Parents and Grace
It’s been a while since I have penned a true theological reflection for you, my dear followers. As the winter darkness encroaches, I have found myself particularly pensive, and took some time to rework a reflection for you on “parents and grace.” As you know, I stepped away from full-time church work to dedicate more of my time and energy to my young family. Parenting, therefore, is a subject near and dear to my heart, as is the community of faith. In this small reflection, my two worlds collide.
Scripture: Romans 15:1-13 (The Message)
15 1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”
3-6 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!
7-13 So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!
What comes before Welcome?
This passage of Scripture ends with a common Christian tag-line, often used in churches to let the “outside world” know that they are a welcoming community: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you….” It’s interesting to me that before Paul talks about welcome, he chooses to admonish the Roman Church against judging each other. He calls the church to use its strength for service instead of merely achieving status.
Basically, he reminds the church that if there is a minute when they happen to have it all together, they should reach out and help someone else. Because, Lord knows, everyone is going to need that outstretched arm at some point. What I find compelling about the way Paul presents this principle is the order in which he presents it. Before we can open up our arms entirely, we must lay down one of our basic human tendencies – the tendency to judge and compare ourselves to others.
I feel like I say some form of this same principle a million and one times a day to my own two children, “Worry about yourself, not what you brother is doing!” Each constantly wants to know if the other is getting in trouble – and who is “ahead of the game.” Try as they (or we!) might, it’s really hard to simply worry about yourself. We are always wondering what those around us are up to and we are silently, or not so silently, judging those around us.
The Parenting Wars
It was interesting to experience this in a unique way when I chose to step away from my full-time pastoral role in the church. After serving the institution of the church for well over a decade, it was time for me to become “more Mom.” It was time to reprioritize my family, and especially my young sons. Let me tell you, this was a difficult decision, wrought with tears and discerned painstakingly in prayer. It was a bittersweet but correct decision for me and for our family. It was also a decision that came with a breadth of reactions from those inside and outside of the church.
Never did I imagine that living out my decision in a very public arena (that is, the church) would put me squarely within the debate I refer to as the “Parenting Wars.” The Parenting Wars encompasses decisions pertaining to everything that has to do with pregnancy, birth and child-rearing. “You didn’t breastfeed?” Or similarly it might be the admonishment not to breastfeed in a certain manner, place or time. Or perhaps it sounds more like this, “My child goes to private school not public school.” Or it’s simply the sideways glance that you might get by eating unpasteurized cheese while pregnant… These reactions might be well meaning, but they are all quietly judgmental and spur on the “Parenting Wars.”
The Reality of Guilt
What I have learned from my own experience and from the stories of parents is that we all have guilt. For some there is guilt: ALL. THE. TIME. We carry guilt because we work outside the home; guilt because we don’t. We have guilt because we over schedule our kids; guilt because our kids aren’t involved in enough. We cultivate guilt because we’re tough on our kids; guilt because we aren’t tough enough. When it comes to parenting, the opportunities for guilt are really quite infinite.
Parents and Grace
On the other hand, parents feel most encouraged when they feel supported by their community of faith. Parents are encouraged when they feel free to make decisions according to how they feel called by God to parent, love, and exist. When we take on the role of encourager, we can, as an institution, affect the “Parenting Wars” and every race, gender and identity war like it. How we talk about parenting, model community, and exhibit grace plays a role in how we welcome parents, and children, and people into the community.
The Encouraging Community
In the end, we are accountable to God for our actions. We are accountable as parents, and simply as individuals, and as children of God. Instead of allowing this to cause us anxiety, we should allow this reality to be a reminder. It serves as a reminder of how critical the community of faith is in its “encouraging” role. It’s tough to be a parent, to be disciples of Jesus, and it is tough to be human! We all fail at being parents, disciples, and heck… even humans. Thank goodness our standards aren’t Christ’s standards. No matter our failures, we are welcomed into Christ’s embrace.
The institution of the church is called to welcome as Christ welcomed – failures, frailties, and feebleness included. One of the critical “tasks of welcome,” within the community of faith, is learning how to better lay aside judgment and pick up grace. In choosing grace, the church seeks to understand causes of, and lighten up on guilt. If grace is continuously woven into the fabric of the community, the community will inherently become a place of encouragement – for the living out of even our most challenging days. With grace will come encouragement and with encouragement, true welcome: “So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it!”
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