We will baptize Greg and Jill’s daughter, Sonja, on Sunday. That and having spent time with both my sons on Tuesday — and unexpectedly hearing their reflections on their upbringing, which always occasions some fear and trembling! — has me thinking about parenting.
Baptism is just one of the innumerable decisions and commitments parent have to make. Made in hope that these decisions and commitments will turn out right and good for their children. Will add up to what they need. Most of the decisions of parenting are quotidian — in the moment, almost relentless, we’re hardly aware of them. Often only the ones that are truly sublime or terrifying rise to our awareness.
Of course, all our parenting happens before God. But baptism is one of the few times one has to stand in front of a crowd and make promises in public to God, as parents and as a congregation. (It seems the least we should have to do in order to be entrusted with the care and nurture of another human being– like marriage!)
Many years back, a parishioner of mine confessed she was delaying her son’s baptism because she feared the vows to be made in church. I’m still not sure if it was stage fright or fear of being held accountable.
But I reassured her that sooner, rather than later, her son would take over the promises for himself. Thereafter, it’d be up to him to figure out how to live them out. I never mentioned how many Sundays there were between infancy and confirmation. I didn’t suggest how much faith and forgiveness are involved (and how much more needed thereafter). But my explanation sufficed, and we scheduled the ceremony.
A grandpa said to me once right before the service in which his granddaughter was to be baptized:
“Baptism, like parenting, is heading into the ocean… in hopes of some day walking out on to the dry land of some other shore.”
I like that. Entering the sea of life without being able to see the other side. Without being sure how to navigate across such an expanse. Headed into the deep with only a vague direction… and the hope — or grace — of buoyancy.
In the water, dry land is behind us. The bottom is too deep for us. All the weight and gravity that we had been carrying around no longer drags us down. If we are “lucky,” we’ll get caught up in some strong current, and find ourselves traveling further and faster than our own power could ever promise.
It’s quite a long-distant swim — the Christian life AND parenting! And no matter how much we think we have trained for such an aquatic marathon, we find ourselves unprepared. We’re only human. But if we keep striving — sometimes no more than treading water — we show our kids what life looks like when we try.
My metaphor is exhausted long before the other shore is reached. But relax that you might learn to float.
There is no way to be all things to our children. We cannot be perfect parents any more than perfect Christians. Perhaps, reconciling who we would be with who we turn out to be is not just a task we leave to our children — an experience that leads to skills we bequeath them in our imperfection.
The adage and instruction is “Obey your parents.” As a parent, I’d settle for “Remember your parents are human.” Or even the shorter, almost telegraphic version, “Forgive your parents.”
Give the kids the best you know how and can muster. Don’t pass along the hurt that has been done to you. And then understand and trust that setting out on their own to fulfill their own destiny, is theirs to do. Ultimately, it is all theirs, and we have to let them go. Or release them into God’s hands.
We hope and pray they find their way. Make it to whatever shore is meant to be theirs. Sort out their gifts and talents, and leave behind the rest in order to make use of the positive things they have been given.
At Old First, we think a lot about how we actively and concretely demonstrate our faith and beliefs to those around us. You can start with your children.
Do you know what is most important to you? Do they? Can you explain it so your child can understand? Does your life illustrate what you say? Do you have a worldview you hope t share with your kids?
How do you organize your life? How do you structure your time? How do others experience you? (Nervous and untrusting? Open and accepting? Angry and resentful? At peace, even joyful?) Will your children learn compassion, forgiveness and love following in the shadow of your life?
Beloved, live big and love your children!
See you in church,