Genesis 2:24 is causing a lot of controversy in the Presbyterian church these days. It reads, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh(ESV). I have been thinking about this lately but since I am not a delegate at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada I am at liberty to focus on whatever feature I want.
There is a woman in the congregation I serve who has a bunch of kids. She homeschools them and lives in a tiny housing situation that is both (to my eyes) precarious and insufficient, but they have parents and love and food, and stability in that. They are a reminder to me, or perhaps more accurately my reaction to their lifestyle is a reminder to me, that I am very much a middle class fella raised by middle class parents.
At any rate, one characteristic I have noticed about this woman, and I have no idea if she does this intentionally or if I am reading too much in to it, is that she never seems to call her kids her kids; she always refers to them as thechildren. I love this! It is a subtle recognition that when we speak of our children as ours we make them possessions or something close to that.
This is an issue I have learned that I cared about before I could even identify it. The occasion I learned this was when my wife and I were invited to a wedding but our children were emphatically not. They were to be at the ceremony (and thus in some photos) but not at the celebratory party afterwards. “How can you use my children as a handbag?” I wanted to bellow, “they are permanent features of life, and real humans, not dolls taken out when it is convenient.” I was practically spitting. I must have gotten enough sleep that night because I held my reaction in and the story played itself out without major incident.
Our kids are not accessories and while they are entrusted to us they are not “ours”. If one is not religious we might say that the children belong to society, ought to be raised to be responsible and productive citizens capable of caring for the elderly and the next gaggle of funny toothed children. The big difficulty with this is that the goal “responsible and productive” is an ever shifting target which can leave parents weary and frustrated.
If one is religious one can approach the children differently. In Genesis we have something interesting happening. Adam is marrying Eve, both created by God (no other parents to be found, at least in my reading of it) and yet we are told that they leave their parents and form a new bond. You see, we may be given children, many biblical figures pray for and receive such children, others simply take children in who need taking in, but their purpose is not to remain with us or ours. Whether they leave for marriage or some other reason isn’t exactly the point, the point is that they leave.
I am a sappy fellow on the inside and think a lot about my kids and of my kids and am capable of melancholy when I think they the day is coming that they will be expected to fly from our little nest and we will hope they soar (and call home occasionally). So this is a topic that matters to me, the preparation of the children. They need to be prepared both for godly living and for living in this world even while not being of this world.
I have noticed that for the most part the worst traits of my children, certain tones of voice they will use for instance, are mirrors of myself. When we find the children lacking we would do well to ask ourselves how vigilant we are in the same element, did a kids not wipe the counter well or walk right by something on the floor that should have been thrown out? How many times have they seen me do that? Did the older child lose patience with the younger child a little too quickly for our tastes? How often have we lost patience with them? You get the point.
I pray daily for forgiveness where I am failing. I also pray for patience, and here I have seen amazing increase! In fact, one day in the changing room at the pool a man looked at me with wonder and said he admired the patience I had for the children! If only he knew…but it truth it is answered prayer. I am not boasting, I have a long way to go, just ask my kids, or—better yet—listen to how they talk to each other.
If you have kids, and like us you are pondering what to do with them today, this week, this month, this summer, this year, I would invite you to join me in trying to speak of them and think of them as the women in my church does, as the children rather than my children. Maybe it will help us to love them just the right amount and prepare them in just the right way, rather than our way.