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Spiritual Practice of Parenting: Maintaining Vulnerability

February 10, 2014

IMG_1597The other evening, we went out to dinner with friends from our Sunday School class.  We knew each other to varying degrees.  The women had all hung out with each other before, as had the men.  However, not often did we all hang out together.  We laughed together and talked, as usual–women talking to each other, men talking to each other.  Then, one woman said, “Tell us the story of how you met.”

We all told our stories.  One spouse would start and then the other spouse would interrupt, adding details or correcting something they disagreed with.  We all had things in our stories that made everyone else say, “What were you thinking?” –the “hanging on” boyfriend or girlfriend someone had when they met or dating forever or almost dropping a ring in a lake.  We shared those things that we may normally leave out when we explain to people about how we met.  “In grad school, in high school, or at church” being the short answers.

I left the evening feeling happy inside.  I felt like I knew everyone there better afterwards, not only knowing their stories, but watching the couples interact in such human, real ways.

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I had the wonderful experience this past week of listening to Rachel Held Evans speak at Austin Presbyterian Seminary’s MidWinter Lecture series.  Her topic was why the church was losing Millenials.  She said the last thing millenials (and any of us, for that matter) want in a church is to be “sold” something.  We are bombarded by advertisements and are constantly trying to be convinced of something.  We’re surrounded by should’s.  When we go to church, we don’t want to be sold a religion or convinced to do something.  We don’t need something else we should be.

Instead, Rachel Held Evans suggested churches would do well to take a lesson from AA.  Millenials are done with put together, perfection, especially in churches.  Church, Rachel Held Evans said, is still the place we are expected to hold it all together all the time.  We want to appear to everyone else that we have Christianity and the Jesus thing all figured out.  We have no doubts.  We need Jesus, but we don’t really need Jesus because we’ve got it going.

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I’m reading SheLoves magazine’s book club selection again this month.  The current book is God Has a Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  These past couple of weeks have been full of real life for me–nothing terrible, nothing unsurmountable, just normal ordinary life.  I have found myself picking up Tutu’s book on those days when I am feeling unusually overwhelmed or defeated.   Thus far, his book has been the arms of God around me, reminding me that I am beloved child of God and nothing can ever separate me from that love.  I grasped on the brief bit Tutu wrote about parenting:

Unconditional love for our children means that we truly love and accept them regardless of whether they succeed or fail, behave or misbehave…But I do mean we should not try to push them into our mold of success, but rather let them experience life on their own terms….God gives us freedom to be authentically ourselves and so must we give our children this same freedom.

A little later in the same chapter, Tutu goes a little further to explain what God’s unconditional looks like:

When we begin to realize that God loves us with our weakness, with our vulnerability, with our failures, we can being to accept them as an inevitable part of our human life.  We can love others–with their failures–when we stop despising ourselves–because of our failures.

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I have two, if not three children who are biologically prone to perfectionism.  This is a genetic trait I’ve decided (all of these statements that sound like I know things are actually based on my observations and the opinions formed out of those observations.  I’m no expert).  I have very few perfectionist qualities.  My husband has a lot.  My sister has a lot.  There are advantages of this, for example, if they create something, it will probably turn out right, unlike what I may create (which I finish just to get.it.done).  Those perfectionists got way better grades in school than I ever did.  However, there are also disadvantages, like fighting with the feeling that if they don’t get things just right, people may not love them so much.

What I keep realizing over and over, is we all worry, to varying degrees, that we need to do things to be loved by God or loved by others.  As a parent, it is my job to help my children learn that they can make mistakes.  They can do the hard things in life.  They can fail.

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Madeleine just started taking piano lessons through a studio this winter.  She loves practicing, but dreads the lessons.  The second lesson was particularly bad because she had to repeat a piece.  She didn’t get it perfect the first time, and she was upset.  She hated piano, she sobbed to me.  We talked about what her teacher said (and I have sat in on some of her lessons and her teacher is just fine), and then she practiced a lot that week.  Now, 6 lessons later, she’s not shocked when she has to play a piece for yet another week.  She’s getting more comfortable with not doing things perfectly and realizing no one treats her any differently because she has to play a song again.

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John does swim team every summer in our neighborhood.  After his very first meet ever, when he was just 5, he hoped out of the pool after a long and painful to watch swim across the pool, and asked “Did I win?”  He was so furious to find out he didn’t and went sulking back to his age group tent.  By the end of his second swim season, his visions of grandeur were somewhat diminished.  He no longer asked if he won or not, he was no longer mad when he didn’t.  He had fun being with his friends and didn’t have to be the best.  Whether or not he won the heat or the event didn’t change how his friends treated him or how much we loved him.

We are God’s children.  God loves us more perfectly than we could ever love our children or our parents have ever loved us.  God doesn’t expect us to be the best at what we do.  We can’t fool God into being more with it than we really are.  If our relationship with God is our model for all of our other relationships, then why can’t we learn it’s ok not to be number 1?

It’s a fight every day to live like being number 1 doesn’t matter so much as loving justice, seeking mercy, and walking humbly. Relationships matter more, contrary to society’s pressures. Relationships are built when people share stories of when they messed up or did things less perfectly.  Let’s all face it, we grow tired of the Facebook posts elaborating on how perfect someone’s life is.  Some of the most popular Christian bloggers–Glennon Melton at Momastery and Jen Hatmaker–regularly write about how they fail.  That’s why people love them.  For brief moments, people are released from needing to perfect and allowed to be beloved humans because these hilarious, insightful women also make mistakes.  Without fail, my most read and most shared blogposts are the ones that usually talk about how I was the less than stellar parent.

In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown says:

If we want to cultivate worthiness in our children, we need to make sure they know that they belong and that their belonging is unconditional.  What makes that such a challenge its that most of us struggle to feel a sense of belonging–to know that we’re a part of something, not despite our vulnerabilities, but because of them.

Even Jesus was vulnerable.  He was crucified and publicly was humiliated, tortured, and killed.  He wept at the death of his friend.  He was fully human (yet fully God).  Why do we insist that we shouldn’t admit our struggles?  Why should we be so scared to fail?  Why are we so afraid our children will fail?  I try to keep teaching my children to maintain their vulnerability.  Kids were born vulnerable and over time, become more independent and are told to lose their vulnerability.  I don’t want my children to be scared to fail.  I want my children to love themselves, all bits and pieces of themselves, so they can love others better, and experience God’s love more fully.

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