I’m a little late with this. March tested my limits and now I am picking up the pieces. We hosted a little Safe Families baby for almost two weeks. It was a precious time for our family. We grew and learned together and we experienced so much love and fellowship (as in “The Fellowship of the Ring”) from our various communities. Perhaps best of all, it was beautiful to see you and Jacob grasp what we were doing; beautiful to see you put flesh (spitting up, screaming flesh at that) to the idea of Isaiah 58 which we rehearsed early in Lent: “Is this not the fast that I shall choose?…to bring the homeless poor into your house…”
Now we’re alone again and the Easter feast, the grandparents, even Jacob’s birthday have come and gone and we are taking some space to regroup, just the 5 of us. I think this month has strengthened the bonds among us – made as glad we belong to each other in a deep and exclusive way. The house is tidy now and this morning as we got ready for a school day things felt normal, easy even by comparison and by virtue of the growing pains of last month: magically it seemed there was time to start a load of laundry and read a story before we grabbed boots and backpacks at 8:30.
I know it’s Easter now, but it’s finally time for me to write about this idea of incarnational parenting that I have had bouncing off the walls of my brain all winter. While I spent a lot of time this year thinking about the how “the power with which God raised Christ from the dead” defines and orients our parenting (all is healed; anything is possible), it occurred to me around Christmas that the incarnation is another big pillar that we should be embodying in this endeavor. I think if we can infuse our living with these two realities we are going to be OK.
The incarnation is tough for me to put into practice both because I tend towards an aloofness created by internal stress and anxiety and because as an idealist I am good at envisioning how things should be and then measuring you by those expectations. It’s easy for me to notice you flipping out and generally being a banshee at dinner and start working towards appropriate behavior. It’s not so easy for me to recognize that maybe the reason this is happening is because you got left with a babysitter for four hours (and smacked by her 1yo, to boot) and that I haven’t connected with you ,the way 3yos connect, for at least a day or two. But slowly I’m practicing stepping back in those moments. Withholding my ideals and giving myself.
That’s what Jesus did for us, after all. And while as Creator God He possesses a right to us on the level of ideals, in a way He did not exercise that right. You could almost say He chose to earn it by coming down to us. This is the incarnation, and this is what I’ve been using as my yardstick lately. So in a moment where I want to manage you with my ideals I stop and ask myself first if I have come down to you yet. I’m asking myself whether I have a right, in that moment, to offer rebuke or reproof, or if it would be coming from a place so removed that it would only serve to deconstruct your identity. If I want to parent according to the incarnation then I have to meet you where you are before I try to make you what I want you to be.
It seems to be helping.
The point, in the end, is “Jesus Loves Me.” One day you came back from a walk with our neighbor/adopted-grandma and serenaded me proudly with this song, which she sang with you as you walked. Then you ran to find Daddy and gave him the same performance. You were so happy with your new song and it made me happy, too. I’m embarrassed to admit that we hadn’t taught it to you ourselves yet. Professional liturgists we, you know many more complicated and esoteric things already, but somehow we overlook these basics so easily. At any rate, it struck me that the whole point is for you to know that.
I’ve been reading an incredible book by Dallas Willard this spring, Renovations of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ. In it he quotes Henri Nouwen, who claimed that our primary identity is that of “the beloved.” That was a paradigm shift for me and I recognized that I agreed, though I’m afraid it’s more common in my Calvinist tradition to drive home the identity of “total depravity.” Reading Willard & Nouwen made me pause and check my inner theological constructs. Doing so, I had to affirm their claim: Depravity is only a secondary identity at best, not original to who we are as God’s creations: objects – products, even – of His love. He delights in us. It’s so easy as parents to hold you up to our ideals, and from this I fear often comes a wrong primary identity. (“I am depraved. I am not good enough.”) So I’m working on that – working on making sure you know what you are (beloved) at least a little more than what you should be.
Speaking of identity, there’s a story to tell from a morning back when it was still cold and dark at breakfast. I’d fixed you something warm to drink in your matching little espresso mugs that Gramma gave you. One of them has a tiny chip on the handle now, and Jacob always strives to have the “not broken” one like it’s essential to his happiness. I slid them across the counter to you, and seeing that you had the “not broken” mug you turned to Jacob like a reflex and apologized to him, like it was somehow his by right. That made me feel really mad. I saw you hardwired to defer to your big brother, which has happened by birth order and by the strength of his personality. I fought back right away: Meredith, you are just as important as Jacob and you deserve to have that unbroken mug. I saw in you this assumption about your own value, and it was plain how much work I have to do to cultivate the kind of audacity appropriate in a beautiful “beloved,” which is what you are.
I love you.