(Spillover: Part 2)
One night several years ago, Abby and I were doing a puzzle at the kitchen table when I got a phone call; it was the kind of call that makes me count the number of closed doors between my children and the shrieks on the other end of the line. I hid in a bedroom while I talked. While I heard bad news.
I’m a crier, but when I emerged, my eyes were dry. I walked past Abby and plopped on the sofa, only to hear her small voice: “You are mad.“
She was confused. Things were peaceful, and now naked rage abounded.
“Children have no right,” I explained plainly, “No right to ruin their parents’ lives by their actions. To ruin their parents’ lives with bad decisions.”
Children don’t, you know. I know that some Pollyannas, some Every-Bad-Thing-Is-Willed-By-God Christians, some silver linings sort of people may argue that lives aren’t ruined, they’re just changed forever. Or refined. That another jewel is placed in crown in heaven, and that heavenly mansion gets bigger, and GLORY!
Well, I’m here to tell you that for a few days at least, your life is ruined. It is not what you worked to build, it is not what you dreamed, and it is not anything that anyone would want. It is devastation and obliteration and wasteland at all horizons.
Anyone standing in circumstances that their best friends won’t even talk about, where the inner circle tightens for prayer but is mute because there are no words, none at all, anyone standing there does not need to be told to pick up their cross and go on, because they cannot in that instant.
There is no immediate going on. There is no forward when a life’s path is destroyed.
Sometimes, it is happenstance: no one is at fault. The tree falls. The brakes fail. The infection is too strong. But sometimes, it is through personal choice–poor, avoidable decisions that cost so much.
And that is when the rage comes. That is when “Really, God??? Really, this??? Really, more???” get screamed and the upraised fist shakes.
And that is when the mother looks at her child and says, “You have no right. You must not.”
My husband once said to me that my devoted grandmother didn’t really care about all her grandchildren’s safety; she just could not imagine her world going on without us. That is the kind of man he is: he sees black and white, makes judgement calls. At the time I thought that was a brutal and unloving thing to say.
But now I wonder: is it so wrong for a person to consider her world?
Is it wrong to say, I grew up in a hotel, alone in downtown Atlanta with my divorcee mother, and I have built a nice life with a loving husband and three children and eleven grandchildren and a paid for house, and now if you would please not destroy yourselves with drugs and alcohol and reckless driving, I’d appreciate it? Is THAT selfish? Do we truly have to be so altruistic and so other-oriented that we passively allow our destruction in the name of love and second chances?
Or can we say, “I worked to build this. Respect that fact”?
Can we not say, “Drive carefully”? Can we not tell our children, “Make wise decisions, they impact you forever, and they impact others, too”?
My daughters have been told this for years, as have my students. On the first day in my class, students see a slide that says, “Your mother’s heart.” And we talk about that. What a fragile thing it is. I tell them this: “You are the single best thing in your parents’ lives.”
It’s a miracle, a true miracle: that pimply, six-foot boy who cannot be quiet, who cannot spell, who never really needs to go to the restroom but asks daily: he is the BEST thing in his mother’s life.
That pregnant teenage girl from that well-to-do third-pew family, who has the audacity to still go to youth and even raise her hands in worship when she had SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE? She is still the best thing in her parents’ lives.
Our children are our best things. I make sure my students know that. That I, at least, let them know: you are it. The best thing that is ever going to happen to that person you call Mom or Dad.
I follow this affirmative slide with another. It says: “You have no right to ruin your parents’ lives.”
They need to know that, too.
I’ve told almost every teen I have taught: your mother and father worked to build that house. To buy that car. To get that college degree. They planned and worked and tried, and they did it. And you have the power to take that all away, to make none of it matter.
To make none of it matter.
Our kids have so much power.
Yes, they will fail us. We will fail them. Continually, perpetually, in a cycle of wrongs and forgiveness that will go on until a distant deathbed.
But to not tell them, “Hey, please don’t do this to me. Please spare me this if you can,” to let them blindly destroy us, unaware of their own power–well, that may not be a sin, but it is wrong.
One of the things we should always teach is mattering and its price. We should look our kids in their eyes, touch them on the cheeks, and say, “You matter so much. Please be wise with your One Life.”
I think that is kindness. I think that is truth. I think that is love.
Yes, God can pick up the pieces. He can restore. But we don’t have to smash and destroy and then let Him fix things. We can recognize and value before the breakage.
We can be still . . . because we know.