[Reprinted from Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R.Knost. Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages; Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood; and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost also available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
The old preacher’s slightly shaky voice and once-hearty arthritic hands spoke of life and experience and hard-won wisdom as he held up a dusty tapestry with the back facing us. The tangle of threads that seemed to go nowhere and the snarl of multicolored knots gave no hint of the picture on the other side. “This is what we see,” he said. Then he turned the tapestry around to display the intricate, painstakingly crafted, exquisite picture on the front side. “And this is what God is doing.” He looked around the room, a kind and gentle understanding in his age-dimmed gaze. “Faith is trusting that your Father’s hands are carefully weaving a beautiful life’s story, even when all you can see is chaos.”
I remember this story often when life feels overwhelming, when big things like layoffs and sicknesses hit, and when small things like cranky toddlers, piles of laundry, and broken refrigerators annoy. What feels to me like an endless cycle of dishes and diapers, punctuated by the odd disaster, must look like brilliant threads of golden perseverance, scarlet sacrifice, and soft blue-grey shades of faith, all woven tenderly into my life’s tapestry by my Father’s skillful hands.
I imagine life feels this way to my children, as well. They may not see the picture I am trying to weave as I teach and guide and nourish and encourage them to grow into the beautiful humans they were created to be.
They may not understand why they’re gently redirected when they try to crawl up the stairs or why bugs don’t make a good afternoon snack. They may not be able to fathom why their new dragonfly ‘pet’ can’t live in the house or why they can’t hide in “the best hiding place EVER” in a hot car on a steamy Florida afternoon. They may not be entirely thrilled with the agreement on no laptops in their rooms or no cell phone in their tween years, and they may not fully get why the mall is not a safe hangout spot and why periodic texts to check in when out with friends are part of our family dynamic in their teen years.
As my children grow old enough to participate in the decision making, though, we share our thoughts about these things, discuss them together, and come up with mutually agreed upon boundaries. While these things may seem like meaningless threads or even unnecessary knots and tangles in their lives, the trust that we share helps them to accept and cooperate with what they may not fully understand, knowing that I have a purpose for each of these things even if they can’t see it.
It is that trust, that faith in my motives, my wisdom, my love, that makes gentle parenting possible. I don’t have to ‘lay down the law’ or enforce ‘rules’ with punishments or ‘control’ my children with threats or intimidation because they know that I have their best interests at heart and that I will always, always listen to their concerns, even if I can’t change things or give them what they want.
I start building that trust from the moment my children are born and continue building it throughout their childhood. I respond quickly, consistently, and with empathy to their cries or whines or troubles whether they are eight days, eight years, or eighteen years old. I meet their needs as fully as I am able, whether those needs are a clean diaper, a full belly, a listening ear, or a warm hug. I try to always respond gently and thoughtfully to their behaviors, whether they are having a meltdown, whining, tattling, questioning, or even challenging me.
And, perhaps most importantly, I’m honest about my own imperfections. I’m willing to apologize when I make one of my many human parenting mistakes, and I don’t expect perfection from my equally human children.
Motherhood is very simple to me. It’s a gift to me, but it’s not about me. I’m the one who chose to bring these little people into the world, so the pervading belief in our modern culture that somehow they have the responsibility to fit into my life, and work around my schedule, and not disrupt my pursuits completely mystifies me. They aren’t interlopers; they are guests, invited guests. And how do we treat our guests? Do we ignore their needs or make incomprehensible demands on them or ridicule, name-call, and hit them when they misstep? Of course not. We welcome our guests with special dinners, make accommodations for their needs, and forgive their lack of knowledge of our ways. And our children deserve no less. In fact, they deserve much more.
In our home, when our newest little invited guests arrive, they are welcomed with open arms that are always available, day or night. They are provided nature’s best provision for their nutritional needs. And they are gently guided by example and lovingly encouraged to become a part of a healthy family dynamic. In short, when I invite these little people into my life, it stops being my life, and it becomes our lives.
Parenthood is, very simply, a beautiful sacrifice that mothers and fathers willingly and lovingly live for their children, day after day, night after night, as a reflection of the sacrifice Jesus made for his children on the Cross. Parenthood is a lovely, lively retelling of the Cross played out in the arms of mamas and daddies, again and again and again.
Consider the young mother who gives up night after night of sleep to soothe her little one’s cries, or the middle aged man who still gets up before dawn each day to provide for his family, or the elderly parents who give up the peace of their golden years to welcome the child of their youth back into their home when life hits hard. This laying down of self, this giving up of comforts and rights and dreams, these are losses, sacrifices, even hardships, but they are lovely, beautiful beyond belief. Their loveliness lies in the soft warmth of a sleepy baby with a full belly and a trusting heart. Their beauty lies in the joyful chaos of a messy, noisy, welcoming family to come home to each night. Their beauty lies in the spark of hope in the tear-filled eyes of a weary adult whose life has turned dark, but who finds that home is still a safe refuge.
My children, all six of them, are precious gifts straight from God’s heart to my home. I have had other precious gifts, babies whom God gave for a time to fill my womb, but who weren’t meant to fill my arms, and one He gave to fill my arms for a just a moment in time, but who wasn’t meant to stay. My stillborn son, Sammy’s, birthday is in just a few weeks. While he’s always in my heart, as his birthday approaches my heart tightens in my chest a bit more each day until the ache becomes almost unbearable, and then finally the day comes and goes and I can breathe again.
These times always make me wonder how tragedy must look from Heaven’s side. I wonder about my Sammy, and I wonder about my other lost babies, gone before they even had birthdays. What colors did they add to my story? What eternal beauty did they bring that would have made my tapestry incomplete if they had not come and gone, so heartbreakingly briefly, into my life? While I feel holes in my heart, one for each much-wanted child, and an aching cavern of loss for my Sammy, would my life have been complete without them?
I can’t answer these questions. I won’t even try. But I imagine that is where faith stretches its silken blue-grey threads across my story like the fragile gossamer wings of a butterfly. Each one of them brought with them the unique knowledge of how breathtakingly exquisite every living, breathing child is and how priceless and fragile and brief life itself can be. I do not take this knowledge lightly. I have learned to treasure the moments of life with my children. I’ve learned that it’s not about me; it’s about us. And I’ve learned that sacrifice lights up the dark places in the world, making it a more beautiful place for all of us to live.
Life is messy. No one has all the answers, at least not earth-side. But we can all trust that this sometimes bewildering, sometimes joyful, sometimes flat-out painful chaos called life has meaning and purpose and beauty beyond the scope of human sight. And as we carefully and gently weave the strands of our children’s days into a beautiful childhood, we can trust that our Father is thoughtfully and tenderly doing the same for us.
“Now we see through a glass darkly; then we shall see clearly, face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Release date: May 2014) the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.