3: an assurance for the fulfillment of a condition: as a : an agreement by which one person undertakes to secure another in the possession or enjoyment of something
J and I have had the pleasure of getting to know a couple from our church who is in an entirely different stage of life than ours. Like us, they have three children. Unlike us, their youngest child is in college, their eldest working on a post-graduate degree in Oxford. They joined us for Sunday lunch last weekend and shared the difficult circumstances surrounding one of their children. The details of the circumstance don't matter for the purposes of this post. What struck me is that there are no guarantees with parenting. Our friends admitted that their children had really been very easy to parent through childhood. They saw no indication to prepare themselves for something like this arising in adulthood. It was both comforting and unsettling to think about this.
I find it comforting because it's a reminder that our parenting inputs don't yield one-for-one results. My successes and failures as a parent don't necessarily mean my children will succeed or fail in particular areas. A friend with children younger than mine once shared her desire to not be too permissive with her children so that they wouldn't grow up with a lack of self-control and the gifts that discipline brings. One particular experience in her own life led her to believe children with parents who were more permissive had more difficulty as adults.
Over the course of our discussion, I was a bit troubled by this assertion, but it was only later that I realized what troubled me. Yes, I think we can do our children a disservice by being too permissive. I see already in my children a need for guidance in self-control and self-discipline. These are not skills that come naturally to many children. But I don't think that parenting my children correctly means they will not experience hardships later in life. In fact, I believe no matter how good a parent I may be, my children will go through hard things - some of their own making, some of others' making. Even more important, I wouldn't take these hard things away from them. Like many other people, I've been changed more by the hard things in my life than the easy things. I want the same transformative opportunities for my daughters, even if these opportunities feel like mountains to climb, not valleys to rest in.
So while I find it comforting to think that my parenting ups and downs don't determine the lives my children will have, I also find it unsettling. Why am I putting all of this effort into doing a good job as a parent if there are no direct correlations, no guarantees that everything will turn out all right? I think the answer to that is fairly simple: it's too important a job to not give it my very best shot. No, I can't guarantee that by affirming my children in their gifts, they'll never doubt their abilities. But I can be fairly certain that if I never affirm them in their gifts, they will have a much harder time determining what their gifts are. So I'm not planning to throw caution to the wind and parent in a less intentional way.
Here's where I finally have to rest my heart on these thoughts: I can't guarantee anything when it comes to my children, but there is a Guarantor who can. He doesn't promise their lives will be easy - or even consistently happy. He just promises that he'll work it out for good. That means my successes, my failures, my strengths, my weaknesses - all will be worked out for good in my life and the lives of my children.
Earlier this week, I was praying about the ashes in my life and wondering how on earth beauty could ever rise from them. But I felt a peace that not only will my own ashes be made beauty, the same is true for my daughters. Think about this for a moment. It's a comforting thought. Until you realize the ashes will only get into their lives because they've been burnt. I can't prevent ashes from being a part of their lives - or my own. I can only trust in the Guarantor and his promise to bring beauty from them.