Coming out of the holidays, I’ve been thinking a lot more about family and kids. It’s a natural consequence of the holidays and spending more time together, isn’t it?
Families are complicated. Parenting is complicated. Parenting seems marked by conversation after action after conversation about how to create ideal environments etc for the development of our kids, such that they turn out of the way that we want them to.
For all those conversations and initiatives and efforts and plans, one idea is getting my attention and piercing my heart. Simply put, the best thing I can do for my kids is actually dealing with my own stuff. i.e. doing the work of humbly welcoming (maybe desperately pleading!) for the Holy Spirit to come and do what only the Holy Spirit can do: change my heart. As much as I might think it’s about getting them to the right school, in the right friendship group, right activities, right books, right…. The reality is so much of what counts seems to lie in me.
But that’s a problem isn’t it?
As I read in Bono’s Surrender recently. His anthem in his early twenties was, “I can’t change the world, but I can change myself.” Now in his mid-life, it’s “I can change the world, but I can’t change myself.”
That’s a thorny truth.
This morning I felt a nudge to read 2 Samuel 18: The story of Absalom’s overthrow and death.
The story of David and his kids fills a good chunk of the Old Testament and gets closer to a modern narrative style than any other section of the bible. We get to know the characters well, their attitudes, their appearance, and their fatal flaws.
The narrative provides us with a critical piece which our current do review, do again, method with our now parenting does not: perspective. By perspective, I mean long arcs, how does all this play out of over decades, not just months.
In Absalom we see a hot-blooded kid. Nothing wrong with that. We see his strong desire for justice following the rape of his sister. Good. That horrific crime demands justice.
But we see what happens when that hot-blooded kid does not grow up in the presence of his father, but rather in the father’s absence.
We see how the gifts of strength and beauty and passion with which he has been endowed are twisted in on themselves and become ultimately the things that kill. It’s no accident that the flowing locks he has proudly lodged his identity in are what catch in the oak tree branches and leave him exposed, without mule, to the spears of Joab.
His father turns from him, so he turns from his father, only more forcefully to the extent that he seeks to destroy his father and his father’s kingdom.
Why does he originally turn from his father? The answer seems to lie in David’s unwillingness to forgive him following his murder of David’s eldest son Amnon who was responsible for the rape of Tamar.
There is a restoration of sorts after 3 years of exile but the beat of it is David’s reluctance. David finally restores his son with a kiss but the next scene is Absalom laying the foundation of his overthrow of his father’s kingdom. David’s dilly dallying has had a profound cost on the heart of his son.
The point is this: what was going on deep in David’s heart decimated his son and his kingdom.
If I’m honest, I see glimpses of that dynamic played out in my home right now.
The good news is, of course, that God offers a better way. James writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.“ I need to stop the blame and the finger pointing and take responsibility for the mess I’m making. “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” As I am in his presence, that very presence will begin to change me driving out the shadows and plunging me afresh into the life water of grace.
That’s some really good news! David dragged his feet. He put off taking steps of restoration. The story seems to suggests it’d be good for us not to drag ours.