My children are my arrows, my messengers that I will one day send out into the future. They carry all my hopes and dreams, my beliefs, even my genetic code. Nothing is closer to my very self. I want so much for them.
What if they don’t fly straight?
What if I pull too hard and my arrows snap and lie broken at my feet?
What if they reject everything I’ve tried to teach them?
I have watched the young adults of my generation as their parents released them, and I have watched the hopeful mothers and fathers having to cope with arrows that missed their mark. Could there ever be a more crushing failure? And I have asked myself, why? What causes one generation to throw off the dreams of the last? What causes arrows, once released, to fly far in unforeseen directions?
Was it something in the shaping?
I hold my little ones, my arrows, day in and day out, through Bible reading and math problems and sitting quietly in church, potty training, bed times, vegetables at dinner, and “Did you lie to Mommy?” “Don’t hit your sister,” and “Who wrote with permanent ink on the wall?”. Day in, day out. Shaping. I have only one chance at this, one chance, and then the release.
How am I doing? Am I succeeding?
I have attempted to straighten my arrows in a vice of logic, to educate them into my world view, and convince them of the infinite worth of my values. I’ve been strict and exacting, critiquing their every fault, and lecturing out maps to expected improvements. But I forgot that my arrows were forming minds of their own. And I frustrated them.
I have attempted to chisel my arrows with brute force, to argue them into submission, and command them to adopt my grand vision. I’ve been cold and harsh, intolerant of their insufficiencies, unbending from the height of my standards. But I forgot that my arrows were flesh and not stone. And I wounded them.
Without love, without joy, my arrows will not believe me when I tell them what matters in life. They will mock when I aim them. “Ha. You didn’t love us. You were never happy. All the stuff that you said didn’t make an ounce of difference in your life. You were still grumpy and dissatisfied. Release us. We’ll fly where people are nice.”
We believe the people who are nice to us.
Not just sugar nice, or sometimes nice, but deeply, to the core nice, the ones who understand us, and love us, and aren’t surprised we feel that way, who want to be with us, who aren’t ashamed of us, driven crazy by us, annoyed, or unhappy. When they tell us about life, we listen, since obviously, what they believe has made them into people we would actually like to be. When they tell us hard things, we feel inspired. When they correct us, we take it seriously. If they have to discipline us, the deepest wounding is the knowledge that we didn’t live up to all they thought of us. They hardly have to aim us. We aim ourselves, in the very same direction that the joyful, loving, nice people are going.
The most convincing argument I can give my children for why they should value the things I value and fly ahead in the direction I’m hoping is simply being nice to them. Shaping is important, but shaping without love and good old fashioned, everyday niceness leads to rebellion. The deep discussions must be balanced by tickle fights and cookie baking, the discipline with bedtime backrubs and cheery morning hugs. I have to give my children a reason to want to know what I think about life. I have to show them that people who love the Lord are also the ones who are able to love them with the most abandon, to be the kindest when they fail, and the most patient while they learn. Instead of barreling on in terror lest I fail to shape them exactly flawlessly correctly, I need to put the most effort into simply being nice.
By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone. –Proverbs 25:15