There is probably nothing more terrifying to me as a parent, particularly as a parent of faith, than the fact that my children's spiritual journeys are pretty much entirely out of my hands. Yes, it's weighty and scary to know that I am responsible for a huge portion of their spiritual education, but in the end? It's their journeys. They alone can walk them. I'm really just there as a guide. Someone to lean on--if they want to lean on me, and even that is no guarantee.
I grew up in a spiritual culture rich with promises of legacy. Train your children well, it said, and they will not depart from it. They will be blessings to you, believing in the things you believe, their spiritual journeys easy because you paved the way. I was a teenager when I began watching those promises fall apart. My friends and acquaintances and church peers did not grow up into the people their parents had made them to be. They struggled and fell. Some left God altogether. Others--all of us, really--had battles to fight, lies to weed out, grief and pain to carry. I long for nothing more than that my children will grow up strong in mind and body and spirit, rich in faith and hope and love. I yearn for it with all my being. I want it until it hurts. But I am under no illusions that I can guarantee it. And that breaks my heart.
Our pastor spoke last Sunday on the incredible risk God took in making people who were able to reject him, to choose their own way. The risk of love, he called it, and God didn't stop with creation. He died for us--for all of humanity--knowing full well than any number of the people for whom he died would spit in his face, and laugh, and say he was just a good teacher or a revolutionary or whatever other labels we demean God with. And yet, he did it anyway.
People don't come with guarantees. Ever. Despite every parenting philosophy out there promising it--plug in x and out comes y--it never works quite like it should. Because people aren't predictable. They have hearts and souls and free will. We will always make mistakes with our children, because no two are alike. No matter how hard we try, no matter how dearly we love them, no matter how honest our intentions, their souls are their own.
Andrew and I had both our children baptized as infants--a hugely controversial thing to do, depending on which circles you frequent. There's a whole blog post in there that I'll write someday, but for now, I'll just say this: when I stood in front of my beloved church community, hand on a freshly-wet baby head, praying with all my heart and soul for the spiritual life of a tiny little creation of God, I felt the weight of my powerlessness, and I stepped into that powerlessness with every ounce of my being. I felt how light my grasp on my children really is, and how nonexistent my grasp on their souls. I can't even say I consented to it, because it wasn't mine to consent to. My permission had nothing to do with it, it was just an acknowledgment of fact. My children belong to God. They always have, and they always will.
And now, Peregrine asks questions. He prays, he wrestles, he argues, he talks. He is terrified of death. He doesn't understand it, and above all, my logical son wants to understand. I want, so badly, to give him answers, to fix his problems, to be the solution like I always am. But for this, I am not the solution.
His soul is the most precious thing I have the keeping of. I imagine it as some sort of jewel, only living and beating and glowing. Every time he starts up on a conversation about God, and I speak to him, I see myself holding that jewel in the palm of my hand. I want, so terribly badly, to guarantee its safety, to keep it innocent and strong. And I can't.
I have no promises of legacy. For all my talking and praying and singing, for all my son's strong faith and questioning-but-believing hope, he may turn away from God. He may wrestle and argue in ways that are far beyond me. He may--he will--go to other sources of information about God, and some of those sources may--will--be false. But I do have a promise, and that promise I cling to.
I am not prone to visions or intuitions. I'm a Myers-Briggs S, my feet are planted pretty firmly on the ground. I don't really trust what I feel, if only because it's usually rooted in someone else's feelings, or my worries or fears. But sometimes, God speaks to me, and when he does, I know it, for no other reason that it is true. When Andrew and I named the kids, their middle names particularly, there was something there for each of them. I can't even call it something as strong as a sense or intuition. It was more of an anchor, something to ground them in, something deep and strong and true to start their lives upon.
For Sylvia Gabrielle, it was simply this: that she would be strong, and that she must know her strength is of God. I did not know what her strength would be, only that it was there.
For Peregrine, our pilgrim and wanderer, we both knew that his middle name had to be something to soften the harshness, the loneliness, the difficulty, implied by his first name. We thought of naming him Peregrine Andrew. But Andrew means brave, manly, strong; and Andrew said there would be no grace in that. Somehow, we couldn't stand to have him just pilgriming along, alone in his manliness. I know, I know, it's just a name, but it mattered, somehow. And so we gave him the middle name Emmanuel, and that is his anchor, God's promise to me and to him: God will be with him on his journeys.
That tortures me sometimes. Journeys are rough and hard and dangerous, and yes, often lonely. Peregrine's spirituality, like his personality, will, I'm sure, be full of questions and arguments and testing the limits. I don't want that for him. I want his life easy, I want him happy. Sometimes I say his name, and it speaks only of hardship and misery, and I wondered why we named him that and not something simpler, less fraught with peril. But then I remember, and I know: it is a promise of grace and love. I need not fear his questions, his worries, because God is with him. Like he always has been and always will be.
And so, when he starts talking about death or heaven, whether Monkey will be there, or whether he'll die before me, or why can't God give us new bodies now, or why was the whole earth cursed when Adam and Eve sinned, I need not be afraid for the life of the jewel I hold. All I need to know is that God holds it around me, and always will, and will give me the strength, and the words, to guide it on its journey, while I have the privilege of doing so. But no matter where I am, and no matter where he is, Peregrine Emmanuel will always be in the keeping of God.