I met with two long time friends of mine, a husband and wife, this week; they’ve been mentors to me and my husband since we were in college where we met through the university ministry CRU. I love it when mentors become friends which is the case with these two. They have three daughters in their 20’s. The two older daughters are doing really well. One earned her accounting degree, met a cute boy and is now married and working in town. They go to church and hang out with their parents and do good. The other daughter finished her degree as well, and works for a non-profit; she’s also gone on mission trips, rescuing girls out of sex trafficking, and is very much in touch with her parents and a wonderful giving person.
The third and youngest daughter is a spirited girl, very outside the box which is such a fun trait. She’s always been eclectic and down-to-earth, and she never seemed to fit in with the usual crowds. I can relate as can so many people. This youngest girl tried to find a place of belonging, she reached out and her parents reached out to help connect her with some good kids.
But, inevitably, this youngest daughter of my friends found community in a different kind of group. A group of friends who had time. Friends who made the time. For this sweet girl, those were the outsiders. This happened not just at school but at church and in other social settings. This sweet girl struggled in school and she began making friendship choices that took her to difficult places in life. Now, my dear friends do not see their youngest daughter and it is so very painful.
It is hard to watch your child go down a path that you know is not the best. You do everything you can as a parent. You love your kids, you provide for your children, you pray with them and for them, you read to them, you take them to church, you coach their soccer teams, you have coffee with the other moms and dads to be a part of other families as a way to make sure your own child is connecting. You try to help them connect, to fit in, to be a part of a positive community. You make dinners and share meals around the family table, you take them to church, you tell them you love them and go on vacations with them and you pray your heart out for them. You try to be available for them, to care for them, to write them cards and notes and throw birthday parties for them to make sure they know you love them. And you connect them with their grandparents and extended family so they realize they have roots, so that even when the world caves in on them, they have family.
And when your child still chooses a different difficult path, you are devastated. You weep, you mourn, you pray, you beg God, you ask yourself, what did I do wrong? You trust and believe your prodigal will come back. They have to come back, you say to yourself.
And you ask yourself, “What could we have done differently?” This question haunts my friends.
I think to myself, as I look at my dear friends, my mentors, and I think, absolutely nothing. You are amazing people, wonderful parents, loving parents. You’ve provided a stable home, you’ve given up so much for your kid, you are fabulous. You are in ministry, you’ve given your life to minister to others and to your children. You’ve done all of those things that make for good parenting and being amazing people in the community. You’ve been there for your children in 100 million little ways. And most importantly, you’ve given them your heart.
Then, something occurs to me. I think of God. I think of how we know He is perfect and has always been perfect. That’s why He is God. And, when he formed the first person out of the dust of the earth we walk on, that first person and the second person, whom God formed out of the first person, eventually both made bad decisions.
So, I ask moms and dads whose kids have had a difficult time, who have chosen a difficult path, who’s the most perfect parent in the whole wide world?
And it takes them a while sometimes, but they finally get my question and they will answer, God.
And then I will note that God’s first human creation, his son, the first human that was created, messed up the world big time. For the rest of us. Adam and Eve. And, Adam and Eve’s children messed up even more. Their twin sons, Cain and Abel. One twin murdering another.
I have another long time friend and she’s struggled with her teenage kids and she shares regrets and “wish I would’ve” and “if only’s” and “what did I do wrongs” with me as well. And, while I think it is always good to be introspective about our lives and parenting patterns, to know that we can do things differently from a certain point onward; but, when our children get to a certain point in their lives and have made particular choices and are on a certain, perhaps difficult path, we have to sometimes let go. At least for a while, until they come back.
And to remember, that we cannot always pinpoint an exact moment when a child decides to travel a certain path. They have free will, just like God gave to us.
I remind my friends and myself, that the best parent in the whole wide world did not mess up at all. God was, is, and continues to be perfect. He’s the perfect parent. I know he was heart-broken to see his child — children — mess up and He continues to be heart-broken with humanity. But he continues to love us as well.
I think of the parable of the Lost Son in the Bible.
One of the sons in this story wants his inheritance early on, but then squanders it and he comes crawling back to his father. The father, I am sure, has regrets and questions his own parenting practices, and wonders if he should have given his son the money. But, none of those questions come up. Instead, the father receives the fallen son back, and lavishes his love on his son, fully accepting him for where he is. Grace to the core.
I think in the end, as a parent, you do everything you can to raise your children right. You love, you nurture, you pray, you provide, you cherish. And, then, you entrust your children to God. If they choose a certain path, you don’t brag or pat yourself on the back. You just give thanks to God. And, if your children choose a different path, that might be difficult or destructive, you don’t beat yourself up either. Instead, you continue to love your child.
There are times when we do realize that we should have done something differently in a particular moment. It can happen in a blink, in a moment, in a setting. Maybe we yelled when our child spilled their milk, and we see the look in our child’s eye that is really hurt, and as a parent we regret what we have done. We want to take it back, to have a do-over, but we cannot. Or maybe we’ve been too easy or too hard on our kid, and then realize we truly should have done something differently. And we go to our child and ask for forgiveness or tell them we messed up. That is another situation altogether. We are so hard on ourselves at times, we are human. My mom used to raise her voice at me while I was growing up and I appreciate that she was able to say she was sorry.
Man, this parenting journey is hard and it is complicated and there are no parenting manuals. I remember meeting a lady who had been married for seven years and she had no children. When she found out how many kids I had, she said, “Oh my goodness. I never want kids. No way.” When I asked her why, she said to me: “Because this world is such a hard world to live in, look at all the crime and pain and what if your kids don’t turn out and they are so much work and I’d be worried I wouldn’t be a good enough parent.”
Wow, how profound and telling and all of her worries and fears and thoughts are true. Indeed, this is a hard world in which to raise kids and there are no guarantees. But, there is so much joy and beauty to be had, in the midst of the trials that we sometimes face.
Do we live in a perfect world? Nope. Are there perfect parents? Nope. They do not exist. Except, if you’re God. And, even his kids messed up.