Monday, June 22, 2009
Considering Pentecost as a model for sending out adult children, we should take note of the particulars of how God set it up.
First and foremost, God initiated it. His people had just witnessed His unfathomable sacrifice for them at the Cross, and they were His, heart and soul. He gave them something mysterious to consider and time to think (but not much - remember there were only 10 days between Jesus' ascension and Pentecost. See Acts 1:1-3).
Pentecost was a notable event. There was no doubt that there had been some real ending and beginning. God did it with heavenly pomp and circumstance. His people were inspired, empowered & sent out.
Both of these characteristics of God's send-off should inform our send-offs. It is vitally important that parents initiate the send-off. There should be nothing of sons seizing power before their time, or usurping parental prerogatives. Release must not be a forbidden fruit; if it is, the road to healthy cooperation between the generations will continue to be a rocky one for many years.
You might want to compare the Fall with Pentecost. Scripture indicates that the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil was to be a sort of graduation present for when mankind had come to maturity. It wasn't going to be forbidden forever. The problem was that Adam seized it before both the maturity and the commissioning. Satan introduced the temptation long before Adam would have thought of it and long before he had enough experience to cope with it. So instead of a glorious commissioning, Adam received a curse in the very area where he sought independence and his relationship with God was broken past repair.
But Jesus makes everything new. He made a radically new relationship with us, and gave us a second chance to come into maturity and into full partnership with God. In fact we do see God at Pentecost sending out the young Church a little before her full maturity. At Pentecost, were those disciples able to face persecution and martyrdom? Did they really understand how to build a lasting organization? Or how to sculpt an appeal to the barbarians of Gaul or the philosophers of India? Probably not. But because of the ongoing relationship with the Spirit established at Pentecost, that group was able to succeed in all of those areas.
So we mustn't delay release indefinitely. Better far to send out a young adult a little before he is totally ready to whup the world, while he still maintains a good relationship with his parents, than to delay release until he has checked every box and has developed a resentment toward his parents that will cripple him in years to come. The relationship will supply the youth with the resources and perspectives that will help him fill out the deficits as he works. But a resentment leaves the youth only with the checked boxes and no ongoing inspiration.
So we release them. And it feels like we will lose most of our vital connections to them. Life will never be the same. It's true. But after they fly away, full of the joy of their youthful strength with the wind of our blessings under their wings, a mysterious new chemistry begins to operate.
At Pentecost, the disciples burst out of their prayer meeting aflame with the power and blessing of God's blessing, into the streets of Jerusalem. The result was an enormous ingathering of new sons. Not only did those 'children' who were sent out return, they continually, habitually, delightedly brought more into the family of God.
So it will be with us and ours. When our children know they have our blessing in their launch out, they return to us bringing many new sons. Not just in-laws. They bring fellow students, co-workers, Sunday school waifs, the isolated, the lonely. Your opportunities to influence and to help young people will greatly increase as your children leave.
So it's not time to sell the house and move to a 'sensible' apartment. It's time to enlarge the borders of your tent. God will be filling it with all kinds of new people, laughter, significance, relationship, usefulness. You will understand how deeply God rejoices when one of His sons brings others to Him. You will enter into His joy and a deeper partnership with Him as you (after all, one of His sons) join in filling His reunions with many new sons.
We will dream dreams. We will speak His words. We will dance.
Hear Kim's lecture on transitional parenting on Quests & Homecomings
Next time: Babel Reversed
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The Holy Spirit appears as fire often in the Scriptures. Pastor Sweeting reminded us of several sightings in his Pentecost sermon: the covenanting fire in Abraham's vision (Gen 15), the commissioning fire Moses encountered in the burning bush (Ex 3), the guiding fire of the pillar of fire and cloud that led Israel through the wilderness (Ex 13:21, 22 ) and signified God's presence with Israel in the Temple (2 Chron 7) and in exile (Eze 1).
When Abraham saw the glory/fire, God appeared there to covenant with him, passing alone between the slaughtered halves of the sacrifices. The usual practice in the ancient world when forming a covenant relationship like this, was for the inferior or conquered party to pass through the halves, signifying that if he broke the stipulations of the covenant, he stood in danger of being laid open just like those sacrificed animals. God reversed this practice, promising to become the sacrifice Himself, regardless of how well Abraham and his descendants kept the covenant.
As parents, we make unconditional promises to our children (or we ought to do) to care for them, to train them, to shepherd and help them regardless of how well they behave. As they launch out, they particularly need to be reminded that we will stand by them no matter what success or failure they face. They need to know that no matter how far their calling takes them from us, they still have the privileges and the welcome of sons and daughters.
When our daughters graduated from high school, we presented them each with a silk shawl made from our family's tartan. We told them that wherever they went, they would always be wrapped in our love. And although a husband will someday wrap each of them in a new heritage as his bride, they will still have a sheltered place in their heritage as part of our family. It was our confirmation of covenant as they began pursuing their callings as adults.
God's appearance in the burning bush signaled Moses' commissioning for his work of delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt. Remember, Moses had a passion for this work from at least forty years earlier and he had tried to step into that work without God's commission - with disastrous results (Ex. 2). In both Moses' case and in the case of the disciples at Pentecost, it was vitally important that their commissioning be initiated by God. And when God gave His commission, He also gave His people special tools and anointing for their work.
Our children need to be sent out to the work that stirs their passion with the best tool-up we can manage and bearing blessings initiated by us. This doesn't mean that we wait until our children have nothing more to learn about their calling. But it does mean that we send them out when both their passion and their skills will allow them to move forward in reliance on God. Both Moses and the disciples felt rather tentative about their ability to actually accomplish what God was sending them to do. They had moved beyond their immature enthusiasm, beyond Peter's sword-waving defense of his Master in the Garden of Gethsemane, beyond Moses' vigilante justice for abusive Egyptians. They had acquired a realistic sense of what it would take to step into that calling and in humility they were anticipating God's move.
In the case of our eldest child, she was sure of her calling and was eager to graduate with her older best friends and get on with it. But we asked her to wait a year to apply for scholarships. With some tears, she agreed, and it was during that year that God blessed her efforts with about half a million dollars in scholarship offers and a professional internship that gave her perspective, skills and networks that actually allowed her to accelerate her entrance into her calling. So when commencement came around the following spring, we were able to send her out with joy and power.
The activity we most often associate with the Holy Spirit is personal guidance. For infant Israel, He was the visible pillar of fire and shade. For the emerging Church, He became the invisible purpose shaper in the disciples' lives, the One who taught them what to say and where to go, their constant companion. But the Holy Spirit does not teach us in the same way that Jesus taught. The Spirit leads us to Jesus, urging us to consider what Jesus said and what Jesus does. It is indirect illumination rather than direct instruction. Jesus is the words on the page; the Spirit is the light by which we read.
So as our children are emerging into their callings, our influence needs to become more indirect. No longer are we principally teachers and boundary-givers for them. More and more we become coaches and companions, leading them to Jesus' instruction, to Jesus' example, and helping them to live with the choices they make.
And this work is absolutely vital to our children's progress. Jesus told His disciples that unless He went away, the Holy Spirit would not come to lead them into all truth. They would not come to maturity without the Holy Spirit's work. They would not have the fullest share in His glory. Just so our children will not come to full maturity unless we transform our work with them into this invitational, indirect influence. We are not to "push them out of the nest" and abandon them to their fate; neither are we to continue to direct them by visibly, presently pushing and hovering.
Get the big picture on transitional parenting. Quests & Homecomings, an audio experience from Kim Anderson
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Is there a role for parents after their children's high school graduations? A role beyond "hands off!" and "get out your checkbook"? Yes! You are joining us in the midst of a series of posts exploring Pentecost as a model for parenting through the launching-out phase of family life. The thesis is that our role in our children's lives in their adulthood becomes more like the role of the Holy Spirit and less like a physically present Lord.
Caveat: The idea here is not that we take the place of the one, true Holy Spirit for our children, but that we can pattern our interactions with our adult children after the model of the Holy Spirit's work.
It is interesting to linger a moment considering the characteristics of fire, particularly if we are using it as a model.
- Fire is glorious. My mother often said that as an adult, what she desired and admired most in her parents was dignity. When our children become adults, they want to look back and see that they had glorious beginnings. You represent that beginning. And because they expect to be following you, your children will see your dignity, your glory as their future as well.
- Fire gives light. As such, it has been a symbol of truth, knowledge and wisdom. Your example, your teachings through the years and your wise perspective in the future all give light to your child as he ventures into the dusky unknown. Note that fire's light is not knowledge itself, but is that which shows what knowledge is. Fire is what illumines the page, but it is not the words on the page. As parents, we are no longer plain teachers; we are coaches who ask the questions that lead our youth to seize the truth for themselves.
- Fire is the first power source, our first incorporeal tool. Fire is heat, light, cooking, smelting, protection. As parents of adults, we move increasingly from being the initiators of projects with our children toward being the power source for the things they are called to do. Sometimes that does involve the checkbook, but it is so much more. They need encouragement if they are to slay the dragon. They need to be reminded of the heat of their passion to sustain them through the long, cold days slogging ahead to that glorious goal they set for themselves.
Monday, June 01, 2009
I love our church! We have an energized liturgical worship and our pastors never miss celebrating milestones in redemptive history. Sunday Pastor Sweeting's sermon gave me plenty to consider concerning the events of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit's work in establishing, empowering and encouraging the Church.
Pastor Sweeting reminded us of a few characteristics of wind and fire as symbols of God's presence that we can mine as guidelines for our interactions with our older children. Remember though, as we look to the Lord for our inspiration, we are seeking to imitate His ways, not to replace Him in our children's lives. While we labor to work in the same patterns He uses, we do not labor to become the Holy Spirit to our children. It is a very dangerous thing indeed to try to take the place of God.
Wind is that original breath of creation, the Spirit hovering over the unformed earth, the voice of God speaking the world. For us as parents, our words of creation were mostly uttered to our children in their very early childhood. What did you tell your child about himself? about her potential? about the great things they would do together with God? about how you would work together when they grew up?
Careful the things you say! Children will listen! When my children were small, I told them that the Church needed to work to capture the imaginations of the world's people to bring them into obedience to Christ. My children heard that as a mission statement for our family and for themselves. My eldest is building a film company to train Christian storytellers to translate Christ's messages to challenge our culture. My second is studying music composition, writing for film and for worship to engage the hearts and imaginations of her hearers with the wonders of God. My youngest is still in preparation, but he loves humor. Already he works to show both the absurdity of life apart from God and His ways and the delight of life in Him.
But as our children gather themselves to leap into active service out in the world, we have another chance to breathe life into them. Blessings, commissions, commendations aren't just air. They are wind in the sails and under the wings. Wind is not the experienced captain of our children's ships, or even a steadying hand on the tiller of our children's lives. It's invisible. It's everywhere, but it's in the background. And wind does significantly effect the speed, direction and difficulty of those ships and lives.
So lift your face to the wind of the Holy Spirit. Feel how He is blowing in the lives of your children. Add your breath to that breeze, lest you create crushing turbulence for your child. Bless them and show them how to sense the Spirit's leading as they go.
Next time: Fire
Photo courtesy of http://www.bioneural.net/2007/02/12/at-sea-on-a-tall-ship/
More resources for parenting through the transitions of life: Quests & Homecomings