BOSTON — 'we need to know that temptation is not only a chance to do wrong but an opportunity to do right and so grow in character and grace.'
Those words come from the pen (and I mean pen, not computer) of an internationally respected writer and public speaker, one who happens to be an acquaintance of mine. We have both lived and worked on several continents and traveled extensively. From time to time, we've talked about the frustrations and anxieties associated with living thousands of miles away from one's children.
"How do I stop worrying whether they're coping with a world in spiritual confusion?" I would ask.
My friend would agree. "Yes, especially with the temptations that beset young adults when they get beyond easy guiding distance."
"And how do I keep supplying the unconditional love that is expected of us when they go off and do really dumb things?"
We didn't really answer those questions before we were separated by international assignments, family weddings, and a whirl of other inescapable busyness. I longed for a shared meal with her, and a long, talking walk. I guessed she was not an e-mail person.
One day at an evangelical conference, I picked up a copy of one of her books (Jill Briscoe, "It Had to Be a Monday"). I kicked myself for not having thought sooner of that route to her current thinking. There in those crisp, new pages was the line quoted above. It was actually a comment relating to the biblical character Job. But equally applicable, I felt, to parenting.
The remedy for parental anxiety is to do what we cannot do with the weather - change the forecast! Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, suggested that we should not take the "sweet freshness" out of young people's lives. "Predicting danger does not dignify life, whereas forecasting liberty and joy does; for these are strong promoters of health and happiness," she wrote in a collection of articles. "All education should contribute to moral and physical strength and freedom" ("Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 240).
That is where parents - and churches - have a very special role to play. Spiritual education, especially the kind coming through the Bible, is designed to nurture all of the qualities just mentioned - liberty, joy, health, happiness, moral strength, physical strength, freedom. It teaches that they flow from our inseverable link with God. This relationship to God was the basis of Christ Jesus' mighty works of healing and regeneration.
A helpful perspective comes from St. Paul. His spiritual education came through many adventures, as well as through God's direction. He showed he had learned some valuable facts about our true nature when he rejoiced, "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:16, 17).
It doesn't get better than that! Parents and children share in this together. We are all family. What's more, we are "joint-heirs with Christ." A parent's recognition of this truth is more than just his or her own inspiration. It is a powerful defense for a child, against destructive temptations or crass materialism. It is a full-fledged prayer. It carries the reassurance that because we inherit the nature of God, we do not include a single erroneous thought or inclination.
A mind filled with love and joy and goodness cannot accommodate evil of any kind; and this is the absolute truth for each one of us.
My friend and I have both found that other caring parents overseas (some of whom we have never even met) have embraced our children as their own. In turn, we have enjoyed making a home away from home for other people's children.
This cherishing of one another is an activity of Christ - an activity in which we can all participate. And in this prayerful support of our children, we can know that they will never stray from the loving arms of what my friend likes to call God's "forever family." Also, that through continuing spiritual education and God's direction, they will develop the wisdom to turn temptations of every sort into opportunities to do right, and so grow constantly "in character and grace."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society