My family is home from Laurelville. It was a great weekend, but wow – so short. The trip from the Chicago ‘burbs to western Pennsylvania is about eleven hours. We made it shorter last Friday, because we left from my in-laws’ house in Indiana. But yesterday, we went the whole way in one day. It used to take even longer – making the trip with three children is hard, but the girls are such good travellers. (That DVD player that they got from their grandparents for Christmas is also awesome.) Even so, the day gets long, tempers get short, and patience is sometimes difficult to find. It got me thinking about a book that my wife told me about a few months ago.
The book (supposedly) talks about the intersection of parenting and spiritual formation. My recollection is that it counters the premise that spiritual formation is something that occurs best in some desert monestary somewhere. Rather, it discusses how parents are well-situated to be transformed by their interactions with their children. I’d love to tell you more about this book, but I haven’t had the chance to read it, I’ve misplace the title and author, and being a parent, I haven’t had the time to go find it.
Nevertheless, I was thinking (on I-80 yesterday) what spiritual formation might look like for parents. My thinking went something like this…
What is spiritual formation?
It is for me (my mind, my will, my spirit, etc.) to be formed to be like Christ.
Well, what would that look like?
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave… (Philippians 2.5-7, NRSV)
Think about that for a moment. What does it mean to be a “slave” or (to use a less edgy word) “servant”? That scripture passage isn’t new to me, but I’ve never tried to apply it to my relationship with my children. I think it means that my first priorty is for their growth and well-being. This is a useful thought to me – one that I find that I am able to act on. For example, how many of my parental actions are motivated not by what is best for them, but by what is convenient for me? Even last night, after I had pondered this throughout the day, I found myself acting counter to what I knew to be right when it was time to get a tired daughter ready for bed.
What other useful benchmarks are there in judging whether my life is being formed like Christ’s?
Here I’m guided by considering the “Fruits of the Spirit”:
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (Galatians 5.22-23 NRSV)
All of these are good benchmarks for my parenting. In my thinking yesterday, I found that some are more helpful than others to me at this particular time in my life. Here are some quick thoughts:
Love – I think this is the sum-total of everything else on the list.
Joy – Find delight in the things that thrill a five year old. I mean really find delight. Don’t just pretend. To be a servant, I must be present in that moment. My brain can’t be filing taxes and paying bills.
Peace – Sometimes my children just aren’t interested in what I think should interest them. Chill. Sometimes, they’ll disappoint me with their actions. Again, allow peace to prevail. And here’s a big one for me… Don’t stress out over the million different, mutually exclusive outcomes for the future. Besides, the true outcome hasn’t even crossed my mind yet.
Patience – Pretty simple to understand. No so simple to act on. Sometimes it seems that this is consistently my number one need.
Kindness – Sometimes, my children need an extra word of encouragement at the appropriate time. Sometimes, they need a thoughtful gift. Perhaps most importantly, they need my time.
Generosity – Hmm… You know that comment above, the one about how kindness involves giving time? Give some more.
Faithfulness – I need to make my love unconditional. When I’m disappointed with them, angry with them, whatever – they’ll know that. I need to remind them that I love them first.
Gentleness – My first impulse is not one of gentleness. Don’t get me wrong – I think I can be gentle. It’s just that I possess a ‘Y’ chromosome. You understand. And I’m dealing with three young princesses in my house.
Self-control – I often associate this with patience. Even when I run out of patience, I should still stay self-controlled. Sometimes it doesn’t work that way.
Looks like I’ve got a lot to work on.