You know how you have these images in your mind of how certain events will turn out? Birthday parties, family photos, airplane trips, doctor visits, music recitals, visits with those “put-together” families? These events usually involve a public component and if you are a parent, a component where your children are “on display” to some extent. Rarely do we spend the same amount of time planning and formulating images and expectations if it isn’t intended for public consumption somehow.
In our society with so much reality TV, Facebooking and Twittering where what used to be private is on display and is often doctored by clever cropping, flattering filters or at least redeemed by a witty caption, we often get confused. We think that life is about posing, performing and presenting these great, apparently candid moments.
Often with two little ones, even posed, things don’t come out so well. Exhibit A: attempted birthday photo of Mommy and her two boys. That’s a framer.
The problem is that we somehow equate our children being on display with our inner selves being on display. Kids misbehaving = mommy fail. Messy house = lazy parents. Image = success.
This past Sunday, my sister and brother-in-law were dedicating my cute little nephew at church. In the middle of an already busy morning, preparing breakfast for overnight guests and getting ready for hosting the post-church party, their older son succumbed to the stomach flu that was going around day care the week before. This, of course, initiated a flurry of cleaning and a whole new level of stress.
So here she is, on Mother’s day, kneeling by the tub to scrub off her sick kid, preparing to host all these people and hardly having time to get herself dressed. Not exactly the moment you want to scrapbook.
And I thought, “Oh boy, what a shame that she has to deal with this on baby dedication day. And Mother’s Day of all days!” And then the realistic side of me kicked in. Of course, I feel bad for my sick little nephew, for the added stress of the day. Of course it is too bad that my sister can’t sleep in and have everyone serve her breakfast on Mother’s Day. Of course.
And yet, it struck me that these are the real moments. These are precisely the moments in which we need to dedicate our children to God, whether kneeling in front of a church or kneeling in front of a bathtub. We need His provision whether we are serving a citrusy quinoa salad to a crowd or spooning scrambled eggs on plastic plates and eating the leftovers out of the pan, standing over the sink. We need to be clothed in grace on days when our hair gets done and on days we can’t find time to get out of pyjamas (And we want to get dressed, we really do… Sometimes.) We need His healing when we are up to our elbows in barf and we were really planning on doing something else. And we need healing just as much when our own hearts tell us it all depends on us and maybe we are messing it up really, really badly. We need extra grace for the moments that are full of fits and tears—our children’s and ours.
We don’t dedicate our children because we have it all together. We say, in front of family and community that we are committed to being dependent on the God who lends us these wee ones in the first place. We may look coiffed and pressed and certain, but really we aren’t.
See, this dedication thing and this parenting this is all about releasing. All about letting go. Dedications. It is Abraham, weeping inwardly I imagine, as he ties his son on the altar. It is Noah, praying the boat’s construction is trustworthy as his sons march on board. It is Hanna, pouring out her heart to God, looking like a drunken fool. And it is her following through and actually weaning him, and bringing him to the temple, coming back every year with a handmade robe, a little bigger than last year’s. (I probably would have waited to wean the poor child until he was 12 to keep him close to me. She was a brave soul.) And in these cases, the ram appeared. The boat stayed afloat. Samuel grew up to be a powerful leader. But those assurances don’t come right away, nor are we guaranteed them. Scripture and our lives are full of other examples of times when things don’t work out so well.
See, we release our children and we simultaneously release our expectations of how God has to work. When we lay aside our expectations that we need to be perfect and that our kids need to be perfect and that God needs to fit into our perfect boxes, we allow room to grow and be changed. We leave lots of room for, “I’m sorry.” Lots of room for adventure. We allow room to be challenged.
We choose to nurture our kids into who they can be instead of stifling them and cramming them into a proper little mould to feed our own ego. And when we release these expectations, we remind ourselves also of our real audience is, and how much He really cares, mess and all. In doing so, we invite room for real life and real grace. Barf, balloons and all.