Thursday, May 31, 2012

Starting the journey

Proverbs 21:30-22:6 (NIV)

There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan
   that can succeed against the Lord.
The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
   but victory rests with the Lord.
A good name is more desirable than great riches;
   to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
Rich and poor have this in common:
   The Lord is the Maker of them all.
The prudent see danger and take refuge,
   but the simple keep going and pay the penalty.
Humility is the fear of the Lord;
   its wages are riches and honor and life.
In the paths of the wicked are snares and pitfalls,
   but those who would preserve their life stay far from them.
Start children off on the way they should go,
   and even when they are old they will not turn from it.
I have read this passage probably five times in the last few minutes and I still can’t decide which couplet I like best. It all speaks such powerful truth — and in such beautiful language — I feel as if I can’t add anything more.

Naturally I am drawn to the last lines as they speak directly to parenting. I like to think these verses are grouped for this reading, going over a chapter break in Proverbs, because the first seven verses are the kind of lessons we should impart in order for the eighth verse to prove true. Specifically, they could be the road map for the way children should go.

Though I have not come to this stage, I presume one of the great challenges of the parenting adventure is grasping the nuance of the “start children off” instruction. I get the general idea, but I have no clue — and maybe I never will — when the starting period ends. Yes, we’ll always be parents, and surely once the boys move out of the house or get married or stop needing our money for food then we’ll accept they’re truly on their own. But those are worldly issues, practical things you can sort out on paper. Spirituality is an entirely different matter.

Within the context of the church — and I guess I’m speaking primarily about our denomination and individual congregation — there is infant baptism (not mandatory) leading to Christian education (Sunday school and Vacation Bible School), in turn feeding into confirmation, at which point the young people become fully vested adult members. Along the way are smaller milestones, such as learning about communion, getting your first Bible and so on. And of course Christian education continues even after confirmation and into adulthood in many forms.

But thinking back on my own journey, confirmation probably lacked the significance it was supposed to impart, or at least I failed to maximize the experience. I would in no way fault my parents for this. They both were strong supporters at the time, and still today. And I guess since I never really turned away from faith (though active participation in organized religion certainly ebbed and flowed) I suppose I’m something of a best-case scenario, or at least on the good side of average.

Probably since we’re at the earliest stages of teaching the kids about God (though other parents do a much better job of starting sooner than we have) it’s too early to worry about when to let go. And really, if we can maintain good relationships with the kids as they become adults, there’s no reason we can’t continue to be resources for each other in matters of the spirit. It’s not as if our own faith journeys will reach some sort of natural climax or plateau.

But at some point, faith becomes something real. It transitions from an accumulation of Bible knowledge and church policy into something that integrates into your very being and becomes part of your way of life. That assimilation is very personal and individual and must come about organically. As a parent, there’s nothing I can do but start the process — each son will have to carry it forward in their own way.

In this matter, the journey is the destination.

A prayer for May 31:

Lord, I thank you for the gift of scripture and the wisdom and insight it provides. I thank you for creating us all equally and for instilling in us the prudence to avoid the many snares and pitfalls this world provides. Please help me to start my children off on the way they should go, to give them the direction they need so they will not turn from you. I am ever grateful for those who started me and all who continue to help me along the way. Amen.

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