Ellia was my travel companion starting at 6 weeks old. She came with me to meetings and on errands and coffee dates. She accompanied me on retreats I taught and trips I took. In her first year, she traveled across Texas, Colorado, California, and all the way to Mexico, Maui and Japan.
She was four months old when I brought her to Maui. I was leading a retreat for a young adults group at a church on the island. One morning, as Ellia and I took a leisurely walk near the beach, I decided to take her down to the shore. Disregarding the warning signs of slippery rocks, I stepped on a wet downward slope and slid, holding Ellia as I fell. I tried to hold her up as I hit the ground, but she landed headfirst on some lava rocks.
Mom of the year.
I panicked and yelled at people on the beach, calling for someone to call 911. It was terrible. People came running. I couldn’t stop crying. Ellia couldn’t stop screaming. Her face was already bruised and the side of her head and her ear began to swell.
All I could think was that I broke my baby by doing what I wasn’t supposed to do.
While we waited for the ambulance to arrive, I sang a Rich Mullins song to Ellia. It was her favorite. The part she loved the most referred to whores and drunks loving the grace of Jesus and so I stood in the middle of a crowd of Hawaiians holding my crying baby and singing, “The whores all seem to love him and the drunks propose a toast.”
Spoiler alert: Ellia turned out to be fine.
And I’d gotten my first dropping-a-baby event out of the way.
It came with a freezing reality—our choices deeply and widely affect our children.
What we do, what we choose directly impacts those in our home. We want to pretend we act in a vacuum. We want parenting or ministering to others to be limited to our words instead of our internal choices and our own maturation.
Sometimes we’re tempted to think good parenting means creating a perfect world in which our kids can live. So, we try to develop an immaculate little terrarium by intervening in all potentially bad situations, making sure our kids never skin their knees.
But so much of parenting is in the way we ourselves choose to live.
Good parenting is more than what we say or do or even our disciplinary style. It has much more to do with who we are becoming than our skills in communication or maintaining a chore chart.
If we are healthy people who live out of forgiveness and grace then we parent with that same message.
Even if your kids don’t see your personal decisions, they are still impacted. When I fell on those rocks that day, I broke my tailbone. But I took Ellia down with me. Disregarding the warning signs affected more than just me.
And kids aren’t stupid. They pick up on emotional dishonesty. They know when you’re just saying you’re “fine” and when you actually are operating from a calm state.
Parenting and ministering is not just about teaching mercy and generosity—it’s about being people who are merciful and generous.
Too often we try to teach what we don’t do.
But, in reality, we’re far better off thinking through our own health and what we need and how to practice self-care and forgiveness than we are reading a parenting book.
In an effort to be good parents or good ministers, it's easy to become distracted from the important work of who we ourselves are becoming. We trick ourselves into focusing on our kids’ development instead of realizing our parenting is a direct result of our own development. And we end up stunted in our own spirituality and growth. We’re likely to become the emotionally immature parents obsessed with living vicariously through their children.
Healthy parents are more likely to raise healthy kids.
I believe we avoid our own spiritual well-being because it’s easier to shape another mind than it is to pay attention to our own transformation. We’d rather overprotect than deal with our own fears and lingering insecurities.
But it’s impossible to truly love your kids if you don’t love yourself.
If we are people who actively live out of the love of God then we will free our children to live out of that same love.
Godly parenting isn’t found in taping bible verses around the house or forcing kids to go to church choir. Real, life-giving parenting comes as we ourselves learn to remain with the God who takes responsibility for our kids. We are in need of the same love and grace that we want our kids to experience. As we grow and learn and follow we’re less likely to take our kids down with us on an unnecessary fall.
We’ll do well to pay attention to the needs of our own hearts. Then, we can walk with our children and shepherd them, not as people riddled with anxiety, but people who rest in the deep love of God.