Innocent as Doves

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. ”
(Matthew 10:16, NASB)

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with a couple of friends when these words, spoken by Yeshua to His disciples, suddenly resonated with me.

…wise as serpents and innocent as doves…  Other008

Almost six weeks ago in a neighboring community, a 50-year-old teacher – a married man, a father, and a grandfather – disappeared along with a 15-year-old female student. While stories like this happen, this one really grabbed my attention for several reasons.

Besides the fact that I have a story of my own from when I was an emotionally crippled 19-year-old, I also have a daughter who will soon be 14 – a mere year younger than the girl who went missing (and who has, as of yesterday, been found, thank the Lord).

Thus it was that my friends and I were discussing the fact that now that our kids are mostly teens or tweens, we almost fear for their safety from sexual predators now more than when they were small.  For one thing, kids at this age feel grown up, and so a little attention applied in the right way only enhances that sense; a fact which can be easily exploited (and please note that I am not saying this teacher manipulated his student – I do not know the full story; simply that it reminded me of mine and of others).

Yet despite adult-sized bodies and interests, the adolescent of today’s world is in a weird limbo between childhood and adulthood. Their decision-making rational is not often as complete as that of an older adult, and many older teens and young adults are partially drunk with newfound freedoms while lacking the experience (and possibly the neural network) that lends caution and prudence in later years. This makes our young people especially susceptible to suggestion or coercion from those with more practical knowledge of the ways of the world.

But what I realized most profoundly in that moment as my friends and I discussed the falls and close-calls of our own youth and how we can best educate our kids without instilling agoraphobia or anthropophobia, was that what we really want to do is teach our kids to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.

According to Thayer’s Greek Definitions, the Greek word translated, “shrewd” can also be translated as “wise” or “prudent, i.e. mindful of one’s interests.”

Apparently at the time, the serpent was seen as a symbol of cunning and craftiness- perhaps somewhat like our modern-day sly fox. Certainly in the picture of the serpent who tempted Eve in the Garden, we see a creature who was sly and mindful of his own interests – which in that case, unfortunately, happened to be the corruption of God’s creative capstone: Man who was made in His own image.

However, not all snakes are in league with the enemy of our souls, of course. Even in today’s vernacular, we can see that snakes are cautious to preserve their own lives, some employing poison and others mimicking rattlesnakes, feigning death, or simply beating a rapid retreat into a nearby crevice.

Our Lord certainly was not advocating deceit or malicious intent, but He was indicating that we should be thoughtful and vigilant – mindful of our interests. In our case, our interests ought to be seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and so when faced with dangerous situations, we must be carefully intent on the Lord’s leading in order to make the wisest choice.

For our children, this might include an awareness of their surroundings, a knowledge of the potential for wickedness in all mankind (themselves included), and an understanding of cause and effect.

On the other hand, a dove is the portrait of innocence and gentleness even to this day. There is little on earth less threatening than a dove, save perhaps for baby bunnies or newly-hatched ducklings. I have never seen an image portraying a vengeful or angry dove.

This, too, is a characteristic I would like to pass on to the young gentlemen and ladies under my care. Somehow, contemplating the case of this teacher and student, I had a burst of insight as to what the Lord meant when He spoke those words.

Just as I would like my own children to walk wisely in this world; to be both discerning and prudent yet to remain harmless and innocent when confronted with the presence of evil or persecution.

I would like them to understand the ramifications of wickedness without becoming jaded and to comprehend the dangers that stalk the world without becoming paralyzed by fear.

In short, I would like them to be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves. Unsurprisingly, this is just what my Father wants from me, too.

But there are other lessons to this story…

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Lessons from Parenthood

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Ephesians 6:4

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.
Proverbs 3:11-12

My home is awash in hormones. I pity my husband, really, as he seems to be the only member of our family who is not going through some physio-chemical change right now. All three of our children are in various stages of puberty, and I… well, I am a woman in my 40s. Enough said.

Last week, one of the inevitable explosions occurred smack in the middle of our school day. My middle daughter and I clashed over a particular point of continuing disrespectful behavior. Warnings and verbal rebukes had been given in plenty, yet the problem persisted. Rather than accepting correction with humility, she responded sullenly, certain she had been wronged and blaming me entirely rather than accepting any responsibility for her own actions.

Try as I do not to take these things personally, there was a bit of me that was hurt by her petulant response to discipline. I was overcome by a sense of my own inadequacy and felt like a failure as a mom. A more selfish part of me was frustrated that, after all I have sacrificed in order to home school, the results were not meeting my expectations.

In that moment, I desperately wished that my children could see the grace they are given when my husband and I warn them not to continue in wrong behaviors.  I wished that they would accept accountability for their actions rather than assigning blame elsewhere.  I wanted them all to know the sacrifices that have been made so they can have the life they do.

I also longed for them to stop receiving gentle rebukes as if they were merely a reprieve from punishment, but instead to heed them as sincere warnings that unpleasant consequences lie ahead if the behavior continues. I wished the kids would just listen and understand that all the discipline my husband and I administer is done out of love and for their own good.

Oh…

Realization punched through my agitation: I am often exactly like my child. In all the incorrect responses of my child, I see a reflection of my own incorrect responses to my Father’s discipline.

I love that my Father keeps me humble. I love that He uses the painful incidents — and even failures — of my own parenting to remind me of His own sacrificial, nurturing nature; to bring my focus off my problems or my hurt and back to Him where it belongs.

Perhaps next time there is a parent/child conflict, I will remember that parenting is a part of my own spiritual training.  Perhaps my children’s responses will serve to remind me to respond with humility and openness when I am chastened.  Perhaps I can keep my eyes on the enormous sacrifice of my Father, losing myself entirely in the depths of His overwhelming love.

Perhaps, too, the next time simmering emotions boil over into full-scale battle, I will not cave to feelings of parental failure but rely on the only perfect Father to be my wisdom and my strength.

When I am grieved by my children, let it be a reminder to me how my Father grieves when I ignore His still, small voice.  May it be that both my children and I will always turn to Him no matter what external or internal forces may be at work. And I pray that I may always, always be faithful to discipline my children in love, forgiving them as I have been forgiven, and at all times pointing them to God both in my words and my deeds.

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.
Ephesians 4:31-5:1

Not Alone, Really

*Note: I wrote this some time ago but have hesitated to publish it in part because it is so raw. There is a lot of emotion wrapped up in the following words (and there are not a few), but perhaps there is also hope, and maybe someone out there may benefit from the knowledge that there are greater goals than fitting in. 

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.   Isaiah 53:3

I have a fourteen-year-old son who is not like other boys his age. His room is nearly immaculate (though I confess a wish that he would apply the same cleanliness standard to parts of the house or van that are not properly “his”). He loves routine and order and does not handle surprises well. He is not into sports.

He struggles socially, sometimes uses an inappropriately loud voice, and seems to find it much easier to befriend boys younger than him than kids his own age. My son has developed a tic or two in recent years that becomes worse when he is tired or stressed. He is very particular about textures and noise levels.

Thus far, I have refrained from labeling him; instead, my husband and I have embraced him exactly how he is, differences and all. We have an experiential understanding of such differences and so aim for training him to cope with life, teaching him the hard lessons we have learned and coaching him in what few social skills we have managed to pick up through the years of our own social awkwardness.

As he has grown, many of his guy friends have moved away he is now in a somewhat lonely season of life; a time when the friends within a couple of years of his age can be counted on one hand with fingers left over and friends he sees more often than once a month are even fewer.  I hurt for him with each buddy that moves, but I prod him to keep on reaching out, to keep trying.

Complicating matters are past instances when adults have invited him to various events, causing him great excitement. Unfortunately, I have also had to watch his crushing disappointment when he found out later that the event happened without him.  Again, I would share his pain, assure him it was an oversight and not actual rejection, and encourage him to keep trying.

I have pressed him to reach out to kids whose company he enjoys, watched him steel himself against his native nervousness and make the calls, watched him try and try until the lack of reciprocity finally made him quit. Again, I have plastered on a smile and told him that people are busy, that it is no reflection on him, that he should not quit trying.

To his enormous credit, I have watched him eagerly and faithfully attend his youth group every week despite the fact that I have seen the photos and videos of him hanging out on the outskirts, have heard his own declaration that he just doesn’t fit in though he still likes being there. And again, his hurt has become my own.

I remember being his age, and I remember being alone. I carried labels like “freak” and “loser,” and I can see him turning those labels over in his mind, wondering if they apply to him.

I try to encourage my son to expand his interests (they are very narrow), to try to take an interest in what other kids do even if it is not his area of expertise. I try to impart to him such lessons as I have learned in my own social struggles,  but I think he feels inept and clumsy, and he certainly prefers to retreat into video games or technology.

In the times I weep for my son, for the pain of growing up and of not fitting in, my Lord reminds me that He, too, was rejected. He was a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He reminds me that I, too, was a misfit and yet He has used me.  And He never called any of us to fit in but only to follow Him.

I think that Jesus must have experienced lonesomeness, for who could be more unlike other men than the Son of God on earth?

We are definitely not sinless, but we are not like others, my son and I. It is one tiny way we can share in His suffering, one small thing we can know He understands.

And so I pray that in the midst of his loneliness and social awkwardness, my son will draw near to the Lord. I pray that he will not shut out the only One who can fully understand and actually help. I pray that he will find the peace that can only be found in the mind fixed steadfastly on the Lord.

I pray that video games will no longer be his hiding place, but that he will turn to Jesus alone to find refuge from the pain of life; that he will look to the Lord for the comfort and strength that no game can offer. I pray that the Holy Spirit will navigate him through the confusing teen years complicated by the social awkwardness he apparently inherited from his parents.

Most of all, I pray that in my son’s tight little cocoon of pain, God is working on him even though I cannot see it; changing his faith into something that will someday take flight, exquisite and wonderful to behold. I pray that he will emerge from these trying years and rise up on wings like eagles’, soaring with full confidence in his God.

And I pray that at the end of this invisible, inner struggle, God will use my son to reach those who are bound by the painful and invisible cords of the social misfit, the outcast, the uncool. I pray that he will powerfully share the truth of acceptance into a Kingdom that is so much more glorious than any peer group on earth.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28