Last night I sat on our carport and watching lightning criss-cross the sky, listening to the grinding roar of thunder that made the ground shake. I’d just waved goodbye to my oldest son as he drove off to his senior prom. As I sat in the dark I, as parents do, reminisced about his 18 years of life and thanked God for the blessings and hardships of those years. Flashes of a little boy excitedly running to me with a lizard in his hand, or of a teenager brusquely saying “No!” to me before I even said a word, filled my mind. I laughed, pondered, prayed, shed a few tears. How did this happen, 18 years? As we prepare him to be “sent” into life, I feel like St. Paul who says, when writing to Philemon the slave-owner of Onesimus:
I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment. I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart (Philemon 10, 12).
My children are like “my heart standing outside of my body” — an expression my wife taught me when they were very young — and consenting to them “abandoning” us (cf. Genesis 2:24) to cling to their God-given vocation is an act of self-immolating love. But is that not the whole goal of parenting? As my grandfather said to me in a letter, “Love for your children doesn’t mean protecting them from every harm, but preparing them to face every harm with a virtuous heart.” Or as a seasoned parent told me once, “Give them to God, stop clinging, they’re not yours. Let them go now to their real Father’s house.” We must prepare them to embrace their calling, allow them to own their own maturity and empower them to be capable of saying, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
As the thunderstorm continued, I pulled out my “even better than” litany I wrote a year or so ago and read it aloud. I’ll share again today the excerpt I posted last year. Pray for my children. I’ll pray for yours.
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My son is approaching his 17th birthday soon (Domine ad adjuvandum me festina, “O Lord, make haste to help me”), so I was journaling recently about parenting. I titled it, “Parenting: What I Occasionally Did Right, But Wish I Did Better.” Of course, it’s what my wife and I did right, but the “occasionally/wish” is my own moral grappling with the past. All parents who want to live their God-given trust well must grapple, and honest parenting makes Confession into your favorite Sacrament.
There was a section of the journal entry, as I wrote, that suddenly turned in to an “Even better than…” litany. It was written in a simple, randomly arranged, free flowing stream of consciousness state-of-mind. And it was a wonderful litany of thanks to God for all those extraordinary people who have helped shape my spousal and fatherly heart.
For what it’s worth, I share it here:
+ Even better than showing them a sacrificial life is allowing them to sacrifice.
+ Even better than serving them is to allow them to serve.
+ Even better than showing them how to pray is allowing them to pray.
+ Even better than trying to model suffering well is helping them to suffer well.
+ Even better than creating consequences for bad decisions is allowing them to suffer the natural consequences of their bad decisions.
+ Even better than protecting them from bad decisions is helping them learn from bad decisions.
+ Even better than pointing out their faults is praising their virtues.
+ Even better than telling them what chastity is, is to be chaste myself, when they’re watching and when they’re not.
+ Even better than telling them to respect their mother is to never ever tolerate disrespect for their mother.
+ Even better than talking to them about God is talking to God about them.
+ Even better than sermonizing morality is narrating great lives.
+ Even better than issuing moral commands is wondering aloud at the beauty of goodness.
+ Even better than telling them to “honor thy mother and father” is to allow them to see I honor my own.
+ Even better than telling her to “Get off the iThing!” is to say, “Let’s go fishing.”
+ Even better than making it to work on time is staying to look at her crayon drawings.
+ Even better than telling him to not be lazy is to have him help me fix the mower.
+ Even better than telling them to be charitable is to refrain from speaking uncharitably of others.
+ Even better than yelling is serene and unyielding firmness in my expectations.
+ Even better than talking is listening.
+ Even better than my private life lessons is my public life witness.
+ Even better than raising Christians is raising Christ-lovers.
+ Even better than the silence after they’ve fallen asleep is their voice first thing in the morning.
+ Even better than loving them is loving my wife, for when I love my wife well I love them best.