Last month, I wrote about patience. My children teach me often about patience. I say, “patience,” but actually, more precisely, what I mean is “surrendering control.” Quite often, my children teach me about surrendering control.
When Susannah was seven and Amos was four, I decided it was time they started doing their own laundry. Which, as you can imagine, was harder parenting than doing it myself. Two years later, we’re still doing it the hard way, and I’m not sure who’s learned more, them or me.
My kids doing laundry is a great surrendering control teacher! I’ve learned that micromanaging is controlling. That I can be a compulsive micromanager: I can’t help myself! And that when I leave the room and let them do their thing their way, we experience a double blessing. First, they fold their laundry. Second, our house knows peace.
The Bible gives no guidance to parents. Not directly. Instead, we find in the Bible metaphors for God as parent, mother and father. For example:
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I [God] will not forget you!”
God is compassionate. God does not forget or abandon us. God never regrets giving us birth. The prophet Isaiah and many other Bible writers used parent-child metaphors to reveal who God is.
At the very same time, the Bible also offers a model of parenthood. Parents can read the same metaphors as the Holy Spirit’s loving invitation to, “Do it like this,” or “Be this kind of parent.”
And it’s not just parents who need such guidance, but all of us. You don’t have to have children to parent. In the end, for better or worse, we all take the torch and must parent ourselves. Within all of us is a toddler and a teenager and every age in between. You get to decide how you respond to your inner needs and rebellions. That’s parenting too.
Surrendering control is not the only tool a parent needs in their toolbox. But then again, maybe it is. And you could say the whole gospel is God in Jesus Christ revealing how little control God needs.
“Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing,” Jesus said, as we crucified him. That is some God-level control-surrendering right there.
“Into your hands, I commend my spirit,” Jesus said, even as Jesus also commended his body into our hands. Surrendering control.
It’s from Jesus I learn that love and control are like opposites. I can’t love you while I’m trying to control you. When I’m loving you, I’m also surrendering my need to be in control of you.
Here is a parenting technique already evident in the gospel: clarifying what I as a parent can control and what I cannot. One mentor taught me to stand in the middle of the room, look down at my feet on the floor and draw an invisible circle around myself, and say, “The only thing I can control is inside the circle.” Me. I'm in control of myself alone.
This exercise belies the knee-jerk parental reaction of, “You can’t do that!” You can’t throw your peas on the floor. You can’t stay out past curfew. The problem with “You can do that!” is, you just did it, so I lied, and now I just dared you to do it again to prove I’m a liar.
When I’m focused on what I can truly and rightly control—myself—then I’m free to respond more truthfully and, when I can muster authentic empathy, more effectively. Oh, I’m sorry. Kids who throw their peas don’t get desert. Oh no. Kids who break curfew lose my trust and have to find a way to rebuild it.
The gospel reveals this as God’s own parental wisdom. Jesus never got into a fight about what we humans can and cannot do. Instead, Jesus focused on himself, what he would do and not do. Jesus did and does not control, force, lecture, hit, yell, or lose control. Jesus loves, heals, forgives, casts out demons, reveals injustice, feeds, offers reliable wisdom about inherent rewards and natural consequences, and resurrects.
God knows parenting is hard. That’s why Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you,” and then every day, comes and re-adopts us, reminding us that, no matter what, we will always be God’s children. That is one more blessed thing that is out of our control.
Thanks be to God.