Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fear of the middle

Hebrews 12:5-14 (NIV)

Have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
   and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
   and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined — and everyone undergoes discipline — then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
One of the great fears of parenthood is the middle. At present, I am on both sides of the middle. Our children are young enough where our relationship, while at times contentious, is one where our authority over them remains largely unquestioned. Conversely, with my own parents, we are many years into me being an adult, to the point where I respect the discipline and authority they exerted in my youth. But the middle looms.

One at a time, my sons will enter “the middle.” They will stop being my little boys, and in the quest to become men, free of parental control, they will question our authority, our reasons for discipline and, if my own experience is any guide, pretty much everything we say and do for years and years. We will, of course, be doing what we think best, as the passage indicates. Hopefully we will continue to be partners in parenting, with each other and the influence of God through prayer and consideration.

Will we produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace?” I’ll be happy if the kids avoid the emergency room and jail cells and if we’re still on good speaking terms once the middle is past. Already we have seen glimpses of limits being tested, with the boys wanting to know not only what they can get away with, but just how harshly their parents will react when the limit is exceeded. Some of those experiences have been unpleasant enough, but I am completely unprepared for dealing with far more serious circumstances.

To some degree I have had these fears since before Jack was born. I remember being terrified of trying to teach a kid to drive or dealing with high school romances or how to choose a college — any number of things. Finally someone, probably Kristie, reminded me we were going to have a baby, not a teenager. You work yourself up from midnight feedings to the ACT, with the idea being you gain enough experience to handle each new challenge as it comes.

To that end, it’s probably still too early for me to fret about the middle — especially if it takes any of my focus away from today. After all, as Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:34 (NIV), “ not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

But I’m trying to be honest with this blog, and the honest truth is I am scared of how difficult parenting might become. I also fear, which I assume is natural, experiencing the loss of a child or my wife to illness or accident, or of something similar happening to me and them having to grow up without me around. But in large part those fears are of things that might be beyond my control. If I am not up to the challenge of being a good parent as my boys age, if my shortcomings drive a wedge between us that cannot be repaired, I won’t be able to handle my disappointment.

I guess I need to straighten my feeble arms and weak knees. If I listen to my internal reasoning, I will not fret about a problem I’ve not actually encountered. I will remember my firm foundation, including my support network of family and especially parents of children the same age. I will think about how many people I know who have navigated the middle, as parent and child, and come out on the other side with a stronger relationship.

But my heart speaks loudly. I am not as strong a person as I would like to be. My heart also tells me some degree of this fear is healthy, because it will compel me to work hard at this task and not just presume I will succeed because others have and will. Perhaps that’s just a copout allowing me to retain the fear when there is a better way to face the challenge.

For tonight, I need to move on. And I will do so with the last verse, which contains another excellent piece of advice I hope to apply to my own life and, by extension, impress upon my children: Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and be holy. That’s a goal worth pursuing.

A prayer for May 6:

Lord, I am scared. I am scared of the increasing challenges of parenthood, and I am worried I am not going to be good enough. I want to be the father my sons deserve, and I need you to be with me through every step. I will put my trust in you and continue to seek your guidance, to pray your will be done as it relates to our family. Help me to make level paths, to live in peace and to be holy. Amen.

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