Father Fails into Grace


(system) #1

Continuing our theme Spirituality of Parenting, Michael Bennie, a father of three daughters, offers a reflection on how becoming a parent changed everything.

She came like a pearl from the oyster, a glistening gem wrested from blood and tangled tissue. Her life begun, our life-as-before ended. What had God wrought?

Suddenly, I was more like God than ever before—I had co-created this miraculous being! She needed me, trusted me, belonged to me, reflected me. Along with her mommy, I was her source, her sustenance. Maker and protector.

Just as suddenly, I was more fallen than ever, or at least more fallen than I’d ever cared to notice. Demons I’d fancied tame were now wild. Her seven pounds of holiness screamed for hours in the night, mocking my efforts to rock her back to sanity and to be a competent parent. Silently, I screamed back, tormented.

So much shifted. Things that mattered before were now expendable. This pearl, this shining, bitty angel, was powerful in her fragility. Devastatingly precious and exhaustingly needy. She opened up wells of love I never knew were there and unleashed anger and frustration on a whole new level. When her twin sisters came along 14 months later, I discovered unprecedented adoration for this baby trinity, and unparalleled rage at their disruption to my sovereignty.

We’re here together to explore “The Spirituality of Parenting.” Spirituality. Parenting. They sound nice together, like “Mary and Joseph” or maybe, “Patriarchs and Prophets.” A great pairing, right? And honest parents who’ve fancied themselves spiritual will fess up to the despair they’ve felt when parenting reveals just how unspiritual we were all along.

I sometimes think spirituality was something I had time for before I was a parent, when I would journal, read through the Bible and go on long hikes alone with God. Other times I think I had no clue of spirituality before I was a parent. Here’s what I mean.

So much of Christian teaching—on all subjects, parenting included—is about how to get it right. Adventists enjoy an even richer diet of counsel on righteous parenthood, which for our kids’ sake, can be a blessing. Parents are wont to complain that their kids don’t come with an owner’s manual, but Adventist children…well, they sort of do. And when something is as crazy and confounding as parenting, having guidance on best practices accumulated in books and tradition is a good thing.

And it also sets us up to fail. Spectacularly.

To whom much is given, much is expected. So with tomes of counsels to parents, and to their youth and young people, Adventist parents are armed and dangerous—armed with knowledge of how to parent correctly, and dangerously teetering on the edge of despair when our knowledge does not translate into the happy, happy home we imagined.

Early in my life, I birthed a phobia that my kid would grow up to be a mass murderer, or something else evil. My Bible friends were little comfort. Adam and Eve, born in paradise, raised a fratricidal number one son. Noah, rescuer of the human race, finder of grace in the eyes of the Lord, ends his story with a hung-over curse of his mocking son, Ham. David, man after God’s own heart, raises a son who turns on him in revolt. What kind of cloud of witnesses is that?

Midway through my wife’s pregnancy with our firstborn, I was sharing this Bible-based fear of parental failure with a friend and mentor, Tracy. “I don’t know,” I sighed. “It just seems like all the big Bible heroes sucked at being parents.”

“That’s right,” Tracy said, not missing a beat. “And you’re going to suck at it too, Mike.” (Nice word of encouragement from the Lord there, Trace….) “And,” he continued, “by grace, your kids are going to be OK.”

This shocking, laughable, refreshing conversation has been a source of relief to me ever since. Parenthood as grace. Unmerited favor. Not cheap grace, where lazy and laissez-faire are the only laws. But on some level, might parenthood make me tired and heavy-laden enough to yearn for an easier yoke? Could the weight of daddyhood and how small I feel under it be crippling my ego enough to get me craving something lighter—maybe even lighter than what I would have carried without my three little will-thwarters? Grace says there is such an easy yoke. By grace, there is the promise of a burden that is inexplicably light.

When I’m carrying my own yoke, weighed with the high and holy calling of all I know about Being a Good Parent, and the compulsion to measure up to it, I tend to ask myself these questions:

What complaints about me will this kid be sobbing over to a counselor someday?

What horror stories will she be telling my grandkids about me?

How am I screwing up this child?

Are my parents proud of how I’m parenting?

How have I failed to fix this issue by now?

Am I a good enough parent?

What should I be doing differently?

What would my [mom/neighbor/pastor/teacher/Adventurers director/guardian angel] say if they saw me now?

Should I die on this hill?

Why me?

For a real parent, these questions are natural. And in a supernatural Christ-yoke, I’m convinced they are the wrong ones to be asking. Because these questions are all about me. When it’s all about me, fear is easy to come by and love is scarce. When it’s all about me, the burden of my own insufficiency poops me out in no time flat. When it’s all about me, I drag myself thirstily through a dry desert chasing ego-boost flash floods.

What other questions might I ask—questions that suit the yoke that my Master has in mind? Maybe some of these?

What part of God’s goodness do my kids need to get through this?

What gift is heaven sending through this?

Trusting there’s a punch line for this divine comedy, can we start laughing now?

How will they most clearly get that they are loved?

Who might God be nudging me to ask for help?

What might my kids be learning—right here?

How is God showing up—right now?

How about you? What questions do you find yourself asking when you’re weighed down with a yoke that is all about you? What questions might a God of grace offer in their place?

Michael Bennie's claim to fame (and failure) is being Daddy to his three little girls, an ego-wrecking joy that requires occasional venting on his blog, Who's Your Daddy? A Diary. Before becoming a school counselor in 2006, Mike taught Spanish, religion, journalism and drama. He and his multitalented wife, Rachelle, met 20 years ago working at Pine Springs Ranch in So. Cal.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5276