I am learning and growing. I am conscious how the Holy Spirit really wants me to be like Jesus. He and I talk a lot together.
Reflecting on that premise, I realized I did something 43 years ago that I wouldn’t do now.
My wife and I both loved children. So we had five in six years. This was before any talk about overpopulation and family size. We thought we might go for ten or so. Our pre-marital discussion was, as with many other Christian couples at the time, whether or not to practice birth control. Guess what we chose.
The Facade and the Truth
The editor of our denominational weekly asked me to write a series of four articles on “Marriage and Family.” I accepted without hesitating. I was so comfortable within my dear family. The thoughts and examples streamed easily into my (at that time) typewriter (see dictionary for definition.) I wrote about pleasant times and silent-treatment times. I brushed on our sexual life. I mentioned various temptations. I described our interactions. And always referred the whole scene to Jesus, our Heavenly Father and Their Spirit. Marriage, my wife and kids, and I (!) ended up looking pretty good. The articles were received very favorably. I was basically unconscious of dysfunction.
But now I know too much. I sit here and I am aware of the gaps in my training to be a husband, a parent and pastor. My parents were deeply committed followers of Jesus. Our large local church, our Christian day school and our home was the boundary triangle that shaped me forever. I am still grateful for those lines. But my immigrant father had a temper that flashed in an instant, and my mother struggled with our poverty and her own dark memories. I can still clearly hear the shouting and the beatings and the frightening cursing. To survive, I learned to withdraw into a silent place. Slowly, the injustices developed into an unrecognized skin of anger covering my fears.
My Wife’s Love
That was the same person who entered marriage and who began parenting and pastoring. I am following Jesus and serving Him today because of my wife. She wasn’t the prettiest girl I ever dated, yet she was beautiful. And kind. And warm. And the type of follower Jesus loves: from her heart. She saw through the crust. She accepted. She forgave. Often. And only-occasionally offered comments about my behaviors. When I came home from Promise Keepers, I made a (long) list of ways I had been hard. She couldn’t remember most of them. She loved me. My lonely heart inhaled that air and responded.
My kids still bear emotional wounds. “Mom was safe,” they all say. They don’t include me in that. There are wounded parishioners as well. And patient friends. I don’t use words like “I learned” or “I grew.” No, I am learning, and I am growing. I make a distinction between guilt and regret. Where I have been guilty, I have asked for and received forgiveness—from God and people. I am forgiven. But daily I live with regret over memories of some of my actions and reactions.
Old Ren and New Ren
When I realize I am reverting to “the old Ren” in an encounter, “the new Ren” says—sometimes out loud—“I don’t live there anymore.”
Things are tense between me and some of my kids. My silences and my actions and “the look” have hurt each one. Some have forgiven. Some struggle.
I was visiting with one of my daughters. I said, “You know, if I didn’t know I had any feelings, how would I have known you had feelings?” As we talked I said, “I guess I did the best I could.” She tenderly laid her hand on my forearm and said, “No, Dad, you did the best you knew how.”
That was four years ago, and I still feel the freedom of the weight sliding off my shoulders. To this day, I have never “done the best I could.” That is why I am still learning and growing. In husbanding, in (grand)parenting, in pastoring, in friending, in evangelizing, in being, I am doing the best I know how. Can’t wait until tomorrow to see what I will be.
There is a promise for us in Luke 12:37 that always astounds me and brings me close to tears. Jesus said that if we keep on serving in our various roles as we wait for Him—always learning and growing—when He comes back, “He will dress Himself to serve, and He will wait on us.” Really? Jesus Himself will do that? Serve me, who had so much to learn and so far to grow? Yes. Jesus says it’s not the quality of our serving. Jesus says it’s not the quantity of our serving. It’s the faithfulness.
Jesus is coming! We might not be perfect. But we can learn and grow till then.