Friday, June 28, 2013

What am I teaching? What have I learned?

Psalm 32:8-9 (NIV)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
   I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule,
   which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
   or they will not come to you.
I’m reading these verses over and over, and one thought keeps running through my mind: What have I taught my children? My initial instinct is to make a list of everything I think I’ve passed on so far in their young lives, but surely such a list would be very long and also might not incorporate much beyond basic life and survival skills and platitudes such as “be nice to each other” or “always tell the truth.”

The second instinct is to flip the question on its ear and consider everything my parents taught me. But again, it’s a long list. Further, I don’t know if I can single out a lesson that came straight from mom or dad as opposed to general philosophies shaped by being raised in this particular family. And surely some of the lessons they imparted were enforced or enhanced in other settings and from other respected figures, like at church or from dedicated teachers.

The third instinct is to ask my kids, at least the oldest one, what he thinks I’ve taught him through his first nine-plus years. Of course, he’s not here right now. But even if he were, I might not get much more than a comic answer (say, armpit farts) instead of an actual thing I intended for him to learn. But to be fair, nine-year-olds don’t quite grasp big picture stuff.

Forrest Gump has a handful of things “mama always says” to spit back at opportune times, but surely I can do better for my boys. It seems instruction in “the way you should go” is a bit more significant than “there’s an awful lot you can tell about a person by their shoes.” At least I hope I can rise to that level.

After I move past the first verse, I get to the second part, the admonition for the learner to not be stubborn. That component falls squarely on my shoulders. How often have people tried to teach me only for me to shut them out? How many times have I displayed an appalling lack of understanding? How many times did I make my parents wonder if I was stubborn as a mule, if not more so? And for that matter, how can I expect my kids to give me any more respect than what I showed to my parents over the years?

These are not deeply unique thoughts. Surely most parents at least once view their children through the prism of their own childhood. I might do it more regularly that I should, but I also think shifting perspectives is a pretty healthy way to understand how and why people interact the way they do. And while my reflections at this point are not uncommon, they are not unimportant. I have to keep questioning myself, keep analyzing my approach, keep searching for direction. The less I think about such things, the more I get bogged down in a daily survival mode instead of intentionally trying to live my best life.

As I try to counsel my children with a loving eye on them, it helps a great deal to know there are loving eyes on me — human and divine. My house has been empty every night this week, but somehow I haven’t felt alone. Perhaps that’s because I know the kids are having a great time with Kristie and her parents. Perhaps it’s because there are reminders of them everywhere I look (except down, of course, because I did run the vacuum cleaner). Perhaps it’s because I’m lucky enough to see my parents every day for work.

And perhaps it’s because I take an hour or so each day to think about my family, my faith and my calling as a parent. This time might not be right for everyone, but it makes a world of difference to me. I’m beyond thankful to have been shown this particular path and encouraged to proceed.

A prayer for June 28:

Lord, I am so sorry for all the times I refused to listen. To parents, to teachers, to you — I can’t imagine how often I may have hurt someone just by trusting myself alone. Please help me be a better listener, a better learner. Don’t just show me the path, but lead me along the way. Help me break down the walls that keep me from opening myself fully to your will. Remake me as you see fit, and help me live a life worthy of you. Amen.

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