Monday, August 12, 2013

Reflections on What My Parents Didn't Say

I've been thinking a lot lately about values. About teaching values and about learning values.

In my capacity as an early childhood director I have the privilege of being a source of knowledge and a confidant of sorts to lots of parents. I don't know that that role is always merited and sometimes it weighs me down. After all, I don't have kids. So I will reiterate something you've heard me say more than once and I'm sure you'll hear me say for years: I don't know how to parent.  I'm not blind to this. I know how to love kids and get to know them. I know how to build rapport and how to get them to focus on the lesson. But I don't know how to parent.

Which is why, I think, when I get questions from parents I try to think really hard about the answers.  So lately my thoughts have gone to values. How do we teach kids to value what we do? How did I learn what my parents found important in life?

The bible says "Train up a child in the way he should go and he will not depart from it (Prov 22:6)." Right? So how do we help kids determine what these ways are? Well, here's what I've been thinking...

I think we think too much about having these "pivotal conversations." Don't get me wrong: I think there are important conversations that need to be had.  Especially as kids get older. And doctrine is important and should be explained, for sure.  But I just keep thinking about all the conversations my parents didn't have.  Let me explain...

My parents never sat me down and told me how important it was to steal away quiet moments with God.

But as an early riser, I often woke up to find one parent or the other in a quiet chair with their bible study in their lap. I remember the basket that held bibles, notebooks, and study materials. I remember the Upper Rooms stashed around our house.  Yes, I remember reading the bible and talking about it but this whole idea of quiet time? I saw it. In my house. Lived out.

My parents never had a conversation with me about how we don't value possessions and how we store up treasures in heaven. 

OK. I won't say never.  Maybe they did. Probably as I grew a little older. But do you know what I do remember? They took me with them to deliver Christmas presents when I was seven and a family in our small town had a bad car accident that caused major medical bills and deep hardship on their family.  I watched the mom tear up, knowing this is the only way they were going to be able to have Christmas for their family that year.  Their son, in double leg casts, was pretty pumped about the whole thing too. He needed some joy and I needed to see what it looked like to give.  Win-win.

I saw my mom and dad open the door to our small house and hand out diapers and food.  I saw them drive people to the gas station and filled their tanks when the local gas station (right off the interstate) pointed cars our direction for assistance (you know you live in a small town when the gas station sends people straight to the pastor's house for help).

They took me on my first mission trip and held me close as I watched things I had only heard about.  And they let me live it out, walking a little boy back to his shack when his mom had dental surgery and was incapable of carrying his tiny body home.  They showed me what it meant to store up treasures in heaven before I had ever heard of that verse.

My parents and I didn't have long, detailed talks about the value of life when I was little.

But I did sit in my living room at age nine as a scared high-school girl came to my parents as the first people she told she was carrying her child.  I listened in (even thought I don't think I was supposed to) as they told her a baby is always a blessing. I heard them pray with her and hug her and tell her God loved her and they would support her and help her to parent or help her to find parents for that baby.  I knew human life was valued by God because I watched my parents value a life others might have dismissed.  And I was there to see her mature as she raised her sweet daughter, with the help and support of her parents. And mine.

And even these days, the days where I have had deep conversations about this topic with my mom and dad, I'm more touched by their life. I watch my parents support their local crisis pregnancy center. I take great pride in my mom's position on the board. We don't have deep conversations about valuing life but I know where they stand because of how they spend their time.

I don't remember my parents telling me to care for vulnerable children.

But I do remember the boy who came to live in our house. I remember his door right next to mine. I remember taking him on family vacations and I remember the family meeting we had to discuss making him a permanent member of our house. And I remember the hurt we all felt when it turned into a bitter court battle and he had to go back to the home that had asked us to keep him in the first place.  I remember my parents being super torn up about it. But I also know they would do it all over again. That's a conversation we have had.  And as I look back on my childhood, this is one of the many incidents that taught me the way my parents lived were the most impactful and formative moments in my faith walk.  The conversations? good. The lifestyle? Better.

And I guess my point is this: I don't think I'm unique in this. I think if you look back, you probably remember memories and actions more than conversations. My parents could have talked til they were blue in the face. They could have hammered home how the love of Jesus is acted out in our every day. We could have had charts and little "sayings" all over our house. We could have memorized verses to go with our values (and we did some of these things).  But it wouldn't have impacted half as much as it did to see them live it out.

Each day of my pre-kid life I think about how important it is to live out my faith and deepen my values. And I sometimes worry about how I will transfer these beliefs to my kids.  I pray that, like my parents, I will live real life with my kids, deepening my faith each day, and showing them what mistakes and sin and grace and forgiveness look like. And through prayer and the grace of God, when my words and even my actions fail, I pray God changes them in ways I never could.

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