Living with Children

"It seems most of us would rather try to be God than to love God."

Henri Nouwen has a way of getting underneath the layers we've learned to wrap around our souls, doesn't he? In his required-reading field guide for Christians, In the Name of Jesus, Nouwen exposes hidden motives within me through his vulnerable, careful, pastoral storytelling and reflection. 

For Nouwen, his hunger to control and wield power over others was most acutely exposed during his incarnational ministry in the L'Arche community for persons with disabilities. There, among the unpretentious who were unimpressed with his knowledge, Nouwen's motives and methods previously applied to the academic and ecclesial environments no longer "worked." He wasn't able to "control" these new friends. They were not swayed by his authority, credentials, or position. They simply wanted to be friends with Henri.

As I read Nouwen's account, I couldn't help but think of the parallels to parenting young children. They are unpredictable and often easily dysregulated. Attempts to control and manipulate through power may produce "results", but are such parental displays of authority fostering loving attachment, joy, and flourishing? This is not a dismissal of discipline (left to our own devices without discipline we can't grow and mature; just think of how a flowering vine needs the constraints of a trellis to reach its potential), but how often are my words and actions motivated by a self-preserving desire to control rather than a gentle-and-steady guiding presence of love?

To return to Nouwen's quote, "loving God" is not possible without loving our neighbor (read: children). Jesus and the apostles make this quite clear in their teaching and example.

I like the metaphor presented by landscape designer, Piet Oudolf, in the documentary, Five Seasons. He admits that early in his design career he tried to "control" the plants. But now, he sees his role more as a "conductor." I like that. A conductor respects the individuality and creative contribution of each member of the orchestra; she knows the participants need help to play to their highest potential; she guides the individual and the whole into a beautiful symphony as the sum becomes greater than the parts; she is not a controlling or manipulating force, but a loving guide moving in harmony with the musicians. It's not a perfect metaphor, but it's helping me right now as I seek to move away from the machinations of controlling, anxious fear and toward the way of Jesus with my children. I have so far to go. Faithful, diligent, humble parenting is not for the faint of heart.

What stories and images are helping you right now as a dad or mom?

PS - That's us at a recent STL Cardinal's game at Busch Stadium. The Cards are on an historic 16-game winning streak right now. Hadn't been to see them play in years, and it was a fun day-trip for us (they won 8-7 over the Padres). Amber is a sport - she's a Cubs fan and managed to eek out a few cheers for the Cards.


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