Have you ever read a book on parenting and wondered how the author’s children will turn out (or how they’ve already turned out?)? Not necessarily because you question the author’s advice, but because you truly wonder if their method really works. Because if it does, you might feel confident to try out their ideas.
I’ve often wondered this. The first time was when my oldest child was just a baby. I had read two books, both from Christian perspectives, that gave opposing advice. Both authors were convincing in their convictions and reasons for parenting the way they proposed. I was torn. I remember wondering if these authors’ children were grown, and if so, what they were like. Before plunging headfirst into either of these methods, I wanted to know the end result.
A few years ago, my mom received a letter from someone who had recently read one of her books. Here is a portion of the letter:
“I recently finished your book, Keep These Things… Your words were convicting, encouraging, and so very helpful. At the age of 41, I am raising my one-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. If you have a moment, I would love to hear your reflections on what you wrote. Did the lessons you learned then hold true over the years? Were there even greater lessons and realizations learned in the later childhood phases? Looking back, are there other ‘family strategies’ you would have employed?”
The underlying message of this letter is basically ~ How did it all turn out? What worked? What didn’t? What would you do differently? This is a smart reader. She liked what she read, but before moving forward she wanted to make sure this way of parenting worked!
I’m ten years into the process of parenting now. I’m still a “mothering babe” in many ways, but I’m far enough along and have read enough books and interacted with enough other parents to know that there is no formula. At the same time, I realize that there are still things we can learn from others. I’ll take a little of this (advice) and little of that. Rarely do I take any one book’s method “hook, line, and sinker.” Ultimately, I have to be myself, trust my own instincts, and above all else, cling to God! Pray, pray, pray and trust, trust, trust.
I recently read a book that my ten-year-old daughter was reading, called Julia’s Kitchen. It’s the story of an eleven-year-old Jewish girl whose mother and sister die in a house fire. Cara, the main character, is trying to wrap her mind around God’s place in her life as she processes life after this tragedy. Previous to the death of her mother and sister, Cara saw God as a superhero that would answer all of her prayers. And when He didn’t, she had to figure out not only who He was, but if she even believed in Him anymore. The following quote, hidden within the pages of that book, struck a chord within me as I read it. It’s a turning point in how she views God and His role in her life:
“Hey! Maybe that’s what God did. Maybe He helped you figure stuff out for yourself. Even when things got crazy. That made a whole lot more sense than a God who swooped in like a superhero every time I sent him a worrying message.”
As a Christian mother, I’d love for God to play the role of “parenting superhero” in my life. I’d love for Him to swoop in with the “perfect parenting book” and drop it in my lap. I’d love for Him to send me the “perfect parenting formula.” I’d love for Him to give me a clear answer to every worrying prayer I pray. But He doesn’t. And I think, like Cara from the book, that He doesn’t because He wants us to figure things out on our own…with Him. Which involves trust and risk and trial and error.
Figuring it out … with Him. Maybe that’s the “formula.” It’s a little messier than I’d like. But as I’m figuring it out with Him, He still places books and authors and people in my life to give me direction and hope. He helps me glean from others as I navigate through these parenting waters. In fact, He encourages us to look to others for guidance: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’” (Jeremiah 6:16) Parenting is a crossroads. It’s a crossroads of our childhood and adulthood; a transition from being a child to raising a child. Praise God for the ancient paths, found not only in His Word, but in the lives and words of others who have walked this path before us.
I think that’s what the reader who wrote the letter to my mother was doing. She was standing in the crossroads looking at the “ancient paths” and asking about it. I think that’s what I’m doing when I read a parenting book and wonder “how did it all turn out?” I’m hoping to find where the good way is so that I can walk in it and find rest for my mother-soul.
As I stand in these crossroads myself, somewhere between the little-girl Kimberly that flits among the pages of my mom’s books and the grown Kimberly that is now a mother, I am turning to the ancient paths. In the footnote of my bible (the NIV Study Bible), it defines ancient paths as “the tried and true ways of Judah’s godly ancestors.” My parents are my godly ancestors. At the same time, within the body of Christ, all the saints who have gone before me are my godly ancestors.
I love reading about and hearing about the grown children of those I’ve admired. On a few occasions, some of the authors I’ve admired have included reflections from their grown children about their experience being raised in that family. I have devoured those words, because they give me a glimpse into the outcome of that particular parenting style.
But in the end, as a parent, I rely most on this promise from the Bible: “He gently leads those with young” (Isaiah 43:11). I stumbled across this verse early on in my parenting journey. I discovered it in the midst of feeling confused and torn as to what advice to follow (which was coming at me from all directions). It is this one verse, this one promise, that has given me the most hope and encouragement as a mother. He leads me. Gently. With God gently leading me, I can trust Him with the ending.