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Tuesday, Holy Week

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends" - John 15:13

"Chasing the Butterfly", c. 1775-76, Thomas Gainsborough

Parental love is potentially its purest form, and may be the most painful. Gainsborough, whose marriage was unhappy, adored his two daughters, whom he called Molly and the Captain. Their mother's flawed psyche was inherited by both girls, and their father agonized over them all his life. Neither was to know happiness, and his many pictures of them show a sad foreknowledge of this. To leave those we love their independence, to accept that we cannot make their choices for them, that they cannot live by our hard-earned experience: this is part of love. We have to allow those dear to us to chase the butterfly, however convinced we are that it is uncatchable. We can never give the butterfly of happiness to another: each must catch it alone. For some, it will be ever elusive, and love must work within that painful understanding.


The reflection comes a little late in the day. I've just returned from Reagan National Airport to pick-up my two eldest children. What an ironic sense of timing as I read Sister Wendy's words this day. I know it to be true. You can love your kids, you can teach and model the type of behavior you expect...or at least hope for, but you have to allow them the freedom of becoming.


I think some mistakenly chalk disappointment up to the type of parenting: permissive, authoritative, or authoritarian. I certainly have my preference of the three. Each comes with its own set of challenges and consequences, and fruit.


Two Christian theologians name this reality well. Stanley Hauerwas and Billy Graham come to mind. Hauerwas, with a cheeky sense of humor says, "Children, you never get the ones you want." By that he means, children are to be received as a gift. With their own soul and life...what makes them a person created in God's image. Too often, parents have ideas, expectations really, for their kids long before they reach maturity. Sometimes even before they're born. Like a pinterest board of life, we spend at least their formative years making choices "for" them: we pick out clothes, hair styles, language that is/isn't acceptable, who they can associate with, and even begin to plan their future... "I hope she'll be a Doctor like her Father"..."I hope he's strong and protects others"..."I just hope he's born healthy, with all his fingers and toes", but then, how do we faithfully receive a child as gift when they don't match our expectations? When "she" wants to be an immigration attorney instead of a Doctor. When he wants to be a professional dancer instead of serving in the armed forces. What if the OBGYN tells us, in-utero, that this baby will be born with Down's Syndrome? Will we still have the courage to attend faithfully to all her needs, forsaking our own? What will these children become when they mature?


Billy Graham says with a wry smile and homespun Carolina wisdom, "God doesn't have any grandchildren". I believe he means that Faith, for many in Graham's tradition especially, comes by witness and conversion. We don't add to the next generation of the faithful by having babies. The mainline denominations have reaped the whirlwind of this truth. Why is the church in decline? One huge factor is that the church in America operated on a model where it grew by bringing your babies to church. Then we nurture and form them in the Christian faith. Overtime, families relocated for work, and people gradually brought less and less babies into the world, they also stopped bringing them to church. The mainline denominations (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran & Methodist) saw their peak in the 1960's. The traditions that baptized babies AND brought them up, nurturing them in the faith. The church has been in decline ever since. It used to feel slower, like going to sleep on an air mattress and waking up, hours later, on the floor. The Baptists felt the leak a little less pronounced because they have traditionally had a strong value for evangelism by conversion. And yet, we find ourselves, all of us, in the same bed these days.


Don't get me wrong. I still believe we should baptize babies as a witness to our faith that comes by grace in what God does for our salvation. I just believe it is to be followed up with nurture and formation. We don't receive "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3) just by coming to worship most Sundays till the age of 16, or by cool youth groups, or gospel sings. For the people of God, it is as the psalmist proclaims, "One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts" (Psalm 145:4). It's a mixture of: belonging, behaving, and believing. We form people in prayer, we teach them the Christian doctrines, we model hospitality and love, and we allow enough room for the Holy Spirit to still shock us from time to time.


But that is no guarantee that they will receive it. That they will come to love it the same way you do...and then what???


We must entrust the ones we love to the mercy of God. We can't control other people. We must recognize the same freedom is given to us all by God. We must allow them to "chase the butterfly". That's Life. We must constantly examine whether we are bringing hell or heaven to earth. We are called to love, sometimes that will feel one-sided...but God's love from the cross feels a little one sided too....until it doesn't. Thanks be to God.



"Life" -The Avett Brothers


One comes of it, love it, love it Let go of it, love comes from it We're not of this world for long Faith and promise, keep me honest When starvation falls upon us Daylight told me he would be


Gone with cold words spoke among hers Wretched is the tongue of their world We're not of that world at all We never will be


Wouldn't it be fine to stand behind The words we say in the best of times Oh, and you and I know all too well About the hell and paradise right here on earth


Keep it, use it, build it, move it Claims can't touch how time will prove it Watch us fly as loud as we can Let her heartbeat change what I am now


Wouldn't it be fine to stand behind The words we say in the best of times Oh, and you and I know all too well About the hell and paradise right here on earth


Prayer:

Father, You shape and form us so each is unique yet all are in Your image, when You breathe into us the breath of life. We praise You! Jesus, God the Son–Resurrection and Life- You chose to die and rise from the dead to free us from sin and death, and grant us eternal life.

We praise You! Living Spirit, who sustains our life by Your presence: You give us strength, when we are weak; direction, when we are lost; and love at all times. We praise You! We praise you for hope that’s ours because of Jesus’ resurrection: Hope to face life with courage and meet death in peace; Hope to sustain us in dark times, for we know our life’s light comes with the rising Son.

Therefore, we can pray with expectant hope …For those who need healing in spirit, soul, mind and body; For those who need comfort in grief and guidance when confused; For those who celebrate new life, but who also face the call to parent; For those who are without necessities of life; For those who have no gospel witness in their own tongue and culture. This we pray, in the name that is above every name, God–Father, Son and Holy Spirit- We praise you on this day! In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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