Under The Same Leaky Roof: Growing Pains
The Challenge of Parenting
The day we lost Mandy was a frightful moment. We turned around and she was gone. Just like that. Of all the memories I have of raising our kids this one is among the strongest.
I see it as though it happened yesterday. It happened at the Pen Centre – at Sears on the second floor. Mandy couldn’t have been any older than four or five, maybe six.
We got wrapped up in a purchase; thought she was behind us and when we turned around she was gone in a crowded store.
I have no way of describing the feeling of shock and panic that set in. We couldn’t find her. We frantically looked around, shouting out her name.
This is certainly a parent’s worse nightmare, with all kinds of crazy thoughts racing through your mind
This beautiful little girl, with her curly hair, was gone just like that. Lost Mandy. Unbelievable.
Lucky for us she didn’t wander far. We quickly found her, and all was well again. But the fright and shock of it didn’t leave for a long time.
In some small way it reminds me of the time when they lost Jesus.
You know the story. He was 12 years old, travelling for the first time with his parents to Jerusalem, and don’t they promptly lose him!
The good news is that they eventually found him again; and with it, the story provides us with some incredible insight into Jesus’ family dynamic that can actually be helpful in how kids are raised in our days as well.
Raising kids is never an easy thing. It wasn’t easy then (as we shall see in a few minutes), and is certainly not easy today.
Having kids is easy. Doesn’t take much at all. Raising kids, especially raising successful well-adjusted and confident kids, is another matter all together.
In fact, raising kids successfully can only be determined once that child is raised and on their own. Any tyrant can keep a kid in line. Any bully can make sure their kid is on best behavior.
Thus well-behaved kids, while important, are not indicative of successful parenting.
Well-adjusted kids, who are confident in themselves and have the tools to make the right decisions and lead successful lives as young adults and adults, point back to successful parenting in the formative years.
I realize there are always expectations. There are some incredibly successful and well-adjusted people no thanks to their parents. As there are people who struggle with right life choices, even though they had incredibly successful and loving parents.
But all in all, there is a correlation between well-adjusted people who are making all the right choices and loving, supportive parents backing them up in their formative years.
I realize there are many things that undermine successful parenting.
Even though we have learned better parenting skills than the days of the switch or stick, and kids are better protected by law against abuse at home, there are a number of things working against successful child rearing.
Everything from the financial insecurity of the working poor, the instability of new family units such as single parents, blended families and same sex parents, to the need for both parents to be working creating a latchkey culture, all work against successful child rearing
Not to mention kids growing up way too soon with incredible negative peer pressure starting at younger and younger years. And then there is the easy access of the internet, with all its dangers and foibles, and this certainly means that families have their challenges.
Parenting has never been easy and isn’t easy today. Any help we can get is appreciated, right?
The Family of Jesus
Which is what makes the story of Jesus at the temple so compelling.
It’s a great story of family life, full of incredible nuggets of insight that have stood the test of time.
In many ways the story transcends time and culture and lands with a thud squarely in the middle of 2015.
Just begin to add it up for a moment: A blended family, a child whose father is someone else’s, the rough and tumble of teenage life, missed communication between the parents, differing expectations.
Or how about providing guidance to a child without being overbearing, or just the struggle of letting go of a young person growing up?
This is all within the context of literally losing a child in the midst of a huge crowd in a foreign city! This is the stuff of great story!
So let’s take a closer look at this.
“Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom.”
It would be a very typical journey. An annual pilgrimage that was routine and predictable. It had been done many times before.
The only exception was that their first-born accompanied them for the first time. This was Jesus at age 12, on the verge of adulthood.
As was custom, families travelled by gender. The men and older boys were in one group, and the women and children in the other group.
It’s interesting actually that Jesus is referred to in this story as both a child in vs. 40 and a boy in vs. 43 pointing to this in-between stage of childhood and adulthood, which can be a worst time in a young person’s life.
As a young teenager he could have been travelling in either group with mom thinking he was with dad and dad thinking he was with mom.
So he slips through the cracks and ends up being with neither group deciding instead to hang back in Jerusalem, not to get into mischief or trouble, but to satisfy his spiritual curiosity.
“After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Luke 2:46-47
This shows incredible spiritual insight for a 12 year old, but he still faces the consternation of parents who lost him for three agonizing days.
That was the story. Now, let’s take a look at the issues that surfaced and the life lessons learned.
Miscommunication and Missed Expectations
The first thing has to do with missed communication.
“After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day.” Luke 2:43, 44
You can just about hear it:
“I thought he was with you. I thought he was with you. Can’t even look after your own child!”
“Supposed to be with the women and children.”
“No, he’s not. He’s supposed to be with the men and older boys.”
And then, when they asked him why he did what he did, his response was: “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49
“How are we supposed to know that? We are not mind readers!”
The language points to obvious miscommunication. Phrases such as “they were unaware”, “thinking he was in their company” and “didn’t you know” all point to not communicating clearly.
If only he would have told them. If only they would have made their expectations clearer. If only they would have communicated to each other about travel arrangements, etc.
So many of the struggles we have with people comes from a lack of communication.
Nick Stinnett in his book Secrets of Strong Families points two six qualities found in strong families among which is communicating. “They spend a lot of time talking and listening”, he writes!
Obviously, there was not much talking and listening happening the time they all traveled to Jerusalem.
You have to talk. Talk it through. Don’t assume. Communicate your expectations, needs and frustrations. The worst thing you can do is bottle it all up inside and assume that everybody else should know.
I have not found anyone yet being able to read someone else’s mind!
Closely tied into miscommunication are missed expectations. There were expectations that simply were not met.
Again, the language points to this: “thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day”. They assumed he was with the other. She expected Jesus to be with Joseph, while Joseph expected Jesus to be with Mary.
The same thing again with Jesus. Listen to the language: “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” vs. 49
He thought they knew, but again no one was a mind reader, and unless you tell him or her how will they know?
Proper communication spells out clear expectations, which avoids the kind of situations created once Jesus was located.
“When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” vs. 48
Communication so as to create clear expectations is key! Especially as children grow older.
From Child to Young Adult
That’s the next thing I want us to see. This was not Jesus the child. This was Jesus the boy growing up fast and furious and with it the need to readjust parenting for a new reality.
When children become young adults the relationship shifts.
It takes on more of a horizontal feel than a vertical, top down look.
It moves away from a more direct control of “children obey your parents” to a more indirect persuasion and influence.
A child becoming a young adult becomes more independent and requires the freedom to venture out on his or her own.
Sure the nest is still there, but the kid’s got wings, and soon enough he or she will begin to flutter on their own.
A wise parent realizes this and gives the child the freedom!
Jesus was beginning to flutter his wings of independence and the last thing he needed was to have his wings clipped by overprotective parents.
His parents, particularly his mother struggled with letting go.
Her response to Jesus gives away her struggle: “Why have you treated us like this?” vs. 48 “Why? Because I am becoming a man and need my freedom, mom.”
In fact, what was happening was that primary allegiance was shifting away from his parents and toward his own sense of calling from God.
“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.” vs. 49, 50
This says it all. They did not understand how his allegiance was shifting away from their house and influence to the Father’s house and His influence.
Mary really struggled with letting go, as do many moms. But a wise mom and dad know when to release the ropes and let the bird soar.
This doesn’t mean that the parents are absent. This is certainly not the last we hear or see of Mary.
But she moves more and more into the shadows, into a supportive role. Yet she remains there for her son all the way through to his own death, as any mother would.
Even adult children still need the support of their parents. A wise young adult or even adult doesn’t throw off the guidance and wisdom of parents who have travelled this path before.
I think there is great value in Paul’s admonition to children:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise-- “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Eph. 6:1-3
I love the interplay between obedience and honoring. This is the progression in the development stages of the child.
While there is a place for children to obey their parents while young, as the relationship shifts and matures from child to young adult, the interactions shift from blind obedience to a place of honoring parents.
It’s a lifestyle marked by an attitude of honoring the parents even later in life and even when those parents were not perfect.
A life long attitude of honoring parents creates the platform for a long, productive life.
“Honor your father and mother so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
You certainly see that with Jesus. In his independence he still honored his parents! In fact, he did more than honor. He was still obedient as much as he could without losing the pull toward God.
“Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” vs. 51
This is still that in-between stage between child and young adult and hence the need for obedience, even though for all concerned the ground had shifted.
Upon his return, he would be different than before he left but not rebellious nor reckless.
Still committed to following his parents instructions, but also everyone knowing he would be more and more about his Father’s business.
To his mother’s credit, she was able to make the adjustments needed. Notice how it says, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” vs. 51
That’s her way of making the necessary adjustments, providing greater freedom, and realizing that there is a call on Jesus’ life beyond her own.
This wasn’t always easy for her. There were times when she wanted to take back control. An interesting story emerges out of Mark 3 where early on in Jesus’ ministry his mother came to probably try to take charge of things.
Oh Mary, didn’t you know that he has to be about his Father’s house?
Dear mom and dad, the same for you! This child is not your own. You have your child but for a season. They never were your possessions.
They were entrusted to you so that you could provide the necessities of life and more, much more. Those early years are the most critical years of a child’s life.
You instill the confidence or the lack of it. You can raise a child in the way they should go or you can break their spirit.
Paul says you can exasperate them, crush their spirit and kneel on them until they are broken, resulting in a ruined life, or you can nurture them in the things of life and of the Lord and see them flourish and come into their own.
A Word to the Fathers
As we close this morning, I’m not really sure where Joseph was in all of this. We certainly don’t hear and see much of him in this story.
This seems to be very much about Mary. Mary this and Mary that, but where is Joseph?
Mary spoke up when finding Jesus. Mary treasured all this in her heart. Mary even spoke for Joseph (“Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” vs. 48)
Sure hope this isn’t what I think I’m reading. You know, of a wife who speaks on behalf of her husband, without letting him speak, or of an overbearing wife and absentee father.
This could also have been about the fact that this was Mary’s child and not Joseph’s; and her first-born to boot.
Might have been as much about struggling to let go, with a dash of overbearance, than a husband AWOL.
But it does raise the question of Joseph. Joseph, the stepdad. Joseph, in the shadow of Mary. After all, the pair is known as Mary and Joseph and not Joseph and Mary.
It raises the issue of fathers stepping up; of fathers and mothers both playing their roles, with mothers letting fathers and fathers letting mothers be equal partners in the relationship.
While it’s possible to raise a child as a single mom, it is far easier when both dad and mom raise their child!
So this is a call for moms and dads to be engaged.
This is also a call for parents to shift the relationship from vertical to horizontal the older the child gets.
This is a call for a child to obey and a young person to allow for guidance provided that the parent has the best interest of the child in mind.
That becomes actually key. Parents must have the best interest of the child in mind.
A child cannot obey an abusive parent anyone more than a wife can submit to an abusive husband.
Thankfully we have laws in our land that increasingly protect from abusive parents and spouses.
In fact, all of this breaks down if the roles aren’t played to God’s standard. Children are not expected to obey a father who is an abuser or a bully.
The entire structure of what I’ve built up in this sermon falls apart if there is abuse, neglect or harm inflicted.
The family, while the primary unit in society, is not above the law. God has intentionally provided for good laws and governance so as to protect the family from even itself.
“For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” Rom. 13:4
Paul is very clear on this. If a law is broken, the church has no authority.
The church is not God’s servant, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer when a law is broken! That belongs only to the state.
The first thing the church does when it sees abuse is call in representatives of the state which are the police.
Undue harm has been done when churches do not report abuse and take matters into their own hands.
Doing so means being in clear violations of God’s order and the result is mayhem, broken lives and the destruction of family life. I hope that is clear enough J!
A New Dedication!
As we close, let’s dedicate ourselves afresh to the Lord. As a father, mother, grandparent or child and young adult.
Let us allow the Lord to rule and reign in us so that it would go well with us and we enjoy a long life, or as was the case with Jesus:
“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.” Luke 2:40
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