Last (Wo)man Standing

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Recently, in a moment of courage- or foolishness, depending on you see it- I set out to complete a seemingly minor home improvement project.  (Note- It is important to mention here that for someone as chronically un-handy as I am, there really are no “minor home improvement projects.”)  I had a clear objective, a sound plan, all the necessary tools, and in an extreme rarity, the house to myself.  On every level, I was primed for success.

Except one.

You see, the project at hand required that I move a significantly heavy piece of furniture out of its place.  It didn’t need to go far, but even getting it to budge on my own was going to be a feat.  I considered my options, and after a quick and strategic evaluation, determined that the best choice in this situation was, of course, to attempt to move the furniture by myself anyway.  Apparently, though my handiness is in short supply, my stubbornness is not. 

I’m still not certain what I thought was going to happen, but needless to say, nothing happened.  I managed to shimmy the furniture approximately three inches off of the wall before giving up in frustration.  Over one month later, this “minor” project still hasn’t been touched. 

Why not?  Because a) its initial difficulty in accomplishing it myself discouraged and deterred me, and b) I haven’t, at least up to this point, been willing to ask for help.  And while the damage caused by my “throw in the towel” mentality on this particular project is relatively minor, there are many others areas in life when such an attitude is anything but.  This is perhaps nowhere truer than in the monumental task of parenting.

I don’t think you need me to tell you that the simple task of parenting- just getting your kids from the womb to the world with some semblance of readiness and minimal emotional (or literal!) scarring- is a challenging one.  Add to that the high calling of Christian parents to “bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord,” and it’s not difficult to see why so many parents- even well intentioned ones- feel so desperately inadequate and ineffective.  And this challenge is multiplied exponentially when there is only one parent engaged in the process, either literally or functionally.

Nearing a decade now in pastoral ministry, I’ve become increasingly convinced that parents in such a situation, feeling desperate and alone, often approach their kids much like I approached my failed home project.  They can see clearly just how heavy, just how weighty, the task of “bringing them up” to know and follow Jesus is, and they are discouraged and deterred by their own inability to effectively accomplish it.  Sure, they may try to give things a shove or a shimmy here or there, but the effort is ill planned and haphazard at best.  Eventually, “survival thinking” sets in, and in many cases, they barely do even that.  Instead, they simply sit back and watch helplessly as the “project” goes undone, hoping against hope that somehow, some way, their kids will find their way.

If this describes the situation in your home and family, I want to implore you today- Reengage in your God given mission as a parent…but don’t go it alone this time.  “Throwing in the towel” on our kids simply isn’t an option, but even if you haven’t done that yet, attempting to “push” them in a direction you can’t move them on your own will ultimately prove futile and frustrating as well.  You can try it for awhile, perhaps with some limited short term success, but eventually, you’ll find yourself exhausted and defeated, on the brink of deeming it no longer worth your effort. 

So, practically speaking, what can you do?  A few suggestions…

  • Pray passionately and persistently.  God is able to do what you can’t.  I know you know this intellectually, but you also need to know it experientially.  And the best way to do that is through pouring out your heart regularly and honestly in prayer.  Beg God for His grace to be real and evident in your life, and in the lives of your kids.
  • Create consistent spiritual rhythms at home.  There is no substitute for consistency in the Christian parenting.  You may not be able to do everything you’d like to do to cultivate faith in your kids, but find what you can do- and do it, over and over again.  Read the Bible with your kids.  Pray for them- and let them hear it.  Teach them to pray.  Serve together in the church and the community as you are able.  Normalize the principles and practices of biblical Christianity for your kids by leading the way with your initiative and example.
  • Fight for godly community for yourself.  Often this can be seen as selfish for literal or functional single parents, but in my estimation, it is anything but. Certainly there are some practical realities that must be considered, but whenever and however it is possible, surround yourself with godly friends who can speak truth in love to your heart.  God did not create us to walk through this life in isolation.  Be intentional about the encouragement and accountability that comes through authentic relationships.
  • Forge meaningful connections between your kids and godly adults.  There is a tradition in the African American church of “spiritual fatherhood,” wherein young men- often from fatherless homes- will be taken in and mentored toward manhood by godly older men.  I think this is fantastic- and absolutely critical in homes and families where one parent is absent or disengaged.  If you’re a single mom with sons, invite godly men into their lives.  If you’re a single dad with daughters, invite godly women into their lives.  Be discerning about these choices, but do make them.  It won’t be exactly the same as having Dad (or Mom) fully engaged, but it can be incredibly impactful.

I recognize full well that this is much easier written on a page (or screen, in this case) than lived out in the ups and downs of real life.  But I’m not saying it’s easy; I’m only saying it is possible, by God’s grace and strength at work in and through you.  As you go at this thing today and beyond, focus less on everything you can’t do and more on everything He can do.  He is able, and if you know Him by faith in Jesus, He is with you.  It is true that the “lifting” can be heavy on this journey, but in Him, you don’t have to “lift” a thing on your own.  I’m praying and believing that miracles will be accomplished in your home and family as you trust and follow Him, and stay engaged every step along this way.