A Wandering One
They felt good eyes upon themand shrank within—undone;
good parents had good children
and they—a wandering one.
—Ruth Bell Graham
Manoah prayed: “Teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born” (Judges 13:8). This is the earnest and often anxious prayer of every good parent.
“The boy” was Samson, Israel’s prankish Hercules, who “pillowed his great head upon the lap of sin” and squandered his God–given strength away. One wonders how often Manoah and his wife awakened in the dark, sleepless hours of the night and asked themselves, “Where did we go wrong?”
When our children make bad choices—when they abuse alcohol, do drugs, get pregnant, drop out of school, turn their backs on God and their family, we ask ourselves the same question. We blame ourselves and see our children as the tragic victims of our ineptitude.
There is, however, no absolute correlation between the way people parent and the way their children turn out. Good parenting makes a difference, but it does not guarantee that the product will be good.
We’re all are acquainted with families where neglect, violence and substance abuse are the norm, yet the children turn out remarkably well. They have good friends; they do well in school; they hold good jobs; they end up in stable marriages and handle their parental responsibilities with wisdom and love.
On the other hand there are families where the parents are warm, nurturing, kind, firm, wise and giving and yet there’s at least one prodigal in the family and sometimes more than one.
It’s certainly better to be one kind of parent than the other, but the fact remains that despite our best efforts our children sometimes go wrong.
But, you say, what of the proverb: “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6)? It sounds like a guarantee.
Not exactly. Proverbs are not promises, but premises—general rules or axioms—statements of broad truths much like the saying: “As the twig is bent so the tree is inclined.” A proverb sets forth a truth applicable in most cases, but not necessarily so. There are exceptions to the rule.
The reason there are exceptions is that children are not mindless matter that can be shaped at will, but autonomous individuals who may, with the best of parenting, choose to go their own way. Even God, the perfect parent, has had trouble with his children—Adam and Eve to name two, and me, to name one more.
We cannot produce good children and if we believe that by the simple application of a few techniques and rules we can secure good behavior we may be in for bitter disillusionment and heartache. No one can determine nor can they predict what their offspring will do. (It was Joaquin Andujar, poet and pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals, who said you can sum up baseball in one word: “You never know.” His word count was off, but he captured the essence of life as well as baseball.)
Given that uncertainty the question is not “How can I produce good children?” but rather, “How can I be a good parent?” The two questions appear to be the same, but they’re not. The first has to do with the product, over which we have no control, the second with process, over which we do, by God’s grace, have some measure of control.
If our focus is on process, then the questions are about me: “How can I deal with my impatience, temper and rage, my selfishness, my resentment, my stubbornness, my defensiveness, my pride, my laziness, my unwillingness to listen? How can I deal with my addictions? How can I strengthen my marriage? How can I develop my parenting skills? How can I build bridges of grace, forgiveness and acceptance that will make it possible for my prodigal to come home. These are the matters that must occupy me, and then I must leave the outcome to God.
Ruth Bell Graham has written again,
Lord, I will straighten all I can and You
take over what we mothers cannot do.