Monday, August 7, 2017

Taking the Long View

Last week I had the chance to visit with a long-time friend.  As we talked about what we’d been doing lately, she told me about her family’s recent annual vacation to the beach with her adult children, husband, parents, and sister.  As she described what they did that week, I asked her whether they liked to cook or eat out.  “We usually do a little of both, but this time, we did more eating out than usual.  My son has become a foodie of sorts," she smiled, "and he brought a whole list of restaurants he wanted to try.  So my husband and I ended up going to many of them with him.”

As she talked about their time with their son, she paused.  “You know, he hasn’t joined us on our vacation the past few summers, so we were really glad he wanted to come.  And I was just struck by –and so grateful to see—how respectful he was . . . how honoring.  We just had a wonderful time together.”

Through our conversations over many years, my friend has shared that parenting this child has not always been easy.  And last week, she and I remembered some of the struggles she and her husband have faced with him—difficulties that, in the moment, were not just hard and frustrating, but sometimes frightening.  Even though I know my friend has been so faithful to love her children well, she has expressed that sometimes she's feared for this child’s future—worried whether he was going to “make it” as an adult.  And I have to wonder (even though she has no reason to feel this way) whether she's sometimes worried that she might be  missing the mark as a parent.  

I wonder that because I have felt that fear . . . . because I've wrestled with it in my own parenting journey.  

When my husband and I face hard things with our own children, there are moments when I start to believe that a particular difficulty is the beginning of one of my worst parenting fears:  a long, pain-filled experience of seeing a child struggle with issues that will wreak havoc on the rest of his or her life.  That fear is compounded by the thought that my child’s struggles may very likely be the result of my inadequate parenting.

Talk about catastrophizing . . . . I am a pro.

But my friend's story about her son last week—his pleasure in a vocation that took a long time for him to find, his dedication to his friends, his growing love for Jesus—planted a huge seed of hope into my heart.  I was reminded about how easily I get hooked into the paralyzing lie that a single struggle with my own children is the end of the story.  I remembered, again, my tendency to see one difficulty as the defining moment, instead of recognizing it for what it is:  just one small part of a much larger story that will never not include God’s redemptive work . . . . although (as both my friend and I continue to experience) that redemptive work may come later rather than sooner.

I’m so encouraged to hear stories like my friend’s:  Stories that take the long view of parenting.  Stories that include the good stuff and the scary stuff.  Stories about when His presence is easy to detect and stories about days when He just seems to be absent.  Stories that remind me it’s okay to keep trusting God.  

My friend’s story--and her son's--is a living example of how God actually is completing the good work He has begun in our children.   It also reminds me that He is continuing to complete the good work He began in me, too.  

Reminding me to take the long view of parenting is one way He is accomplishing that work.

[P.S.  I made sure to get my friend's permission to share this post.  Just didn't want anyone to wonder about that. . . . . ]

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Nouwen's invitation to conversation . . . .

Since the beginning of 2017, I have been participating in an online book club hosted by an organization called Renovaré (thanks, Mom and Dad, for the sweet Christmas gift).  Although I've encountered many quotations from Henri Nouwen's writings, I hadn't read an entire book.  And I wasn't disappointed; reading his Life of the Beloved has not only been timely for me, but also profoundly impactful.

Nouwen, a Catholic priest, wrote the book at the request of a friend, NYT journalist Fred Bratman, a secular Jew, who asked him to discuss Christian faith in a way that "speaks to men and women in a secularized society" in a way that "he and his friends 'could hear.'"  Life of the Beloved is the result of that request.

I won't discuss the content of the book here (there is my thinly disguised attempt to encourage you to read it for yourself--it's that good).  What's fascinating, though, is that 
Nouwen initially considered his attempt a "failure" because of Bratman's response.  After reading the book, Nouwen's friend commented that the book contained writing that was "for the 'converted'" rather than "for truly secular people." 

Nouwen's attempt to articulate his faith, Bratman's experience of reading Nouwen's book, and Nouwen's disappointment all resonate for me in many ways.  Perhaps I'll write more about that later.

In the epilogue, Nouwen discusses his conversations with Bratman after having written the book.  And there I found Nouwen's thoughts to hold rich guidance for today's American cultural climate, and for my own life.

My sense in my own community and nation is that now, more than ever, the long-held American Christian belief that we are travelers in a foreign land has given way to a fearful and, at times, hostile view of the world around us--our acquaintances, neighbors, colleagues, leaders, or anyone who does not profess Christian views.  This angst colors the way we relate to that world, so that we do so from a defensive or even antagonistic posture, as if we are now being forced to fight for our views to be validated, or to aggressively attack anything or anyone that might cause us to be discriminated against, regardless of what means we "must" use.

Yet I find that many of my "secular" friends are, at this time, experiencing and sometimes acting out of that same sense of fear: they, too, are afraid that their views and lives are in danger of being discounted (at best) or eliminated by governmental mandates (at worst).  They too feel the need to fight more aggressively than ever before.

In light of the current cultural climate, what resonates for me, as a believing faculty member at a secular community college, is Nouwen's emphasis not on fighting, fearing, oppressing, or mandating, but instead on the importance of Christ-followers questioning and exploring our "inner solidarity with the secular world."  Rather than giving fuel to an already-well-cultivated view of the world as threatening, Nouwen writes that believers "don't have to be afraid to enter fully into [that] secular world and speak there about faith, hope, and love." 

Perhaps now more than ever before, Christ-followers have an opportunity to (in Nouwen's words) be honest about how we have approached those who are "other" than us--to "bridge the gap within [ourselves]" between the secular and sacred.  

I wonder whether we can do just that by hearing and supporting all of those in our lives during this anxious time.  Perhaps the act of fearless listening to, identifying with, and validating the justifiable fears so many have during this time can be a way of gaining entrance into conversations with people from all walks of life, convictions, and beliefs.  Perhaps those conversations can be places where our articulating the reason for our hope is seen not as condescension or criticism, not as unsolicited advice, not as an irrelevant or oversimplified truism, but instead received and even welcomed as the relevant, palpable, transformative hope that it is. 

I'm certainly not saying I have the wisdom to navigate such conversations with any sort of grace.  In fact, now more than ever, I desperately wish for that ability as I interact with so many who are justifiably fearful and angry about what the future may hold for all of us.  But maybe--as the unexpected and grateful audience for Henri's "unsuccessful" book suggests--the point isn't to strive for such wisdom or ability, but instead to move into our own world with a ruthless authenticity about our own brokenness coupled with a ruthless trust in a God who is graciously uses our lives, not because of our accomplishments or knowledge or "superior" beliefs  not with any certainty about how or where our lives will "count," but instead--and miraculously--out of our shortcomings, struggles, and fears, and with a hopeful anticipation that He will use us where and how He sees fit.