Not that anyone ever considered children nuisances, ever

(When we stop ourselves from complaining about someone:) “Now he can allow the brother to exist as a completely free person, as God made him to be. His view expands and, to his amazement, for the first time he sees, shining above his brethren, the richness of God’s creative glory. God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator. Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion for joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction.

God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather in his very freedom from me God made this person in His image.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together”

When I want to send myself down a deep, dark place, I only have to call to mind the sentiment of this long quote while my 2-, 4- or 6-year-old is being 2, 4 or 6 years old.

{This isn’t a moment of kid-shaming, from which I try to abstain: it’s just honest. Kids are kids, and I bet mine aren’t the only ones who squabble and complain.}

At the beginning of that skinny little book, I ignorantly hoped only that it would lead me to be a better person in community with other people — loftily: the world, that community. It did, sort of; but to a larger degree, it read, in my experience in 2014, like a book about just being a better follower of Christ. On Erin, that comes through as wife, mom, daughter and friend.

All through last winter’s quiet, lonely fury to last Friday’s midnight Bonhoeffer session, I’ve been hearing that family life is community; God’s put us together to pray for each other, take care of each other, love each other — and find Him in each other. But never have I actually stopped long enough, in midnight’s quiet, to consider that the things in my children (or myself) that rub me so painfully may just very well be the jagged edges of a divine personality trait that I have zero control over.

God didn’t make my kids as I would have — that I knew. But why? That I hadn’t asked before.

Seven years ago, I’d have dreamed for Alice to be a lot of airy, dreamy, cuddly adjectives: brave, confident, generous. Don’t we all want a child who would resolutely state, probably in a British accent, “Mummy, if it’s all right with you, I’d like to give all my birthday money to the animal shelter this year”?

Instead, though, I’ve given birth to humans — humans who look and act a lot like me (and their dad). We’re a messy sort who use our birthday money for bubble gum and a new book.

These humans also look a lot like God, though. So I hear.

I have to sit down when I think about the imprint of God on my kids. His fingerprints are all over them. Somehow, I have an easier time putting this concept to work in illustrations about caterpillars than I do my own children — hey, that caterpillar exists without my DNA, my love, my care.

I do see the God-good, disguised in what I’d call its raw, human form:

My 6-year-old’s got a heart for justice. “It’s not fair” — I hear that all day, until I’m exasperated and responding at 8 p.m. in my parched-throat retort, which begs to be taken rhetorically: “Tell me, again: WHAT’S NOT FAIR.” Of course, at 6, that sense of justice is an inwardly focused one. May God and I work to tune that to something bigger.

My 4-year-old’s sensitive, especially to the weak, be they animal, plant or person. “My heart is broken for that little buddy,” she said over a swallowtail missing part of its back wing. May I be brave enough not to shield her from bigger hurts, and let her respond to that heartache.

My 2-year-old never quits, til she humanly must. God never quits, and He’s not human. There’ll be a day I must simply move out of her way. God give me courage.

This isn’t about my kids, really, though. They’re humans, as am I. It’s also not even just about parenting or spouses or relationships with anyone. {Read Bonhoeffer. He’ll tell you.}

It’s about what God’s trying to teach us, if we’ll look beyond ourselves. Let me rewrite that for me: It’s about what God’s trying to teach me, if I’ll look beyond myself. Maybe the parts that drive me craziest about my kids … maybe all I have to do is pray and help shape the underlying trait for good.

… And I might spend years applying this Bonhoeffer thought to other people, if I’m brave enough to. Lord, make me brave enough.


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