In a strange way the spiritual life isn’t “useful” or “successful.” But it is meant to be fruitful. And fruitfulness comes out of brokenness.
– Henri Nouwen
I am certainly no parenting expert but I have learned a great number of lessons from mothering four teenagers at once. First and foremost, there is no “one size fits all formula.” Parenting is messy. Life is messy. The “right’ thing to do varies dramatically depending on the day, the time, the circumstances, the child…. Attentiveness and prayer are required for knowing when to speak and when to hold my tongue (I find that approximately 85% of the time, holding my tongue is the best move), when to discipline and when to just be merciful, etc.
I admit it would probably be far less complicated to “black and white” my approach with a firm, consistent hand; You break the rules, you receive these assigned consequences, no matter what. If what I valued most was unquestioned obedience and changed behavior, this would be the most effective plan, I imagine. The thing is, though, it’s not what I value most. What I desire, rather, for myself and for my kids are compassionate hearts, resilient spirits, and peaceful souls.
This kind of transformative inner work takes place in the small, quiet details of each day. Connection is everything. When a teenager feels heard, really “heard” and truly treasured just exactly as they are, they are far more likely to remain open to advice and to take ownership of their growth. The most valuable things I do as a parent are listening, forgiving, encouraging, comforting, and most of all, working on my own self that I might become a better example of compassion, resiliency, and peace for them to emulate.
But isn’t this true of everyone? Aren’t we all more motivated by encouragement than shame to become better human beings? Are we not all forever fumbling and stumbling, taking three steps forward then two steps back? In hindsight, I can see clearly how my greatest failures and struggles absolutely chipped away at my pride and stubbornness; they made me stronger, more patient, more empathetic, and deepened my faith.
What helped me get through those painful seasons were people in my life who never, ever gave up on me, even when I had completely given up on myself. My gratitude for their unconditional love is what inspires me to, in turn, view the failures and struggles of others, including my children’s, as valuable and necessary for renewal and fruitfulness. I respect that their path to salvation is different from my path. I honor the process and allow for as many new beginnings as it takes.
Look for ways to spread light! Is what I say to my kids as they walk out the door in the mornings. For this, to me, is the most important thing – more important than good grades, more important than a high-paying job, more important that being “right,” more important than being zealous. Build others up instead of tearing them down, erect bridges instead of walls, let your words be uplifting and your mind slow to judge! Spread light, as only you can, using your own distinct gifts!
When you’re undeniably broken, the only appropriate response to being Loved, undeservedly, by God, Himself, is to pay that Love forward – generously and indiscriminately. Parenting is messy. Life is messy. But God is merciful and good.