The Great Story of Parenting

The great story of parenting is Worry. No matter the age or stage, we will worry about our children’s health, their choices, their safety, their education, their friends or lack thereof. This is what comes from having a deep love for someone who is pulling away from you from the very beginning, who from birth is growing to be independent of us. Our responsibility is to prepare them to break our hearts in this way.

Having children guarantees you something to worry about.

And so the great battle in this story of parenting is against worry, against fear and fret and failure, because that is not a life of faith and peace. A child maturing is as it should be. They should move toward making their own decisions, their own choices about friends and clothes and hobbies and health and what is most important. Hopefully we will influence those decisions, but we cannot battle our worry by feeding it with control.

How do we wage this battle?

My tendency is to procrastinate. I will put off worrying about what I see coming until the last possible moment because to worry is to put energy into something I can’t control, and energy is a rare and precious commodity. I preserve energy by procrastinating, or so I tell myself.

When I am my better-self, I pray ahead about the worries coming down the pipeline. This is a tightrope of focused attention toward God and away from fear, and it takes extreme discipline for me to stay in a place of prayer and out of the sucking-swamp of despair. Disciplined prayer—whereas God knows the struggle and sees me on both sides of the abyss. I’m in faith and doubt and peace and turmoil all in one conversation, and He knows this.

Prayer requires that I think about what could worry me, but in light of off-loading the burdens on One Who can actually do something about them.

Procrastinating my worry is only good if it is a battle. Putting off those worst case scenarios only works when there is a constant retelling of the story of What Might Happen, a futuristic happy ending that can begin with an epic battle against fear, waged by prayer and an understanding of time. 

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I need a long-view of life. This is my true weapon.

A long view is my vision of this moment right now—and whatever I’m worried about in this moment—intersecting the fabric of eternity and forever. It’s a pinpoint on a timeline that I can’t see the end of…because there is no end. Not that my worries are insignificant because Time is so massive and my life so small; this is just a shift in my perspective. I can only see the past and this moment, and neither of them very clearly. 

God is a Great Weaver. Whatever I’m worrying over may end up being a thread that builds structure but is never even seen in the end. Structure—because life needs upheld and the bones of a good life are sometimes made of things we worried over. 

Do not hear me say, dear children, that it’s okay to do stupid things and disregard counsel, that mistakes are currency in an economy of growth. The wise person listens to counsel and becomes still wiser, and alongside salvation, wisdom is my greatest desire for you. I’m simply acknowledging that as we release control of your life over to you (I mean. You used to eat and sleep on a schedule.), we are trusting God more than we are trusting you. You are, after all, offspring of fallen parents. We trust God and His word and His faithfulness, which doesn’t take into account all the outcomes we worry over. 

It was over a year ago that a doctor mentioned the possible lupus diagnosis to our daughter (what was he thinking?!). We googled and worried and waited for a referral and more blood work. I had just finished Flannery O’Connor’s biography (she died young of lupus) and come to find out, we had relatives who had also had lupus. We weighed every symptom against the lists on WebMD, and in the end, lupus was ruled out in favor of a simple gluten intolerance and low cortisol levels. A change in diet, a handful of supplements, and a different doctor became the answers to our prayers. 

But sometimes our worries do come to fruition, and what then? 

Someone asked me awhile ago how we can get ourselves to a place of not caring when a loved one is hurtful towards us or just makes dumb life choices. She was asking honestly—how do I not care so much that it hurts?  How do I not worry to the point of being physically ill?

The only answer I can come up with is this long view, this slow way around worry, which is less about not caring and more about not being consumed. This is not the end and nothing has turned out yet, not our kids or even us. We often declare disasters (of the personal kind) before a situation has fully played out. 

When we worry, we’re trying to write a story that we cannot write with an ending that we cannot see. We are making calculations based on experience so far. But when we take the long view, when we remember that an eternity has passed behind us for a God with no beginning and stretches out before us for saints with no end, we see how the story we cannot write is more beautiful than our imagination allows for. 

The what-ifs and worries are building structure to our stories. This isn’t the most comforting idea, but it helps me leave room for rewrites and edits, for hope.