I was reflecting even before church about some of the hard things parents have had to do, and then the minister brought up one of them in a wonderful Easter sermon. Here are the things I was thinking about: (1) The parents who paid for and accompanied their adult child overseas to get sex change surgery and have been supportive even as they have had to work through their own confusion and grief over the loss of the son they once had and their fears about their new daughter’s quite serious other health problems. (2) The father whose son murdered his daughter, who has stayed connected with his imprisoned son even as he lives in the depths of grief and anger about the loss of his daughter and the enormity of his son’s crime, and others’ anger at him for staying connected with his son. (This father is the minister’s brother-in-law.) (3) The parents whose son died in an automobile crash this year, who have had the courage to embrace the depths of their sorrow and to go on living without him. (4) The parents who are respecting an adult child’s wish to have no contact with them, even as it breaks their hearts and they don’t know what is wrong.
My reflections were triggered by a conversation the other day that began with people complaining about their parents. These conversations take a new twist when you have been a parent. As I’ve often said, it was parenthood that forced me to confront my own deep imperfection. From parenthood I also learned about the clutching fear when a child has an ailment that has no cure, and about the pain of realizing you have hurt someone you love and are charged with nurturing. Grief is part of parenting even if we have the good fortune to avoid tragedy. We grieve the baby who is gone forever, and then the young child, and then the teen. This grief is an essential part of parenting – if we cannot let the baby go, the child go, the adolescent go, we hinder her growth to healthy adulthood. Sometimes we are called to love our child when he has taken a path that seems wrong to us. Sometimes we grow to understand that the path was “right for her,” and sometimes we have to stand by and love a child who has done something irredeemably wrong, not making excuses, but being together in the pain and the shame. And yet, amid the inevitable sorrow and fear, there is great joy and meaning in being connected with one’s offspring, with watching the unfolding of a new person, and with feeling your own growth in the process.
Easter is the day when Christians celebrate life arising from political persecution and death. Non-Christians draw similar religious or secular lessons from other stories. And we all learn from nature, from spring emerging from winter and the brutal realities of biological life. John (12:24-25) links them: “Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” (Edit: The translation is Eugene Peterson’s The Message.)