Phases of Life

There’s something special about the lake. Looking out into that vastness – water and sky as far as the eye can see – there’s a sense of beckoning. It isn’t that the lake is beckoning me into it, exactly, but that there’s a piece of my heart somewhere out there and I can feel it. And when I look out across the waters, the deepest parts of myself make a connection with that lost piece. Standing at the edge of the lake, I am whole again. I had always found it especially beautiful at night. Seeing the moonlight bouncing off the waves, fading into nothingness, into the deepening black. I could never move too far from the lake because that would be somehow moving farther away from myself.

That bit about the lake is important for understanding the weight of the rest of this piece.

A couple of weeks ago, Michael and I had made plans for him to take care of the kids so I could get out of the house and enjoy some alone time. I didn’t plan anything special; just some shopping at a leisurely pace and simply enjoying the stillness and silence. But by the time we finished dinner, cleaned up dinner, got everything set up for Michael’s success with the boys, and I got out the door and down the road, it was already 8pm and everything I wanted to do was either closed or closing. I was terribly disappointed and felt more trapped than ever, “I simply can’t have freedom, can I? No matter what I do, it just isn’t available for me. That’s alright, I don’t have to be home for anything; I’ll still make the best of it. I’ll go to the lake.” I went to the lake, but when I got there I found it empty. My heart wasn’t there. “Go home, stranger. There’s nothing here for you anymore.” My eyesight – while still good – isn’t quite as good as it used to be; I can no longer see the lake in the dark at night. I cried and cried. When I came home, I cried some more. I said to Michael, “Parts of me are sleeping, lying dormant. Parts of me are dying. Parts of me are dead. We’ve sacrificed so much to have this family. I’ve always thought of this stage of our lives as temporary. I know my life isn’t over. I know that one day, I’ll be free again. But now I’m beginning to wonder if by the time we get there, will there be anything left of me free?”

Our pastor is experiencing a different struggle that also challenges him to his core: he had a series of heart attacks that led to heart surgery. Now, he can do very little before he’s worn out. It frustrates him. He’s forced to let go of many tasks that were once his, unable to jump at anyone’s call for help, unable to be his perception of himself.

We (myself and my pastor) must stop trying to connect with who we once were: we are no longer that person. We’re someone different now. Jack’s limitations force him into learning a new role. That’s OK. God has made him into someone new with a new purpose. He needs to humbly submit himself and fill that role accordingly. By the time I come out of this highly child focused stage of my life, there truly may not be anything left of me. But that’s OK because I’ll be someone different. And when I get older and more frail, I’ll be another person still. I’ll likely go through several versions of myself before my life is done and that’s OK. I’m not always OK with it, but that’s only when I’m trying to clutch onto fragments of a dead woman. PSH! Let those pieces of me die; I don’t need them (even if I think I do)! Life is Christ living in me. Christ will mold me into whomever he needs me to be at any given time – and this will likely include new limitations or allowing old interests to fade. I enjoy Christ at all times and I know that I can trust him. Remembering that, I can also enjoy each new person that he makes as I become them. In fact, looking at it that way, I can even get excited about learning who I’m going to be.

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Kids in the Congregation

When my firstborn was still a milk dependent baby, I believed that it was absolutely right to keep your kids in church with you, the parent. Not that I condemned (or even cared about) other parents for choosing to send their babes to nursery and children’s church, but that MY plan for MY children was to teach them discipline.

I thought: “They will learn the discipline of sitting still, quietly, and respectfully and they will practice it. They will not be required to pay attention, but will be allowed to play quietly next to us. They will benefit greatly from this because it will teach them self control, grant them valuable family time, and they will learn with us as we learn.”

Some would say, “But as parents, you don’t get anything out of the service because you’re spending the whole time focusing on holding a lid on your kids.”

“True, but only for a time. In due time, we will reap the rewards bountifully.”

“What if they misbehave and act out? That’s a huge distraction and unfair to everyone else.”

“For one thing, I believe this to be symptomatic of a major problem with the way the church views children and families. But nonetheless, we shall remove them out of respect for the congregation, but NOT to nursery; that would be rewarding them for poor behavior. Instead, we shall take them someplace boring where they can throw their fits, be punished, or whatever the situation calls for – such as the lobby or the empty dining area.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I haven’t changed my beliefs as outlined above. It’s just that I was never this tired back when I thought those things. I simply can’t handle it. I was reflecting on these thoughts and the changes in my lofty plans and I think my thoughts have been a bit more refined today; I believe I’ve had an epiphany.

We talk about the need to adapt parenting to each individual child. We readily accept the concept that each child responds differently to different techniques. Why would we do anything different – in either direction – with church/nursery? Benjamin is a whirlwind. He needs chaos. He has a massive amount of energy. He hypothetically COULD sit through church, but why would I force that on him? Why would I make church a drudgery or a punishment? Contrariwise, Nathan likes the peace, the stillness. Nathan will very likely desire to stay with the quiet comfort of mom and dad’s presence.

So now I figure: if they want to run around and play, why not let them? If they want to stay with us, then fine. But if they stay with us, they MUST behave appropriately. If they can’t, then they will not be allowed to stay with us – not as a punishment, but because they clearly need something different. No, church should not be a punishment.

And as for the self discipline, family time, and good theological education: we can facilitate all of those things in our home and through other activities. We can do it atĀ theirĀ level, and come alongside them as they grow. We can do it in ways that communicate directly to each of them, in their own “language.”