Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV)On this, the 300th consecutive day I have tried to formulate thoughts about parenting and prayer and turn them into cogent writing, I was brought back to the very beginning. As I’ve noted several times, this project was inspired by two specific parts of my church life. The first was a congregation-wide evangelism study our small group tackled during Lent 2012. The second was a moment of inspiration at the end of that study in the midst of a sermon from one of our associate pastors.
This is what the Lord says:“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
or the strong boast of their strength
or the rich boast of their riches,
but let the one who boasts boast about this:
that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord.
Well, Lent began Wednesday, and there we all were today, our small group gathering in a Sunday school room after worship service to share lunch and begin our journey through another all-church Lenten study. Just minutes earlier I had been in the sanctuary, listening to that same associate pastor preach yet another moving sermon, her last for our congregation before she moves to California at the end of the month.
In some ways, I feel like I’ve grown a remarkable amount over the last 300 days through focusing on scripture, committing to praying daily and especially just taking stock of my emotions and actions with an eye toward living with intent and purpose instead of just reacting to whatever comes along. Yet in other ways, I feel I haven’t grown at all, that if anything I’m a bigger disappointment to myself because even after doing all that stuff I just said, I’m still making mistakes left and right and having many of the same struggles with the kids as we faced last April.
Of course, those warring internal perceptions might be considered healthy. I need to feel like I’m making some progress, otherwise I’d just become frustrated and quit. But if I ever feel like I “solved” something or had everything figured out, I’d be like a person mentioned in the passage form Jeremiah, boasting of wisdom or strength. My favorite part of the passage is the careful distinction that the one who boats should boast not of knowing God, but of having the understanding to know God. As I read that, it says “Don’t tell people you know God — you can’t fully know God. But what you can say is your heart and mind are open to God, and that you are guided by God’s capacity for kindness, justice and righteousness.”
One of my recurring themes is how a life of faith and regular prayer does not make me better than anyone else. I still consider myself broken, sinful and in need of God’s saving grace. I do feel my belief is a sustaining force, that it helps me live differently than I would if I did not know God. I understand plenty of people think their lives are entirely complete without any faith whatsoever. I’m just different. I feel my life is only complete because it is built on faith and everything I have that is worth anything is only enriched through God’s many blessings.
I frequently return to the big-picture question: “What kind of parent do I want to be?” And as I plod along searching for a big-picture answer, I find lots and lots of little answers, building blocks contributing to a larger assembly. Unlike a set of Legos, where the finished product is pictured on the box and step-by-step instructions come inside, I’m more of a constant work in progress, perpetually subject to change. Further unlike Legos, I’m not the one putting all the pieces in place. Rather I am the pieces, and I’m trusting God to continue to mold me into something resembling how I was designed in the first place.
Letting go of my instincts can be incredibly difficult. Even though I’ve been rewarded for doing so in the past, and burned when I resisted, the chance to assert my own control (or the perception thereof) usually is too great to ignore. If I do anything in the next 65 days of this effort, I hope it is to take time every day to catch myself in a moment, completely stop and pray for God to take over.
I keep trying to tap into things like God’s kindness, justice and righteousness. While I still think that’s the right aim, what I’m actually doing is attempting to claim those things as my own attributes rather than ask God to use me for those purposes. I have to continue to break down my self-built walls and allow myself to be reshaped in God’s image. I don’t want to struggle each day with choosing my way or God’s way, I want to just fully know what God’s way is and live accordingly.
These last 300 days have been meaningful. If nothing else I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the blessings of fatherhood and the enormity of the attendant responsibility. I hope and pray to be the father my children deserve. Some days are better than others. I really feel I’m trying my best, yet I realize some days my best isn’t good enough. That’s why it can’t be “my” anything, it has to be God, working through me. If only I can let God in to make it happen.
A prayer for February 17:
Lord, I thank you today for perspective. For the reminders of how and why I started this project. For the windows into other parents’ lives and struggles. For the appreciation of why this hard work is important and the potential lasting benefits. Continue to guide me, God. Mold me and use me however you see fit. Do not let me take pride in my achievements, do not let me forget how I need you to accomplish anything of value. Make me a better person, God, that I might be able to teach my children how to live in your love. Amen.