Note: Sometimes I write about parenting and relationships. I have to say that most of my thoughts are from observation and study, as well as from the perspective of a son, since I don’t have any children of my own at the moment. I say this because I want to avoid a common response people have when reading a single or even a few posts on a topic: thinking its gospel truth.
It’s an opinion and a perspective that still needs individual contextualizing and application. I don’t believe that one has to be in a relationship to have wisdom about it, just as I don’t believe only married people understand marriage, or parents understand parenting. If that were the case, why are we taking the word of Jesus, and if you argue He is in a relationship with the church “His bride”, then what about Paul, who is responsible for much of what we believe about the topics.
The point is wisdom, if wisdom at all, is wisdom no matter what the source. The tricky part is discerning what is truly wise. That’s why don’t be a lazy thinker and do your part: Study. Besides, no matter how dumb a point can be, is there always some insight, if not even some entertainment, to be found. This is why it’s good to remain open minded.
I think two of the most important and fulfilling gifts (among many important gifts) parents can give their adult sons and daughters are freedom and unfailing love. And by “adult” I include teenagers as they should be acting like adults with responsibilities and accountabilities by this point. If they’re teenagers or older but not acting like adults, they’re not adults as adulthood is more about character than a number. (I don’t know why people think there “should be” this teenage period that we’re allowed to waste because it’s a normal stage. Why waste the time that life is made of?) If supposedly adult sons and daughters don’t understand the importance and reality of responsibility and accountability then that’s a big problem, and I would not advise treating a non-adult as an adult no matter how old he is. Keep in mind we do them no favors by not having allowed them to develop.
To give someone freedom means to allow someone to live as they see fit, to allow them to meet the opportunity and challenge of choices, and to make their own decisions. This means they are free to reap the rewards of their decisions – but also the consequence of their mistake – which can be very serious. Now of course this doesn’t mean letting them do “everything”. Even as you let them enjoy freedom, they still need to understand that “our freedom ends where the freedom of others begins” meaning we still live in community, and to preserve the harmony of that community, we must govern our personal freedom, if not internally (through love, kindness, self-control, etc.), than externally (through governments and laws). This means that we have the power to hurt others, but that also means they have the power to hurt us. This means we’re free to be selfish but they are free to be selfish towards us as well. Freedom doesn’t make things right or wrong, it only means it’s possible for you to choose the route and reap its consequences. This also means that we have the freedom not to choose God but that also means He has the freedom to accept our choice.
A great example of a wise father granting freedom is the story of The Prodigal Son. The Father accepted what the son wanted even if it hurt them both in the process. (I just want to note, again, this is an adult son who thought he knew what he wanted. Also, this son had the guts to move out. The worst is someone who wants the freedom, is too weak to move out, yet still feels entitled to living like a prince or princess.) God didn’t try to prevent a disaster. He knew, that if his son’s heart was like that, the disaster was just a matter of time. I think too much parenting these days are extremes of disaster prevention and disaster neglection. Too much disaster prevention can lead to stifling, which is a disaster in itself. Too much disaster neglecting can lead to… well… Disaster. Either extreme, you have a disaster.
The Bible says to train up a child in the way he should go. What does the word “train” mean? It means to lead forth. Parenting is leadership. It is influencing and serving our sons and daughters in a way that they, out of their own decision-making, choose to do what’s right. It is not merely disaster prevention and it definitely isn’t disaster neglecting.
Training them, and then giving them the freedom to strengthen their own decision-making is important. It’s like how mother Eagles are said to push their babies out of the best to learn how to fly. I’m convinced many people are weak today because their parents didn’t push them out to fly, and worse, encouraged them NOT to risk falling. One cannot fly without risking falling. The funny thing about this is, when one who soars falls to the ground, he lands where those who never flew have been all along. At the very least, the guy who flew, experienced the sky, even if briefly, which is better than someone who knows only dirt.
This leads me to my 2nd gift: unfailing love. Part of soaring is falling and unfailing love is the best fall back. Think about it, when a child learns to walk, he will inevitably stumble, his legs have yet to develop the strength and technique needed to walk effortlessly. What more when a young person who is trying to navigate the the outside real world (assuming they were given the freedom to go out in the first place)? They will most probably stumble more than a little bit. For someone who has the guts to reach for greater heights, his chances of falling and falling hard are even more likely. People ask, why do great men fall so greatly? My answer is: because they’re the only ones who can (only those who have reached great heights can fall from great heights) and it’s the only way they can (when you’re flying high that’s the starting point of your fall). Knowing how to deal with failure, especially great failure, is not just a survival technique but a success requirement for imperfect people wanting to achieve beyond themselves.
To have the confidence that someone will love you no matter what brings confidence to dare, to try, and not give up. Just like a parent will encourage their baby to walk, to try, to stand up again, encouraging him with words like “That’s ok. Dad is here. One more step.” Parents can provide that support even as they encourage their children to take more steps in ways they have not done in the past.
I like the analogy of a walking child for a few reasons. One lesson is this: A parent cannot learn to walk for a child. A child has to learn this skill on his own. Another lesson is: A parent cannot carry his child forever nor walk for his child. The child has to walk on his own if he is to go far. And a third lesson: Despite not being able to walk or learn to walk for his child, a parent can still provide encouragements, strength, and guidance for the child that’s both learning a skill and gaining the strength to execute that skill.
Many times, when I’m talking to young people, I am saddened by the weakness of the character someone reinforced in them, most of the time unknowingly, by emphasizing the fear of failing, pain, discomfort, and embarrassment, or by crushing them and tearing them down with words and actions thinking that’s the best way to “toughen” them up. You don’t build something by never laying the first stone (out of fear of things not working) neither by tearing it down (through lack of love). What fear and harshness produces is a discouraged person or a hardened person, both of which are bad for society.
No one learns without risking these things. No child walks without falling. We don’t learn how to ride a bike without a few scratches and scrapes. The complications of life can be even more daunting. We reinforce fears by framing every failure as “ultimate failures” and permanent consequences. While I agree there are some things that cannot be undone, one does not have to remain defined by past mistakes. Parents can take the lead in framing every failure as a learning opportunity, a bond strengthening activity, and a chance to reinforce the principles of forgiveness, mercy, faith, hope, redemption, humility, perseverance, and whole bunch of other important values that many times are best taught during low points. I myself have had to work hard to block out comments people have said regarding my failures and mentally reframe them as motivation to fight harder and do better next time. By keeping unfailing love available, partners create a safe place for broken wings to mend that they may heal to become stronger than before, and that their owners may soar once more.
The goal is for sons and daughters is to thrive and someday grow into the adults who help others thrive. The goal is not sanitation nor to survive with the least scratches. Nothing will thrive if it is suffocated – even if the suffocation is well-meaning. You cannot choke the life out of something with a burden of expectations and expect it to flourish. Also, nothing will thrive without the attention and care that love brings.
In short, parenting is a tough job, not so much because it means having a lot of responsibility (though that can be difficult too), but more because it’s probably the most selfless example humans have of what it takes to have a thriving community: People who daily choose to overcome their limitations and fears to provide a better future for another, even as they are prepared to embrace that same person when he or she fails, simply because they are loved.
“When one commits to walk in relationship with someone in the present one is also committing the future.”
Taking this morning slow. Woke up much later than usual, had my two tall glasses of cold water, probiotics (Thanks Miguel!), and sat down to read my Bible before a short swim and quick workout (emphasis on the short and quick). While reading from John 16, I came upon the following verses:
“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32-33 NIV)
The line “A time is coming and in fact has come…” hit me because I remembered seeing it in other parts of the Bible, particularly in parts that quote Jesus. On different occasions, Jesus uses this idea of an upcoming thing that has already arrived to describe what will happen to those who follow Him. He would call people to follow Him, “This is what life’s going to be like with me around” and He goes on to describe both good and bad things, painful and miraculous things coming and already present. While I’m no expert, the way the line “the time is coming and has come”, seems to say that all Jesus’ promises, which include the good and the bad (and there are some scary ones), present and future, arrived when He arrived because His arrival was not only a commitment to be with man at the present but to be with us forever.
I thought about it for a while in light of the knowledge that Jesus was inviting people into a relationship, which my dad reminds us in his book The Lego Principle is to be contained in a journey (ship) with someone you’re related to (such as family) or have chosen to be related to (like in the case of a spouse). Here’s what I think that line means: I believe it reminds us a of the commitment bond of walking with someone. By committing to someone in the present, we automatically commit to them in the future. Jesus was saying that being in a relationship means committing to the present and the future, to choose to walk with someone today, you choose to walk with that someone tomorrow, because you choose to embrace someone today, you are choosing to embrace that someone tomorrow, because when you choose to be in relationship with someone, you’ve chosen to contain yourself on life’s journey with them, meaning everything they are today and everything they’re going to be has now entered your life, and everything they’ve done and everything they’re going to do will affect you.
To be in relationship with someone from a biblical sense means understanding that loving someone today means loving them tomorrow.
This has some huge implications and I thought of the following:
1. Who you choose to love matters greatly. Who you love, what you love will determine what you will enjoy and suffer – and life’s a mix of both. We may not have control over a lot of things, but we can control who we experience ups and downs with, and as we’re reminded many times, being with wonderful people can make the most mundane and even tragic experience valuable. I wrote more about love and privileges in this article.
2. Before you make marriage vows, understand their extent. This is in no way to defend those who are against divorce. (I actually believe society needs a fair, organized, and unbiased system or mechanism to deal with marriage failures, particularly in the cases of unfaithfulness and abuse. Maybe I’ll write about that in the future.) But by saying the lines “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part” means promising to take on all of that person for all of time. Why do you think I’m not married? – Yet. This is also why I write about looking for this particular quality in a parter: Someone who walks humbly before God, because someone who does can only get better as he or she is transformed through love and correction.
3. How truly infinite is God’s love. I started remembering verses about how no eye has seen, ear has heard, or mind has conceived, or how vast His love for us. When Jesus would teach, He didn’t teach by just transferring information. He taught as someone inviting us to travel with Him. To follow Him means to travel with Him. And for those who have chosen to do so, He speaks to us as someone who has already committed to travel with us today and during the time that is yet to arrive.
“When one commits to walk in relationship with someone in the present one is also committing the future.”
– Choose who you love wisely.
– Commit with understanding.
– Consider the great love of God that commits Himself today and forever.
This is in response to a question I received:
Hi Mr. Bonifacio! I got a bit confused when you’ve said that loving ourselves first before others wouldn’t lead us to true happiness. Why is that so? How are you to love others when you’re not yet settled with yourself? we have to have self acceptance first before we can accept other people, especially if we want tthem to be a part of our life. One is not able to show someone how to truly love (an unlovable person perhaps) if he doesn’t even love or care or accepted imperfections in his life..
Popular belief goes like this: “In order to love others, we must first love ourselves.”
Now let’s look at this statement better. The real meaning of “love” is to lay our lives down, meaning surrender to something. We can see proof of what or who a person loves depending on what they pursue. Most people are pursuing their own happiness, security, comfort, and achievement already. So when we really look at things, most people already love themselves. Even people who have insecurities and inferiority tend to think too much about themselves (like how they’re not as good as others), and this is part of the problem.
There’s also a difference between accepting one’s self and loving one’s self. To love one’s self most, to put one’s self first, means to put ourselves above others, which is actually contradictory to the idea of love – which is for others.
I believe that we actually learn to appreciate ourselves and find ourselves through the process of loving others and putting them first. All the most amazing things in my life have come to me by putting someone else first. The security I feel has come from putting Jesus first. My amazing relationship with my girlfriend comes from putting her first. My relationship with my folks is the same way. Even at work, putting others first has led to amazing results and has benefitted me in ways I would never have seen if I had put myself first.
It’s counterintuitive thinking. Most people believe that we must love ourselves first. This is why, I believe, most people never enjoy the amazing beauty of losing one’s self in another.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein