“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.”
Yep, I have been a parent for 18 years, Happy Birthday Catrina! December 31st of 1998 my daughter Catrina was born. We got a nice tax break and began a journey that is not nearly over, but it has reached a milestone. My wife and I set out that day with some goals in mind. Those goals would morph and change over the years, but their core has remained the same. Up to this point, I can say with all honesty we have accomplished those goals. That sounds a little conceited, so let me clarify before moving on. The role God played in the process is assumed for the purposes of this post. At times, I know His work was despite our efforts more than it was through our efforts. Nevertheless, Scripture says much about raising children. It says we should pass on the commands of God to our children, we ought to serve God as a family, we ought to raise our children in the way that they should go, etc. (Deut 6:2, Josh. 24:15, Prov. 22:6). Our goals were simple and I would like to share those, but first I would like to share some common goals that didn't make our list.
We did not set out with the goal to make our kids happy. I could not count the number of times I have heard parents say, "I just want my kids to be happy!" This didn't make our list, and it was not because of some kind of oversight. I think, for the most part our kids are happy, but it is a byproduct of other things, not the goal. There are many reasons this did not make our list, let me share a few. First, I find no such promise or command in Scripture to suggest that it should be a goal. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be a goal, but there is no requirement in Scripture that it should be nor do we find a promise of happiness for children raised in a particular way. Happiness should not be confused with joy, purpose, or fulfilment, those are very different kinds of things. I am using the word happiness in it's most common use, "Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment." Second, as I look at Scripture and history I do not find that those who made the largest impact were necessarily happy. That isn't to say they never experienced happiness, but that overall, happiness wasn't part of the equation. Often they experienced significant loss, sorrow, and hurt. Job is probably the most apt example, but there were many others, in fact, almost all of those that had significant impact, suffered a great deal. Third, in my own experience much of my life lacked happiness. It wasn't depression, it was simply that the circumstances I found myself in for large parts of my life did not present an environment where hapiness was the primary concern. I found other things, but not happiness. While I was fairly certain my kids would not grow up in that environment, there were too many other things in this fallen world that could so easily strip my kids of hapiness, things far beyond my control.
We did not set out with the goal to provide every posible opportunity for our kids. That doesn't mean we never tried to provide opportunities, we certainly did, at least certain kinds of opportunities. It just means that we realized our kids would not have every opportunity no matter what we did. We also realized that even if they had every opportunity, that would not garrantee success in any meaningful way. We have all seen people with tons of opportunity squander that opportunity. We have sacrificed much to give our kids what opportunities we could, but that was never the primary goal.
We did not set out to give our kids all the things we missed out on. Frankly, this sounds silly to me, but I have heard many parents say this very thing. Usually they have something specific in mind. Maybe it means more presents under the tree, more freedom, more structure, more... Again, this does not mean that there weren't things I didn't get that I have tried to provide for my kids, but it was not the driving force behind our parenting. It wasn't a primary goal. I have had my son in martial arts for several years, both Karate and Jiu Jitsu. I did this because I didn't want him to ever be afraid of some person who threatened him. I often had that fear growing up. But we could have easily raised him without these things in a very successfull way.
We did not set out to make our kids superstars. Part of this was the realization that it was very unlikely this could be accomplished, but part of it was that we realized the possible idol that lerked in such a life. There is a family who are friends of our whose oldest son grew up with enormous talent in football. In fact, he went on to play for a division 1 school and be drafted into the NFL. They certainly sacrificed much so that he could succeed at that level, but he was a unique talent! Even for them, they had a phrase that was common in their house, "Faith, Family, Football." This phrase was used to establish their priorities as he pursued football. They realized, even with their enormously talented son, that being a superstar was secondary to other things. They had higher goals.
More could be added to the list of things that did not make our list of goals for our kids. Here are the things that did make our list:
We set out to make sure our kids understood hard work (Col. 3:23, Psalm 90:17, Prov. 13:4, Gen. 2:15, etc.). I don't always think we have been completely successfull in this area. Some times I think our kids have had it easy. However, my daughter has done very well in school. She didn't get strait A's, but last I knew she was #4 in her class. She was never the student who was simply gifted, she just worked her back side off. She spent endless hours doing homework for honors and AP classes. She has worked in some capacity since she was young. She worked to get riding lessons at Denver Equestrians, she started her own dog watching bussiness which she will probably pass off to her younger brother in the next year. She is hard working and I am very proud of her.
We set out to make sure our kids were respectful (Rom. 12:10, 1 Peter 2:17, Rom. 13:7, etc.). I don't mean simply being nice to other people. I also don't mean saying nice things. I mean giving respect to people as being created in God's image. I mean understanding offices and God's divine sovereignty. I am no fan of President Obama, but I respect the office of the presidency and I understand that he was given an enourmous responsibility just as President Elect Trump will take on that responsibility. I have attempted to help my kids understand that with these offices, and many others, respect is an appropriate response even when being critical. This is true in what might be viewed as lesser roles like teacher, officer, or others as well.
Most importantly we set out to help our kdis find their ultimate fulfillment and purpose in their savior Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 10:31, Mark 12:30, Rom. 11:36). Serving God was the ultimate goal. I don't mean we set out to make sure they become "professional Christians." I mean no matter what they do our goal is to make sure they are following Jesus. We set out to disciple our kids. We haven't been perfect in this, but we have memorized Scripture, prayed together, talked theology, and prepared them to be bold in their witness. Both of our kids have done this. My daughter wants to become a veterinarian. That's great, but she could have decided to become a cahier at King Soopers and that would have been fine too. What was more important was who she served while doing whatever she decided to do.
Everything else is frosting on the cake. We are blessed with two great kids, not perfect, but we haven't been perfect parents either. Lots of time has been spent on our knees and that will continue to be the case.
It's true, and if you have known me for any length of time you know that I don't exactly have a love afair with the Christmas season. Over the past few years I have begun to work on my perspective. At one time, I proudly embraced my dislike for Christmas. I even had a Grinch tshirth that I would put on around this time of year. Of course, I justified my dislike for Christmas by saying that it was about the comercialism, the buying gifts when I didn't have the money, the barrage of Christmas music that lacked creativity and artistry, and a variety of other things. All those things had some truth behind them and contributed to the general dislike, but there was more to the story.
I loved many things about Christmas growing up. I loved seeing my extended family on my mom's side. I loved, and still love, the food. In fact, that is one of my favorite things about Thanksgiving and Christmas to this day. My dad's side was more complicated. My biological dad wasn't around. I don't remember a single Christmas with him or my extended family on that side. My step dads and I had difficult relationships to say the least. My step dad that I have had since I was 13 is and was a good man who stepped into a difficult situation and did the best he could. We have a good relationship now, but that was not the case until some time after I left home. Christmas with his extended family was always pleasant, but to be forthright, I never felt like I belonged. It wasn't really their fault, they all did their best to welcome me and treat me like a member of the family, but it just never felt quite right. Even Christmas with the extended family on my mom's side had some negatives that stuck out to me. For instance, it probably wasn't true, but I always felt like I didn't get as many presents as my cousins. My perception probably had more to do with my family situation than anything based in reality, nevertheless, my perception remained.
After becoming an adult and getting married Christmas became more complicated. My biological dad came back into my life. While in many ways that has been a good thing for me, and now my kids, in other ways it made things more difficult. Where we would spend Christmas was really the least of the issues, but it was an issue. The greater issue was coming to terms with my relationship with my dad. If he sent me a card and some money I felt like he was trying to pay me off for the times he wasn't around growing up. If he didn't send me anything it felt like I was being ignored and the feelings of abandonment grew deeper. While my dad certainly helped create that situation, there was no short term win for him. No matter what he did at that point he would lose. I have seen him take on the role of father to some of my step siblings in ways that he was never a father to me. Believe it or not, that helped my relationship with him. I am certain I will never understand the struggles he faced. What I do know is that he was capable of being a good father and that whatever kept him from being my father in a tangable and practical way, he was able to do that for others. Those years of absence can't be replaced and their impact is still felt to this day by me and my family (they probably don't realize it, but I see it), but I have come to terms and he continues to be part of my life. Christmas seems to be one of those times during the year that brings those things to the surface.
Over the past few years I have begun to realize that I have a responsibility during the Christmas season. The theological significance of Christmas is central to the Christian faith. Forget the fact that I am a pastor. If God sent His eternal son to take on human flesh so that he could live a sinless life experiencing the difficulties of living with fallen humans, including his step dad, and being born in scandalous conditions, then perhaps I should pay attention. My kids and my wife need to be led in the meaning of Christmas, and my Grinchiness (probably not a word) didn't help things. I needed to learn to celebrate. I needed to set the tone and help my kids understand the joy of the Christmas story. So, my journey began.
Now I put up Christmas lights as soon as I can, AFTER Thanksgiving. I host a Christmas party for my staff, elders, and trustees from the church (see FB pictures). This year I spent half the day making ribs and my wife and I put on a little show with her ventriloquist figures. I listen to Christmas songs both secular and sacred throughout the Christmas season. My wife still makes fun of me because it is not what she has been accustomed to for most of our married life. My kids extended family is far away, but we still celebrate, read the Christmas story and spend time together.
There are still Grinch moments. It is a chore in some ways. I don't always love it, but I put in the work to have the right attitude towards Christmas. Thanks to spotify I have found numerous Christmas playlists that fit better into the style of music I like. I listen often, in fact I am listening right now. I put up and turn on the lights even if I don't feel like it. I think about and read the Christmas story from Scripture regularly during this season. I think about the dirtyness and difficulty that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus experienced. I think about a family on the run whose life was threatened. I remember that Christmas wasn't some kind of sanitized event where the shepherds had showered and cleaned up before they visited Jesus, they were dirty, smelly, men doing a dirty, smelly job, but they wanted to see the messiah. I remember that Jesus wasn't more with a glowing halo over his head as some nativity scenes present him. He was born in a dirty manger, placed in a feeding trough. I remember that Jesus had half siblings he grew up with and there were most certainly conflicts. I remember that Jesus didn't sin, but he did develop physically, sprititually, and mentally (Luke 2:52). I remember that Christmas is the ultimate act of love expressed towards a fallen humanity living in a fallen world. That inittial act of incarnation culminated in a sacrifical death on the cross. I remember that if it wasn't for Christmas my most dearly held beliefs become meaningless. I have realized that the lights on my house bring joy to my neighbors, that Christmas is the most opportune time to express the love of Jesus to everyone I meet. I will say "merry Christmas" to everyone, not because I want to offend them, but because I want to encourage people to consider the truth of Christmas. If a person is so easily offended that they can't listen to someone wish them well then they can go be grumpy somewhere else.
So, if you hate Christmas, maybe, maybe you can begin to reform your attitude as I have. Like it or not, "merry Christmas." Hard or not, find peace and joy in the season because God sent the eternal son to live and suffer for fallen humanity. Listen to some Christmas music, put up some lights, and love your neighbors.
John Byrne is a pastor who has been spouting off his opinions his entire life (just ask his mom). This little blog is his venue for continuing in this tradition.