In the Gospel for this Pentecost Sunday, one line jumps out at me in particular as a parent. Jesus says to the disciples, I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.
The lectionary leaves out the first part of this verse, which I think unfortunate. Here is John 16:4 in its entirety: But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.
If this isn’t the most perfect expression of God as divine parent, I don’t know what is! When our children are very small, we don’t tell them the secrets to a fulfilling life. We teach them to name the people who love them and the things they need to feel safe and loved.
We gradually build the scaffolding of the multitude of things they need to know. Look both ways before you cross the street. Don’t take candy from strangers and adults we don’t know should never ask kids for help. Please, please never text when you’re driving. Drugs are dangerous and harmful and can derail all your dreams. These and so many other things we say to our children, we say “so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.”
Be kind to others. Be compassionate. You are loved. You are enough. Love God and follow Jesus, especially when you feel lost and alone.
In my family, and in my vocation, I’m deeply blessed to be surrounded by children who know the Lord’s Prayer, who happily respond to “The peace of the Lord be always with you,” with “And also with you!” And who know that the last words of the service are “Thanks be to God. Alleluia, alleluia!” (Except no alleluias in Lent, of course.)
As our children grow, how many words pass between us and them? It must be millions, and yet how frequently as a parent do I feel that my words go unheeded. The most frequent refrain from our 11-year-old right now is a slightly angry “I don’t need you to tell me!” This is in response to any and all reminders; that it’s past time to leave for band and he’s still only half dressed, that dinner is over and there is homework to be done, that his breakfast plate is still on the table instead of in the dishwasher. Again.
And despite the obvious – to us – fact that we’re telling him these things because otherwise HE WILL NEVER take care of them, he feels irritated and belittled by our reminders.
So many words pass between parents and their children, yet so often I worry that the most important words are left unsaid or unheard. As a teen and a tween, my boys don’t want those words of unconditional and unceasing love we feel for them, they bridle against such language. The words of affirmation that they are exactly who they should be, beloved children of God and of their families, tend to fall on deaf ears. Of course, it could also be those omnipresent ear buds getting in the way.
On the day we remember and celebrate as Pentecost or Whitsunday, the story is all about language and God’s infinite ability to help us hear and understand our Creator’s unfathomable love through the voices of the people around us. Raising children is having a heart always filled with love, and constantly seeking ways to communicate that love to our children in ways they will internalize and remember. So much of the language that passes between us ends up being about the logistics and rules. This Pentecost, I will be seeking ways to speak my boys’ language. Fortunately, it’s a long season and we have plenty of time.
[Photo Credit: Nheyob, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
How do you ensure your words leave your children feeling cherished, accepted, supported and valued?