So if I choose what I think is the good path that leads to intimacy with God and deep, healthy relationships with others, how can I be sure that I’m on it?
In Galatians 5, Paul describes the fruit of the good path as: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” In the world of science, researchers refer to the good path as “secure attachment”. Secure attachment is a bit of a dance…”lending support while supporting separation.” It turns out that secure attachment provides what every mammal (we can substitute human) needs: reliable trustworthy access to the people who care about us and whom we care about, a safe place to really listen and really talk about things that are important to us, and warm affection that honors our personal temperament and boundaries. We thrive when we are seen, safe, soothed, and secure in our close relationships. These are markers of the good path.
So if we are looking to walk this good path, what are some things we can do to create places to be seen, safe, soothed, and secure in our close relationships? John Gottman, who has studied marriage for over 40 years, encourages a practice referred to as the Stress Reducing Conversation. The practice and its benefits are described in this entry from the Gottman Blog:
Maybe try it for a week and see what happens. Comment on this post to let us know how the experiment goes.
Pay attention to the way that Psalm 1:6 reads in your translation of the Bible. Some translations choose “watching over” while others choose “know”. The Common English Bible reads “intimately acquainted” which makes sense to me given that this is the same Hebrew word that we find in Genesis 4:1 “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.”
God is intimately acquainted with the good path. This is not cognitive knowing, like reading a book and learning about stuff. This is knowing like the way a new mother knows her newborn child – every contour, every noise, every dimple, each cry, each touch, the bond. When we read Psalm 1 this way, we can talk about how God KNOWS us deeply, the good and the bad (because none of us is all one OR all the other), AND God LOVES us deeply, and there’s never a time that God doesn’t love us. The moment we face that feels the most difficult, the most overwhelming…at THAT moment, God knows us and loves us deeply.
When we find ourselves in THAT moment and can become aware of the reality of our current location, remembering that God KNOWS us deeply and LOVES us deeply reminds us that there is a good path from here – wherever “here” is. Our next word or next action can be part of the good path that leads to intimacy with God and deep, healthy relationships with those whom we love.
How can we help our children and grandchildren tell and embrace their stories? We can start by co-narrating their life events. When kids are small, begin the story of what’s happening in the day-to-day and give them the opportunity to fill in the gaps, add details, and incorporate emotion. Their level of detail might be maddening at times. Their timing will be off. The included facts might have zero relevance to the overall story (from your perspective). But be patient. The only way to improve as a storyteller is to tell stories. Be curious. Ask questions. Resist correcting or finishing the story. Model clear, concise, coherent storytelling by telling your own stories. And hope to receive the same level of patience from your kids if you are new to this practice.
As children move toward middle and high school, they begin to make an intentional move toward adulthood, which means finding a way to shift and re-shape the meanings embedded in the stories of family, school, and community to make them their own (paraphrased from Dr. Dan Siegel, “Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain).
By the time that kids enter their teen years, our co-narration has given way to their narration of their own stories, and it’s probably time to do more listening than talking. Letting them tell their own stories and being attentive to how the family themes live out in their story and adapt within their changing world can be an incredibly affirming part of parenting. It can also be a little challenging if they seem to be moving away from themes we find important. This is when it can be helpful to meditate and pray over the idea that every life is a holy journey and the story of that life is a part of God’s work in the world. As we pray, ask God to reveal God’s self through the unfolding of your teen’s story.
Technology is a part of the reality of our lives. For most children today, they only know a world with internet, iPads, facebook, DVRs, Netflix, and smart phones. The human brain is also a part of the reality of our lives. And the human brain is wired for connectivity – real human to human contact that includes body language, voice inflection, physical touch, and eye contact. To move forward into the future, we have to find a both/and solution to these two realities of human life in the 21st century.
Here are a few things that you may want to experiment with as a way to claim the “both/and” solution to the presence of technology relative to the human need for connection. Everyone in the family practice a technology Sabbath every time the family sits down together to share a meal (whether in the home or at a restaurant). Offer a basket or a bag if necessary to collect the devices. When we eat together, we are present, in this place, open to the relationships that are continually forming. Consider practicing a complete technology Sabbath one day a week – or maybe for a half day to get started. This includes television, computers, smart phones, and video games. And this includes everybody, not just the kids. Consider a family game night in conjunction with your technology Sabbath. Or maybe one night or afternoon everyone in the family read books instead of watching television.
Since many kids have never experienced life before technology, it is incredibly important that the adults in the room model how to survive (and even thrive) without 24×7 contact with an electronic device. Good luck! Comment on this post to tell us about your experiments.
Memory is powerful. The Christian discipline is about memory. It’s cup and bread. It’s water. It’s remembering Jesus, orienting our thoughts toward his holy memory. Jesus practiced holy memory. He went to Passover, read the Bible, and prayed. Jesus said that this is how we follow him, by remembering him and doing what he did. This is the whole mechanism that Jesus left for the church to use to guide itself – memories that we choose to be faithful to. When we choose to be faithful to the awareness of God’s activity in our history, we remember those moments and are able to orient to what is holy.
The concept of holy memory influences family life too. As we go through our day and meet new people, if we’re married, we remember that we’re married. When one of our children breaks curfew or has a fender bender or breaks a valued decoration in our home, at that moment, we remember that this is my child whom I love. As our parents face complex decisions of care and independence that come with aging, we remember to be faithful. Remembering who you are, and whose you are, orients you in the present moment.
Sometimes there are traumas in life (both Traumas “with a big T” and traumas “with a small t”). Trauma can orient you to this moment, or it can be disorienting. If I do the hard work of telling my story, I am able to connect this unique moment (no matter how challenging it may be) to the flow of all the other moments in my life. Memories have the ability to help us connect to what is valuable, what is precious in this life. Memory can become a map to what is holy.
To connect this unique moment in time of my own life to the flow of all of the other moments in my life, I have to tell the story of my life. To whom do you tell the story of your life?
Healing can be found in the truth of our stories. When I pay attention to what is real, and I am aware of my own emotions and motivations relative to what is real, then I can choose my path of response. That sounds pretty nice, but it’s never that easy. Facing what is real about the stories of our life takes courage. In fact, author Brené Brown states,
“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we’ll ever do.”
There are a lot of stories in the Bible – a lot of family stories. And the Bible doesn’t clean up its stories or leave out the brutal or undesirable details. Rather, the Bible tells the truth of the story in a way that helps us see God in the holy journey of a person’s life – all of it, the good and the bad. Moses murdered a man before seeing God in the wilderness and transforming his rage into law, priesthood, and prophesy. Paul persecuted Christians before seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus and transforming his strong emotions into the formation of the first century church.
Facing the raw truth of our life story takes great courage. But when we are courageous and confront that truth in the presence of God’s love and compassion, we are transformed.
Every life is a holy journey, and the story of that life is a part of God’s work in the world.
When I pay attention to the reality that my children’s lives are a holy journey, uniquely their own, it helps me to be supportive, offer consultation, cheer them on, without taking over. Many times it would be easier if I just took over, stepped in, or solved their problems. But if the situation isn’t life-threatening, then taking over, stepping in, or solving their problems (taking age-appropriateness into consideration), is not necessarily honoring the holiness of their unique journey.
It works the same way with siblings, parents, and adult children. They each have unique gifts and graces. They each have a purpose that is theirs alone to find. It can be really frustrating (for me) if I try to impose my way of doing things on other people in my family. Sometimes their way of doing things is completely different and completely ok. I can be an example and I can be curious and ask really good questions, but it’s helpful if I stop short of insisting on my own way. I can also learn a lot from those who approach life differently from the way that I do when I stop long enough to listen to their story.
Some of the hardest parenting we are called to do is to hold our children’s hand while they learn life’s difficult lessons. But the gift of being present to those we love through their unique journey rather than taking over, stepping in, or solving the problem, is the confidence they gain by surviving the lesson – confidence that allows them to step out on faith and live the life that God is calling them to live.
Here are some things that we know are real about relationships:
- Criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling are toxic to relationships. The Gottman institute shares a brief overview of these toxins and their antidotes in an animated clip on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o30Ps-_8is (2:12)
- Empathy opens the brain to relationship. Read more about parenting with the brain in mind from Dr. Dan Siegel http://www.drdansiegel.com/books/no_drama_discipline/
- Clear and consistent boundaries communicate safety and are necessary in relationships. “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of your Life” by Cloud and Townsend is an excellent resource addressing boundaries, especially in adult relationships.
- Humans learn primarily though example and experience (which means “do as I say, not as I do” is not an effective parenting strategy). The Love & Logic Institute offers many ideas for helping kids learn through example and experience: https://www.loveandlogic.com/articles-advice/what-is-parenting-with-love-and-logic
Pay attention to what’s real about the relationships in your life. How can love and compassion make those relationships stronger and healthier?
We are familiar with the Torah of Moses, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, but what about the Torah of Yahweh?
Let’s start with Yahweh. Yahweh is the personal name of God. When Moses experienced God in the burning bush and asked God’s name, God replied “I am who I am. Or I will be who I will be,” meaning “that which causes to be” or “my nature will become evident from my actions” (Jewish Study Bible Footnotes Exodus 3:14). This is Yahweh. I am. Yahweh, God, is the verb “to be”. This is a different way of looking at the world – God revealed through the reality of how things are, how things really work. When I think of God as “I am”, I can look at a situation with curiosity and ask questions to understand what is real about what’s happening so that I can pay attention to how God is revealed in the midst of the situation.
Torah can be understood as the lawfulness of something – how it works. So, one way of looking at the concept of the torah of Yahweh is the lawfulness of reality – how life works.
When I begin to pay attention to how life really works rather than focusing on how I want life to work:
- I recognize that my kids have to develop their own relationships with each other and I can’t make them get along.
- I understand that I can’t control what my child thinks or feels or wants, but I can create a safe environment within which my child can gain a better understanding of what he/she thinks and feels and wants and learn how to express those desires in a respectful, considerate way.
- I realize that I can’t make my adult sibling call me on a regular basis, but I can pick up the phone and call him/her.
- I grieve with my aging parents over the losses they are suffering as together we work through solutions instead of dismissing their loss as I make arrangements and solve problems for them.
We can ignore the way life really works and continue to react to the way we think life should work, but that can get a little frustrating over time. I might think that I should be able to walk onto a tennis court and play without stretching first (like I could when I was 16) without getting injured, but that’s not how life really works in my 40’s. I might want to run to Target with my two year-old when he/she is tired, but I shouldn’t be surprised if the outing involves a complete meltdown, because that’s what happens when we get tired. I might even think that my dad should willingly give up the keys and move into a safer environment like an assisted living facility, but that will be frustrating for both of us if he doesn’t participate in the decision-making and maintain as much independence as possible in the process.
When we start paying attention to how life really works and look for God’s compassion and love in that reality, then our solutions can become more collaborative and more creative
The Psalmist tells us that the happy/blessed person mulls over Yahweh’s torah by day and night. What river of thought runs through your head by day and night? We all have one. Sometimes it might seem anxious, mulling over all the things that might happen in a given situation. Sometimes the river of thought might seem ravenous, like a tiger plotting the best path to attack and devour its prey. Maybe it’s exhausted, just looking for an opportunity to rest. What thoughts do you mull over by day and night that influence how you interact with the significant people in your life?
For parents, is this river of thought connected to a bigger picture, orienting goal? Or is it just stuck on a particular pathway that might not have a clear destination? In “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success“, Julie Lythcott-Haims suggests that “what it actually takes to succeed in the real world [is] hard work, relationship-based connections, perseverance, resilience, and some amount of good luck” (Location 4240, Kindle edition). As a parent, will my river of thought lead me there?
Maybe it’s worth paying attention to where our current river of thought might lead and considering whether or not we’re ok with that destination. Mulling over Yahweh’s torah by day and night would suggest that our river of thought recognize that each life is a holy journey that must be uncovered and discovered by the one leading it. I can’t live this journey for my child or my spouse or my parent or my sibling, but I can walk with them and encourage them to be attentive to their own unique journey so they can find their purpose and develop the perseverance and resilience necessary to live into that purpose.