside the hopeless, messy, painful parts of my life. Oh dear, my kids have to experience a disaster in order to graciously love others? That is not a happy thought.
Henry Cloud – Amelia’s revised version – says that if your child has not acted like a self-absorbed brat by age 21 or so, he will be a real mess later in life. And why would this be? Because for a child to separate from adoring forever providing parents – to set off on ones own with no guarantees of winning in life – requires more than just a decision to accept misery for the sake of growing up. God is fully aware of this, and so has built in a “push away” at the very age a child must do the particular task needed to grow …. the age the developmental task needs mastering that will move him from dependance on some level, to autonomy. I could go on and on about the inability of a child to achieve these tasks if Mom and Dad are not safe enough to push away from. However, we are focusing here on the over-doting parent. Even if Mom and Dad allow for autonomy, if they protect and provide beyond reason, will their child ever experience the pain of making a mistake that hurts him? How will the child come to really need Jesus? In order for there to be a need to be rescued by Jesus, there must be some painful pit to fall into that would hurt without the Lord not providing padding for the landing. Faith is not hypothetical, it’s actual. When there is an actual mess needing rescued from – and Jesus is called on – when He hears and answers prayers not even deserved, dependance and trust in Him grows, and the sense of superiority and self grandiosity shrinks quite nicely. If a parent can’t bear to see their child experience consequences, ignoring the child’s necessary developmental tasks, padding the child’s pain of life, the parent may be unintentionally creating an adult with narcissistic tendencies, completely lacking in empathy, and thinking themselves superior.
This is a dangerous topic to write on as there are parents who are already way too hands off, who won’t respond to their babies cries as they perceive crying as manipulative. Parents who won’t rock their babies to sleep. Parents who don’t have any capacity to hear the sadness in their child’s heart. Parents who give themselves permission to “let him figure it out” when they absolutely should be intervening in and involved in their child’s life. This blog is not for those parents. It is for the parents who can’t stand it that their child doesn’t have all the opportunities others around them have, and puts their family in financial jeopardy by giving the child unnecessary extras. It is for those who neglect their marriages to keep their children in select sports. It is for those who buy 80.00 jeans for their child when their own clothes are decades old and look like garbage. It is for those who are still bailing our their children’s financial messes well into their 20’s and 30’s. The way to know if this blog is for you is to ask yourself one honest question. Do I tend to be self protective in relation to my kids in ways such as my listening ear, my energies, in terms of having difficulty seeing the ways I’ve been wrong and hurt my kids? Do I find myself pushing them away as I’m too busy for them – or do I tend to be somewhat immeshed? Do I do my child’s chores too often, take their lunches they neglected to make back to school again and again, forget my schedule to become observed in my child’s late homework? If the answer is that you tend to be immeshed, this blog is for you.
Other trips we will take. The granite bathroom countertops will at times be grand marble, other times pre-formed, stained formica. We are trying to intentionally expose the kids to a wide range of real life. Trying to listen, trying to teach. Working to pray…. and pray and pray. But most of all, we now realize that a deep trust in Christ which develops true empathy, grace and mercy towards others is developed as we pay attention to the developmental tasks the child should be moving through, and working to manage our own task of letting go.