Our Family Tree – Remembering Our Roots: The Courage to Parent
I want to thank everyone who has had a part in nurturing these children in our congregation this morning. I think about the many people who put up with me when I was that age: Sunday School teachers, leaders who taught me the song “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” and others who were a part of the church family that nurtured me into adulthood. They could see things in me that I could not see in myself. Could any of these children be future choir members? Could little Daes, who was enthralled with the microphone, be a future preacher? What a blessing it is to be in a church that believes in the importance of young children. Jesus taught us, “Let the little children come unto me and forbid them not for such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).
I want to give you five points about our topic for today, “The Courage to Parent.” I also want to share a few stories to back up those five points.
First, parenting is a life-time commitment. Young parents think that they are going to rear these children, get them to adulthood, and then launch them as if they were a space shuttle. They think they will be finished with parenting after that point. It takes a considerable amount of money and effort to launch a space shuttle. It may come as a surprise to those young parents that once the child has been launched into space, the parenting continues. The child still needs guidance and direction, a lot of ground support. The task of parent is never really finished.
My sister Jeslyn, while vacationing at the beach with her family, was walking across a parking lot when an elderly woman backed up in her car and knocked her down. The tires of the car rolled across Jeslyn’s pelvic area. When the elderly woman realized she had hit something, she put the car in drive, pulled forward, and ran across her again. Jeslyn, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was badly hurt. Her pelvis was broken in four places. The child she was carrying, little Kathryn, was irreparably brain-damaged.
When Jeslyn and Kathryn were finally transferred from Conway to Spartanburg Regional Hospital, my dad and I went to see them. Jeslyn wanted me to have a prayer of dedication for Kathryn, who was in the NIC unit. After the dedication as we were driving back home, I looked over at my dad and saw one tear running down his check.
I asked him, “Dad, it’s never over, is it?”
“No,” he answered. “It is never over. Once you decide to be a parent, you are in it for life. You raise them, and they fall in love and get married. They have children, and there are more and more and more of them to care about.”
Boy! Was he right about that!
This life-time commitment of parenting takes courage. James Dobson perhaps stated the job best when he said that parenting is not for sissies.
The second point I would make is that hurting is a part of parenting. My grandmother used to say, “When they are little they step on your toes. When they get older they step on your heart.”
Clare and I very much wanted to have children. I pretty much brushed off the first miscarriage and thought, We will try again. The second miscarriage came after Clare had felt life. With it, doctors told us that we would probably never have children. Clare was devastated. Angry, I went out in the woods and shouted to God, “I don’t understand how people around the world can have children like rats, and we cannot have a child!”
I did not see or hear anything, but I did take notice of something felt here in my heart. It was as if God were speaking to me, asking, “Kirk, how do you ever expect to be a father until you learn to hurt?” Parenting is not an easy task. If you have been a parent for any length of time at all you know that pain is involved.
My third point is a corollary. We want to nurture our children. We want to care for them and protect them. The truth is that we hurt them, too. When Clare and I had little ones, Pampers did not exist. Do you remember the days of cloth diapers and plastic pants? Safety pins secured the diapers. Clare tried her best to teach me how to change diapers without hurting the child. I managed to stick them sometimes, and they screamed. I realized I was never going to be nominated for Parent of the Year.
Dr. Norman Shands shared a story about a mother and her young son who were on a dock in Florida. The boy fell off the dock into the river. Just as the mother reached out to get him, an alligator grabbed his legs. The little boy became like the rope in a tug-of-war game between the mother and the alligator. She pulled and pulled and pulled her son, and the alligator pulled as well. The mother was finally successful in rescuing her son.
The doctor examining the boy asked him about the marks on his legs. The boy said, “Yes, those were made by the alligator.”
“What about these cuts on your arms?”
“Those are from my mother. where her fingernails held me. The scars on my legs are scars of hurt, something that had done evil to me. The scars on my arms are scars of love.”
When we parent we sometimes hurt our children because we love them so much. Our desire to care for them takes us to all kinds of places: hospital rooms, pediatric units, NIC-units, and even divorce courts. Loving our children may sometimes take us to a mortuary. Many of you have also been there.
My fourth point is that parenting requires faith. Mark 9:14-29 is the passage about the father of a son with epilepsy. People in Jesus’ day and time thought that epilepsy was caused by an evil spirit. All you have to do is read the text to see that this child had grand mal seizures.
You know that Clare and I had a child with epilepsy. I understand how the father in the passage felt. He pleaded with Jesus to heal his child, saying, “If you can do anything, please help us.”
Jesus said, “‘If you can’? All things are possible to those who believe.”
The father offered what is perhaps the most profound profession of faith in the entire Bible: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Parents sometimes find themselves between belief and unbelief. Our faith is never perfect, but Jesus said it did not have to be without fault. To Jesus, faith like a mustard seed is sufficient. Whatever faith we have is sufficient. I know that the Christian home is the greatest instrument that we have for evangelism. More children are won to Christ in the context of the Christian home than anywhere else. Parenting requires faith. Our children need to see our faith. They need to see our faith in action.
The fifth point I would make is this: You cannot be a good parent until you learn to let your children go, until you release them. You see announced in the worship bulletin the text from Genesis 22:1-14. That passage is the great story about Abraham taking Isaac to the top of the mountain to offer him as a sacrifice. Halfway up the mountain Isaac, carrying the firewood, questioned his father, “We have the fire. We have the wood. Where is the sacrifice?”
Abraham swallowed the huge lump in his throat and said, “God will provide.”
The father and son reached the top of the mountain, and Abraham placed Isaac on the altar. Two paintings of this scene in the British Museum of Art both depict Abraham holding his left hand over Isaac’s eyes. In his right hand is a dagger, which he will use to sacrifice his son. The Scripture states that an angel staid his hand, saying, “Abraham, don’t do it.” A ram caught in a thorn-bush provided a substitute. Abraham came down the mountain with his son. Not everyone gets to return with the child. Sometimes we lose our children. This experience taught Abraham that his son did not belong to him. His child belonged to God.
Many of these children in our congregation today have been dedicated right here in this Sanctuary. In time many of them will make a profession of faith and be baptized. The parents of these children, as well as the congregation, know that they are growing to the time that they understand that God is their real Father. Every child has two fathers – an earthly father and a heavenly Father. Our responsibility is to release them to the heavenly Father. “Your children are not your children,” says the poet. “They are like arrows in the hand of the Great Archer. You are the bow, bent and drawn taut to release them in the direction the Archer would have them go.” It is not easy to release our children.
My grandmother and grandfather had four sons who fought in World War II and another who served on the mission field. Every night they went into their prayer parlor, got down on their knees, and released those boys to the care of God.
Parenting cannot be done alone. You must rely on God. Christ must be at the center of your home. If you are a parent or a grandparent – many grandparents are rearing their grandchildren – do not leave Christ out of your home. Put him at the center. Every day, commit your children to the Lord. It takes a lot of courage to parent, but if you have the Lord on your side, you are able. God is able.
Is Christ in your heart? Is Christ in your home? We extend an invitation to you to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Perhaps some of you have another decision to make. We invite your response.Kirk H. Neely © October 2013