I am at a point of reflection in my parenting journey. I guess I’m nearing the end and the exodus has begun, so this makes a little sense.
One of those amazing things that I’m observing is how many of the dangerous, vulnerable and difficult things for us, have turned out to be the things that have shaped them into the incredible men that they are today. Many of the things that we struggled with or felt like failures in, are the very things that have, so far, made them humble, kind, outstanding, thoughtful and wise.
Before we ever had kids, and especially before we met, Smiles and I were both pretty much a train-wreck. We met in the summer of ’97, hitch-hiking the country (for those of you that didn’t already know that) and were both coming from really hard pasts. Mine included putting some pretty deadly substances up my nose and his, mostly substances that make everything look “abnormal”. My sex life before Smiles was the most devastating of all, though. Something about giving yourself away to people you shouldn’t does some major soul-wreckage.
As a result, when we came to Christ a week and a half after we met, we never, ever thought we were “better” than the lowest low-life, because we just weren’t, and we knew it.
None of us are. That’s the thing. We try to deceive ourselves. “Well, I’m not as bad as that guy”, but we are. And Smiles and I just had to look at ourselves and admit it: that only grace had separated us. Only grace!
When our kids were small we let a lot of people stay with us. We were everyone’s midnight emergency call. And it felt scary. We let 2 friends detox from a heroin addiction at our house. Someone accidentally set fire to the VW bus in our front yard. A few of those people have since died. A couple lost a kid. It was tough. What was tough was watching folks return to their addictions. Watching them take the free room and board, but not being able to help them beyond that. Watching them suffer and ache, and aching with them.
I ain’t gonna lie, it was also pretty scary. We knew we were obeying Christ by living this reckless way, this Kingdom way, but not everyone that stayed with us was someone that I would leave alone with my kids. Thankfully, a couple of them are… and we are still good friends, to this day. But mostly I watched my kids like a hawk. And I watched them have to give, too, to sacrifice. They never had their own bedrooms, because we almost always had “stragglers” living there, and needed a spare bedroom. We lived in a relatively small, 3-bedroom house. Sometimes I wondered if we were doing our kids any favors.
And now I know that we were doing them favors. Not only them, but all the world that they will touch with their lives.
Our sons are generous, trusting, sacrificial… and they see Image-bearers.
Not only because we had society misfits living with us, often, but because we were societal misfits… and we knew it… and we admitted it to our kids. We told them what we knew firsthand, about hopeless living. We told them about our pasts (which was also very, very scary, because we didn’t know if they’d throw it back in our faces later).
But they haven’t. Instead they’ve absorbed the humility that comes from intimate knowledge of suffering and shame, without having to experience it themselves. They don’t have to shoot dope to know that the human being on the other side of that needle from them is just as much of a broken person as they are, and that they need Jesus just as badly as my kids do. They know not to take it for granted that they have the hope of a Christian, and that they’ve never shoved a needle in their own arm. They don’t see a junkie. They see a face, with eyes like windows to the soul. They see a heart beating, though barely, inside a chest, that longs for eternity, but has long-ago sold itself short.
I can’t help but wonder what they would see if we had sheltered them. If they had lived a more “safe” live, but a far less adventurous… and far less sacrificial. But I just don’t think Jesus calls us to that. I don’t think He wants us to save face and live too comfortably. I think He longs for us to find our safety, security and comfort in Him… and live with abandon. Because we’ve only got one life down here, and it’s short.