Monthly Archives: August 2013

Parenting Isn’t a Competitive Sport

Parenting isn’t a competitive sport

I know, right?

Wait, what is it that we know again?  Oh yah – parenting isn’t a competitive sport.  Let me admit this about that statement, I intrinsically know it to be true but I have to remind myself of it often.  I’m not sure what it is exactly but there is a feeling that we are always being judged as parents: by our families, by teachers, by other parents, by people around us… and really – when we are honest – by ourselves.  (In fact I do wonder sometimes if we actually aren’t being judged nearly as much as we think by those other groups but we are prepared to feel that way because in our hearts we are actually judging ourselves all the time… or maybe that is just me – it is something of a personal curse.)

There are certain truths I value in my life, and almost without exception they are truths I have to constantly remind myself to be true.  That is to say, I know them to be true but have a hard time really FEELING them to be true and living them out:

God loves me.  Broken and falling short, I am nevertheless worthy of love (this one gets me when people say we aren’t worthy… of course we are, I hope I get around to saying more about that later).  Community is essential to life.  I am not alone.  Rest and self-care are not selfish but make me a more loving person.  Life is about serving, not about being served.  That means we live outward and not just taking in and holding onto.  My value doesn’t lie in what I produce, but what I produce speaks of what I value…

And while this list isn’t complete at some point it comes: Parenting isn’t a competition. I have four kids.  This doesn’t make me an expert on parenting.  In fact, there isn’t such a thing.  I wouldn’t say I’m good at parenting and I refuse to say I’m bad at it: that’s the point!  My mother once told me something very profound (okay she told me many profound things, this just happens to be the one most appropriate at the moment).  She said basically that we grow up and we find ourselves in need of therapy because of some strange things our parents did in raising us.  We decide we will never do those things when we are parents. And you know what, she said, the very things we did as corrections to our parent’s parenting will cause our own kids to need therapy.  There isn’t a perfect way.  Almost every message causes another unintended message.  It’s a reality – don’t get crippled by it.

So back to the point, parenting isn’t a competitive sport.  I think I want to speak to this (to myself as much as anyone else) for two big reasons on top of what I’ve already mentioned.

First – our kids aren’t products.  Our children are not things we created.  Achievements.  Productions… with value added.  But we sure can try to make them so can’t we?  What is the right school, the right sport, the right extra-curricular activity that will make our kids into the most complete… package.  It reminds me of Neo in the matrix having “programs” downloaded into him to make him able to do more and more, better and better, until he is the “one.”  Our kids are organic, living, growing, learning, and… self-actualizing people.  (Yes did you get that self part?  We don’t actually do that for them… in fact we can probably do more to hinder that activity than help it.)  I’m sure you have heard someone say at a wedding that this is a time when the mother of the bride gets to have the wedding she wanted.  But how often is this true in our parenting?  So let me tell myself right now: Andrew – do not live the life you wanted through your children!  Its theirs, give it to them.

Second – I can fall trap to the game of best.  I want my child to be a great student, a great thinker (not always the same thing), incredibly creative, and a phenomenal athlete.  I’m not sure why I want it exactly.  It would probably take a psychologist a lot of hours of digging to get at all the reasons.  I have to tell myself, remind myself, over and over again, that doesn’t really matter, and that isn’t the point.  No-one can really be the best.  And what is the point anyway?  What creates fulfillment, joy, and purpose?  If it is the drive to be the best, than we are bound to fail.  We will never be able to hit that mark.  And my child’s value is not in his or her ability.  I love my children.  Period.

I find much of parenting to be frustrating.  I love it.  Don’t get me wrong.  But I’m beset by constant concerns that this or that thing I’m doing as a parent (or allowing them to do as children) will make them grow up selfish, or girly, or misogynistic, or lazy, or mean, or… or… or… and society at large does a fair amount to reinforce that constantly trying to assess the gifts and liabilities of a generation of children all at once by looking at the decisions of their parents.  So while I’m interested in some of it, and I agree we need to think about how we parent and the messages we are sending… let me be quite clear. There are no trophies for perfect parent… and perfect parent doesn’t make a perfect kid.  The drive for perfection is a demon in itself.  And while I don’t have any wish for a drive for mediocrity either I will admit: My kids haven’t cleaned their rooms in months.  I feed them McDonalds – yah I know right!?  Frankly I’m okay with that.  My kindergartner doesn’t know how to read yet, my third grade son likes soccer but not as much as playing with his arms inside the jersey while zoning out in the middle of a game (gee – like father, like son – how does he know?).  My three year old is clearly more in charge of me than I am of her, and our 9 month old spends more time sleeping in our bed then her crib.

I’ve given them PLENTY of reason for therapy.  But you know what else?  My therapist once told me (while Caroline and me were in the roller coaster of trying to get pregnant with our first child and I was already beset with many of these doubts about my ability to parent), “At the end of the day all that matters is that they know that you love them.”  BOOM!

“God is love.”

“Anyone who abides in love, abides in God.”

“And the greatest of these is love.”

If there is a place to think about being great in… wow that one is it.  Because here is the wonder of people who are great at love.  When someone is incredibly loving… their go to move (love, care, support) lifts people up.   They make people feel better about themselves, not worse.  When you are great in love you don’t make people who struggle with it feel worse about themselves… you just love them.  And love tends to beget love.

So, Andrew, parenting isn’t a competitive sport.  There is not trophy and God forbid I ever think of my kids AS the trophy.  Parenting is the process of bringing people up in love.  (And screwing with their heads more than a little along the way!)

Thanks be to God.

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Healthy and Helpful Living: one promise to enable another

So this morning I came across this article thanks to a friend (http://lisajobaker.com/2013/08/a-promise-for-my-daughter/).  It was a wonderful read.  I share the desire to “be there” for both my daughters and my son.  (I don’t think sons are any less needful of such support.)  And one of the many reasons I greatly appreciate both my parents is that they too have “been there” for me through the years.

So here is what triggered in me in a slightly different way as I was reading the article.  One of my greatest fears is that there would be day that my children were in need of me and I couldn’t be there.  I have preached on that before:

An active imagination is not always a good thing, and can be horrible thing for a parent.  There are times I’ve found myself watching my children play with their gorgeous laughter and smiles that are like the rising of the sun….  And I’ll be watching them, proud parent caught up in the wonder and mystery and miracle of life, and in a twinkle of a moment I’ll find myself nearly in tears as I think… what would happen if someone stole my little Elizabeth.  What would be like to hear her voice calling out in my mind every time the wind shifted in the trees?  And in a flash of a moment a mental movie I cannot prevent has me seeing her screaming face because she doesn’t understand why I do not answer her cries and come to her rescue…

(from the sermon, God is Insanely Loving, found here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/andrew-kukla/sermon-at-palms-pres-god-is-insanely-loving/10150207684389466

This article however put me in touch with this fear in a very different way.  What if I don’t live long enough to be there for my children when they need me?  Yes, there are many ways I cannot control this.  Accidents and tragedies happen, and to live in constant fear of that which I cannot control is a paranoia that is its own kind of sickness unto death.  I do not wish to live in such a way, and generally I do not.  However, there are parts of this equation I do control.  I’m not a very good eater, I don’t exercise as much as I should, and I can over-work and over-worry about work.  Generally I acknowledge these realities… and do nothing about them.

But here is how that is unfair: it is incredibly selfish.

I do not live for myself alone.  The choices I make have ripples that effect lots of people, people I love and people who love me.  And this article makes me acknowledge that I owe it to the people who love me to make healthy choices for my life so that I will be around for as long as possible – because while I can’t control all of that, I do control SOME of that.

When I make decisions about my life simply based on my own desires I forget that I’m not living only for myself.  That I love hamburgers and fries is fine.  That I indulge that often as a person with hereditary bad cholesterol is very selfish living, and short-sighted even for myself.  That I find excuses of being too busy to exercise is losing sight of my priorities.  There are really very few tasks to which I am so important that I can’t spare the necessary time to be healthy.  This reminds me that in this conversation we must realize that some kinds of being selfish is actually the most self-less thing you can do.  Taking time to rest and recharge your batteries is not about you, its about making you able to be there for others.  Getting a sitter for the kids so that my wife and I can go on a date night and foster a healthy marriage is not simply about us – its actually about our kids.  Because we will be there for them better when we take time for us, foster healthy lives and a healthy marriage, than when we mistakenly think that good parenting means being omnipresent to our children.

So I too promise to my children to be there for them.

But also I promise my children to do what I need to do for myself, so that I can be there for them.

I won’t be good at it, but that is a really lame excuse next to the love I have of my children and my desire to see them achieve their dreams, to hold them when those dreams die, and to watch them watch their children with the same love I have for them.  So I’m making both these promises today – and I hope you will help hold me to them.  (And if you wish, I’ll help hold you to the same in your life – in fact I’ll probably do that whether you want me to or not!)

The Story of God and God’s People: Extreme Outline Edition

I received something of a challenge today.  A friend asked, “If you were going to give 22 single verses from Genesis to Revelations to try to capture the story of faith, what would you choose?”  

It was hard.  REALLY HARD.  I tried not to overthink it because I would tinker with my choices for weeks and never be happy with it.  I’m already not happy with it.  Also some of my choices are different because it was to be a single verse, not a sentence or thought or story… and that was a challenging restriction for me.  But it was also an interesting personal journey just to come up with the list (it took me about an hour) and I’d invite you to do the same.  Here is my list, but before you read it – make your list.  What would include?  

Genesis 1:3                  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Genesis 4:9                 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”

Genesis 9:11                I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Exodus 3:14                God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”

Leviticus 19:34            The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

Deut 6:4                      Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.

Psalm 22:1                   My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?

Psalm 23:1                   The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

Ruth 1:19                    But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.

Isaiah 58:6                   Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 

Jeremiah 6:14              They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.

Luke 2:10                    But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

Mark 1:35                    In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

Luke 4:18                    “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free

Matthew 6:12              And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

Mark 7:28                   But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Luke 10:36                  Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

John 20:27                   Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

Acts 2:4                       All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Galatians 2:20             And it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 

1 John 4:16                  So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

Revelation 21:3           And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them;

I love you!

On an exhausting day, or frustrating day, or a day filled with a sense of inadequacy or failure I have this gift… I look up above my desk to a picture of kids and set of cards made by them.  One of them has painted letters… Dab, I love you.

My kids don’t care about all that other stuff.  It doesn’t really matter to them if I’m a huge success (yes they help check my ego at the door at the same time they boost it up) or an utter failure.  My kids also happen to have a lot of exuberant energy so cards on a bulletin board are just the tip of the iceberg.  When they hear the garage door open when I’m coming home from a late meeting they almost always come running… “DAAADDDYYYY!” And then envelop me in a big hug.

They personify and incarnate overflowing and unconditional love.

And I think to myself: what a gift, what a blessing.  Don’t we all need that that kind of welcome in our lives?  And wouldn’t it be awesome if it wasn’t just kids that did it.  What if we greeted each other with that kind of overflowing exuberance regularly?  What if we demonstrate that much excitement as we greeted each other and really were a constant reminder to each other… hey – however bad your day is – I LOVE YOU!

Jesus entreats us to be a like a child, and while there are many reasons not to take this too literally,  on the subject of love and acceptance is one of those times I’m absolutely certain Jesus is being absolutely literal.

When we gather for Sunday services we often act a lot like we do when we go to the movie theater, we actually get upset if someone sits near us when there is plenty of room to spread out and not encroach on one another.  But what if… what if that is the whole point?  What if instead when we gathered together our reaction was to run and greet each other with the unconditional and exuberant bear hug kind of love that we usually reserve for children and their parents.

Maybe that’s crazy.  Maybe that’s just crazy-like the kind of community God imagines for us.

I love you (period)