Last weekend, I had the honor of performing a wedding for a Grace alumnus. It was beautiful; many former Grace students in attendance. I love being a part of events like these, because they reaffirm for me the power of our school’s mission. I love watching our former students choosing spouses who follow Jesus, beginning new families that will be committed to Him and to being a faithful presence in the world around them. It was also so much fun to catch up with the bride’s friends and former classmates and their parents, almost all of whom have long since moved on from our school, watching God’s mighty and gracious Hand so evident in their lives. It was greatly encouraging to hear their parents talk of their children’s success in college and in new careers, in life, and to hear their appreciation for the role Grace played in preparing them for those experiences.
And, yet, as I spoke with these former students and their parents–so mature, so grounded in their faith–I couldn’t help but remember meetings long ago in my office: these same parents discouraged, sometimes to the point of exasperation. A bad grade, a less than satisfying exchange with a teacher, some recent failure that the child had suffered and through which the parent was struggling. Of prayers offered to our Lord, these parents and me, bowing in our Father’s presence, intervening on behalf of these selfsame kids, as I’ve done a hundred times before; as I still do today.
As these memories came flooding back to me, it reminded me how important it is that we as parents–that I– be able to “zoom out, and zoom in” with my kids.
Children are a gift from the Lord, Scripture teaches, and in our hearts we know it to be true. But, parents are a gift from the Lord to children, as well. It’s probably why God is so adamant that all of us honor and respect our parents. Not only does such regard condition respect and love for our Heavenly Father; parents also provide great value to kids, value that the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, wants us to keep in mind.
Take the balance of perspective and empathy, for example. As parents, we have to ask God’s provision of both in our dealings with our kids. We have to be able to zoom out, bringing perspective. Kids have an extremely limited perspective. Next Saturday night is an eternity away, let alone summer break. Twenty, thirty years down the road? Forget about it. You might as well be describing the length of time stretching back to the ancient pyramids. Temporal perspective is, for the most part, lost on the young.
But, you have lots of it, don’t you? I mean, when you actually take the time to reflect on it? How many things that you thought were soooo important when you were 16 do you just laugh about now? How many times did you think your world was going to end because of a broken relationship or a failure, only to realize later that it was God’s great grace upon your life to teach you some great lesson, some great provision that makes you a stronger man or woman today?
Kids need you for that. They need you to “zoom out” for them, helping them see the 30,000 foot view of life, seeing how the things that are so important to them, that may seem like they have to happen NOW, or that hurt so much, are working together in God’s good economy to make them all that God has created them to be. They need you to help them see that a lot of what they are learning and suffering through now is preparation for God’s best for them later.
But, they also need you to “zoom in.” They need you not to be dismissive of their feelings in the here and now because of your long-term perspective. This is one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned as a “girl daddy”–sometimes, you need to just shut up, put your arm around them, and let them cry. It’s not always a “Full House” moment, Words of Wisdom from Jay. Sometimes, they need to know that you acknowledge the hurt, and that you hurt for them and with them. In those moments, we need to “zoom in.”
The tricky part as parents is knowing when to zoom in or to zoom out. Too much zooming in means that I get too involved in their world, micromanaging it, maybe even reliving my childhood or adolescence through them. That road is dangerous, and can lead to child worship, finding our identity, value and worth in them and in their success–that’s a perspective-killer. Too much zooming out means that I lose touch with them, causing them to see me as inaccessible, uncaring, dismissive of their thoughts and feelings, patronizing. That road leads to exasperating, which Scripture warns us vehemently against.
Yet another reason to be constantly on our knees, both figuratively and literally, before our Lord, isn’t it? Zooming in and out is necessary to minister to them, and to us–because as we’re walking them through their triumphs and their pain, arms around them as they cry or scream, we need to project forward, encouraging ourselves with that vision of this weeping child as a young adult who has chosen a spouse who loves Jesus, keeping a faithful presence in the world, strong in who they are in Jesus exactly because of moments like this one.