Updated: Jan 30, 2021
I ran across a young dad the other day crossing the 101 with his two little boys, probably 5 and 3 and an infant daughter in a stroller. While waiting at the crosswalk I made a comment about how her energy was going to be very different than that of the two boys. We had a few light hearted comments about the differences between the boys and the girls and how people would say that one gender was more difficult or easy than the other. As the light turned green for us to walk across the street he really shifted the conversation gears. While trying to keep his boys moving through the intersection, he asked what the most important thing I could tell him about raising kids. Wow. That's a lot to cover in a crosswalk. What came out of my mouth was that they would not meet his expectations in a lot of ways. What they did for fun, who they chose as friends, who they coupled up with, the paths they chose, it would likely not be what he expected. So he asked, "Then what do you do?" I said, "You love them. You make sure that they always know that you love them and that you accept them... no matter what. It's the most important thing."
When we reached the other side of the street they went one way and I another. But my mind remained in that space. I answered his question so easily but was hit so hard with conviction... well, probably more like condemnation. I wished I had answered the way I did because I had been successful in living that out with my own kids. But I could see the truth in the rapid video snippets racing through my mind... when the standards of my expectations weren't met and I spoke disappointment and shame instead of love and acceptance. Painful. But, thankfully Grace was waiting in the wings.
When pain, humility and brokenness are present God's Grace can really show up like a lifeline... like a cool drink of water. I recalled when Grace showed up for me on one particularly difficult day. My oldest kid (who I parented with the handy tools of shame and fear) encouraged me to deal gently with her younger sibling who had made some bad choices. At first I balked. I said that I had done a good job with her when she screwed up and would do a good job with the other kids too. She graciously looked me in the eye and said that she didn't think I had done such a great of a job with her when she screwed up. WHAT!?! But God met me in that awful moment with Love and Grace and it created a soft landing spot for Truth, where I could feel the conviction and not the condemnation for how I had handled her. That same Grace allowed me to come toward her in humility and apologize and ask for and receive forgiveness. And, it allowed space for growth and transformational change. That's what Grace does.
Since that day in the crosswalk I've come back again and again to look at where I'm feeling disappointment and thinking about unmet expectations. At one point I had a lightbulb moment and had to shake my head at my wacky thinking. I realized that I really don't want my kids to meet my expectations. My expectations for them, unconsciously, is that their lives kind of look like mine. That makes me comfortable. What I really want is for their life journeys to take them where God has them to go... to meet the potential that he has put in them... to live lives free from shame, full of hope, full of joy and wonder... with curiosity and without fear. ...and to absolutely know that they are fully loved and fully accepted.
It's the most important thing.