Both Jacob and I mourned deeply and for a long time when they moved away from Chicago. It is so rare to find another couple that has chit-chat chemistry, parallel boundaries of propriety and deeply shared values.
Actually, we are not on the same spot of the values spectrum and that makes things interesting. As Jake once said: "If we're here [holding his hand at his waist], then you guys are here [holding his hand at his chest] and they are way up here [holding his hand as high above his head as it could get]." Their location at the more extreme end of simple living and self-sacrifice serving others has been such a good demonstration of the values that Jacob and I value and helps us determine where we can make similar choices.
And where we can't.
The beauty of friendship, of truly loving someone and feeling truly loved, is that you don't need to feel insecure about making a different choice than they make.
This has been interesting to observe as we have ventured into parenting at the same time. Their oldest child is almost exactly 10 months older than Esther and their younger child will be similarly spaced with our little-one-to-be-born. I would say that as I have watched us all, their parenting style is complementary to but distinctively different than Jacob's and mine. We're in the same color palette but different hues, if you will.
I was challenged this weekend by hearing my friend encourage her 2.5 year old daughter that "What is ours is ours to . . ." and to hear her daughter finish, "share." She also told me that after reports of a Sunday in the nursery with some fights over toys, they have been having conversations about finding another toy to play with if another child wants the toy she has or has a toy she wants. She had funny stories about when this lesson has not yet sunk in but my dear friend is nothing if not persistent. I have no doubt that her little Tomato will be hearing the mantra when thinking about possessions for the rest of her life.
And the mantra, "What's ours is our to share," is 100% faithful to the theology that I believe. I believe that everything I own (including intangible things like privilege) belongs to God and that until shalom has been restored to this world, I have an obligation to redistribute them to folks who didn't get as lucky as I did. I fail most of the time, even though I keep trying. My feelings about this haven't changed much since I wrote this essay and this other one 6 years ago. I don't beat myself up for it but I am constantly trying to do better because I believe I will be happier for it. Like Abraham was told by God, we are blessed with the intent that we will be a blessing to others.
So, like so many things that Jake and Jess do, it should be a no-brainer to start on teaching this mantra to sweet Esther. I mean, seriously, wouldn't it be awesome if she didn't have to unlearn a sense of entitlement, like I struggle to do all the time? Wouldn't it be a huge gift to start her off understanding her reliance upon God so that she defaults to assuming that the good things in life are gifts to be savored rather than the first in a string of accomplishments to be achieved?
And yet, I find myself pushing back internally. I keep thinking that if I use this technique, I'll squash her little spirit. If I teach her to be meek, won't I lose the fiesty little spark who makes me smile more over the course of the day than I have since I was her age? I love watching her discover her power, whether it is over her own body as she jumps from the deep windowsill onto the bed a foot below or whether it is over language as she delights in being able to communicate more clearly every day. If I teach her to always turn the other cheek, will she ever fully develop the vibrancy of personality that I see the seed of in her now?
If she rolls over for bullies in the nursery, will she be forever bullied? Or worse, will she ever be able to defend or advocate for people who weren't born with the resources she was lucky enough to be born having access to?
I am awake past midnight writing this post because the verdict in the Steubenville rape case came down today. This story has been haunting me for months because two young men carried an nearly unconscious young woman around to multiple parties and raped her for the entertainment of those present, who then gleefully posted about her pain on social media. I am grateful that the men were found guilty but so sick at heart for them because they were raised to believe this was an OK thing to do to another human being and now that they have chosen to act out that belief, it will be even harder for them to accept that God loves them exactly like they are and loves them too much to let them stay that way. My stomach also drops when I think about the other kids at the party. They all have to figure out how to live with not having intervened or even actively encouraged the violation of this young woman's humanity.
If Esther had been at one of those parties, I would want her to risk her own safety or social reputation to stop those boys from hurting that girl - and themselves.
Without developing a sense of her own strength, how would she know she could do that? What if little David had been taught non-violence from the moment he could first pick up a sling? How would he have built the skills to defeat Goliath?
Yes, this is probably a false dichotomy that I'm setting up. There is probably a middle path that I am not seeing. There is probably a way of teaching spiritual power that has nothing to do with that favorite toddler word, "mine." If I truly believe that everything that belongs to Esther is a gift from God to be shared, I should also trust that teaching her this from an early age won't hurt her. Parenting is a crap-shoot. Like my dad says, "We used to hope you kids wouldn't need a therapist; now we just pray that you find a good one." Why should I overthink this one?
But I can't even imagine how I would do this. Gah! This is where being a follower of Jesus is hard for me. Jesus said nothing about what type of parent I should be. I just have to extrapolate based on what type of human he said I should be and how I have seen God reflected in other people's parenting. But I don't have another option than to overthink this or to go with my gut. When I stopped believing that Christianity was a list of do's and don'ts, I gave up the security of those same rules. When I continued to self-identify as Christian, I gave up the security of getting to follow the rules of society at large. But right now, my two sources of wisdom -gut and head- are in conflict.
I so often see God reflected in Jake and Jess's parenting. In fact, I see God so clearly in this scenario. I want to be able to trust their example. I just fear that taken out of context and transplanted into the different environment of how Jacob and I parent, I will screw everything up for this amazing creature with whom I have been entrusted. But what has all my angst been for if not to do better for my daughter than was done for me, like each generation hopes to do?
The only answer to that question that I can come up with is the cautionary tale of Daja Wangchuk Meston Greenberg, whose American mother placed his in a Tibetan monastery at age 6, explaining later, "'I know I haven't been a normal mother, providing you with a normal family life. But I wanted to give you the dharma, which I honestly thought was the best thing I could possibly do for you.' Dharma is the path to happiness and freedom from all suffering, she says." I remember that quote periodically after reading it once 8 years ago. But that same article from the Wall Street Journal reports that although he learned gentleness and compassion like his mother wanted him to, Daja was deeply unhappy: "But meals of thin soup left him hungry, he says. Tired from long days of study, he hid inside empty kerosene drums to nap, so as not to be caught by his teachers and punished. Other monks teased him because he was white, telling him he should coat himself in charcoal." In 2010, he killed himself, leaving behind an infant daughter and wife. This anecdote is terrifying when I consider overriding my gut instinct, which is to let my child discover herself with some guidance from me with my rational attraction to a good idea, which is to shape her more firmly in a way that seems to reflect my understanding of what God wants for her children, possible because it bucks what the rest of American society allows their children to learn.
If I believe that I am broken and that's OK, then I should hold my beliefs loosely because they are actually the product of a collection of learned coping mechanisms that I call my personality with only hints of truth known; then I should not fall in love with my own blocking, as an old speech coach once taught me; then molding my child in such a counter-cultural way from such a young age is dangerous lightning rod. For who am I to know for certain that this interpretation of Christ's teaching is the right one? What if in my earnest attempt to give her the dharma, I deny her something more important?
Like everything I have experienced with parenting so far, I will come up with something. Hopefully, the effort of thinking it through and talking about it with other people will help me find a technique for teaching my child to value people more than possessions that is better than it would have been if I hadn't felt challenged by my good friends' technique. But I could get it wrong. What else can I do, though?