Life Is Bigger Than You
The end of May heralded freedom to me when I was a child. I spent long summer days combing through the gravel on our driveway in search of agates, milky quartz, or rocks shaped like hearts or cars or animals; I glued feathers and pine cones to paper with a paste made of flour, water and salt; I climbed trees, watched cartoons, and played character-building games like shoot the deer and run over with my siblings. Throughout my youth, I was on both the winning and losing sides in many a corncob war.
But the third week of August, with its brittle grass and sluggish air, marked the beginning of captivity for me. I became melancholy for a summer vacation which hadn’t yet ended, but I knew soon would. It was with a mix of resentment and regret that I clung to those dwindling, unstructured dog days, days when my mother would stand barefoot in the kitchen in a button-up, sleeveless blouse and cutoff jeans rolled to just above the knee, serving up home cooked meals to the squabbling mob she called her children.
It did not occur to me then that she had spent the early morning hours doing outside chores, followed by inside chores, before whipping up wiener pancakes with homemade syrup or steaming bowls of puuro (farina) swimming in pools of melted butter while I slept off a late night of binge reading Laura Ingalls, Nancy Drew, or Pippi Longstocking; I only knew that all was right with the world when I finally crawled out of bed to find Mom in our kitchen, making a home as only she could.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
My mother showed me, as she carried out what had to have been an exhausting, thankless routine, that greatest gift we can give our children is to raise them to know the blessed freedom they received through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It’s that freedom that allows us to set aside our own egos, sit beside our kids, despite our bone-deep exhaustion, and remind them how happy we are that God entrusted them to us.
In her quiet, gentle way, my mother made it clear that education mattered, that we mattered and that, even if life felt bigger than we were, we did not walk it alone.
When the time came for my own kids to start school, I dreaded those last two weeks of August more than I had when I was the one relearning conformity. I wondered if my boys hated stiff, new shoes and damp grass on the morning playground as much as I had. Did they know that I was feeling gloomy for weeks before the new school year arrived, already missing standing in the kitchen in my bare feet, cooking up hotdish, chocolate chip cookies and grilled cheese sandwiches?
As mothers have for generations, I pretended that the end of summer wasn’t the start of captivity for my children, but the beginning of a grand new adventure. I packed notebooks, pencils, waxy crayons and fruit snacks in their backpacks and watched forlornly from the kitchen window as they sprinted across the late summer grass and down the driveway to the big orange bus that would take them places where they would learn what I knew was beyond my ability to teach them. Beautiful things and ugly things. And I wondered if I had modeled effectively enough to them the things my mother had so eloquently taught me about life. After all, hotdish and grilled cheese sandwiches only cover a certain kind of hunger in children and dispel a limited number of fears in mamas.
It’s that uncomfortable, August-y time of the year again, and my Facebook feed is filling up with pictures posted by proud, broken mothers sending their babies off to school or to college or to boot camp. I feel melancholy on her behalf, wishing there were a few more shoeless days for her to spend at the cooktop before she has to release her heart’s work out into the world, leaving her to wonder if she did all she could have done to prepare them for what lies ahead.
“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).
Training For Uncertain Future
There are so many things we mothers are ill prepared to teach our children, like the theoretical underpinnings of mathematics, diagramming sentences and scientific theory, yet what they’ll face that is beyond our control when they’re out from under our wing is terrifying. Truth be told, a mother’s deepest fear isn’t that her children will fail math, be bullied or face discrimination, but that she’ll pack snacks and supplies into their backpacks and send them off to face their mortality.
And that is a real possibility. Every day, in every corner of the world, mothers bury their children.
How well have we prepared our kids and ourselves for that unthinkable hour? We’ve preached kindness, acceptance, academics and standing up for what’s right, but now we live in times where we must train our kids how to come home from school alive. In the wake of school shootings in recent years, there are companies cropping up who focus on teaching people to survive mass shootings and terror attacks.
We Have Already Won
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6: 10-11).
As Christian parents, we need to ask ourselves: Have we done our part to communicate to our children where and in whom they will find the courage they need to walk boldly into a world filled with chaos, a world where they will come up against all manner of ideas and opportunities intended to make them question everything they know, especially their faith, a world determined to forever separate them from God? While we groom our kids to survive a shooting, have we done our part to prepare them for eternity? Do they understand that, despite the evil that lurks in the world, Christ has ensured that we do not walk that darkness alone; that, despite the outcome of the battle, Christ has already won the war?
While survival seminars may have merit and be a necessity in an increasingly chaotic world, the truth is, our children may die at any given hour on any given day. Whether they are searching for agates on summer vacation or hiding in a classroom from an active shooter, Christ is right there with them, in real time, and nothing that comes can separate them from Him. We stand, protected by the whole armor of God, fully defended from the devil.
Comfort In Troubling Times
‘But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
The promises made to our sons and daughters in their baptisms were made to bring comfort to mothers, too. As we stand in the quiet kitchen, frying pancakes for our still-sleeping children, when we watch them scamper across the late August grass to meet the waiting bus, and when we wash the last supper dish, then crawl into our beds each evening, we pray, “Lord, let them never outlive their baptismal grace.” Then we hand to the Holy Spirit the often unspeakable fears we carry for our children, and trust him to carry those prayers to the Lord on our behalf. Sometimes we mothers need reminding that, although life is bigger than we are, we do not walk it alone.
So, take a deep breath and cling to faith in faith—the knowledge that Christ died for the late August anxieties of mothers and their children, too.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
Lord, You alone are our refuge and strength. We ask that you would protect and provide for our dear children as they step boldly into the world. Bless those who teach and care for them when they are out from under our protective wings, and help us to parent them as you have called us to do. Remind us, with the uncertainty of each new hour, Lord, that you are a God of mercy. Grant us the faith we need to allow our children to live out their vocations, finding peace in the promises made to each of us in our baptisms. In Christ Jesus, our Lord, Amen.