Every young couple starting on the journey of married life will set some very unattainable and unrealistic goals for themselves and their children. No one wants to burst their bubble, but we know it all works out in the end. Their parents and other wise adults can sympathize. They were there once themselves. Instead, they will just smile that goofy smile as if to say, “Come back in a year and tell us how it’s all working out.” But young couples and young parents desire and aim for the best, which is exactly as it should be. Young people should be optimistic and idealistic, filled with hope and promise, eager to test their resolve and aim high. It’s like a parachute you hope you don’t need, but which proves useful as soon as you jump out of the plane. And quoting from the film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” we are reminded, ‘if it hasn’t worked out, then it isn’t the end.”
In 1954, educator and mother, family counselor and writer, Dorothy Law Nolte wrote an inspirational poem that I remember seeing many times as a child in my grandparents’ home: “Children Learn What They Live.” The fact that I even remember the poem points to the truth that young people are very impressionable. We pick up family mannerisms and speech patterns without any trouble. We learn the essentials of a welcoming home, an acceptable working attitude, and an outfit that will pass parental scrutiny. Unfortunately, we also pick up other not so wonderful things, like prejudices, and religious or political narrow-mindedness, or both. Although we may be fuzzy on the details—like what all happened in 1776, or how to solve for the perimeter of a polygon, or under what conditions is it ever acceptable to escalate a conflict in St. Augustine’s theory of just war—we are taught many lessons in childhood that stay with us, and have potential to seriously alter the course of our life. You like to pick on people half your size? You must have gotten away with that a lot in childhood. You still don’t care that you miss deadlines, or are late for meetings? Maybe you were quite charming as a child that no one had the guts to call you on it. Why are you always so negative and critical? Who trampled your childhood dreams? So the work of parenting your own or other people’s children is a grave responsibility. And whether we know it or not, we are parenting someone or other, whether young or not-all-that-young. So, we might as well do a good job. Or did your parents said it was okay to hide in your room all day long?
It is at home that we learn consideration when dealing with others, where we learn respect for their feelings. We learn what they like, what they don’t like, what makes them smile, what makes them cringe. We learn to depend on other’s strengths, and make up for their failings. Parents set out to teach their children how to be good human beings first. So we consciously avoid the same mistakes, and follow their good example. If we thought they were too strict, we promise to be more lenient. If we thought they were too controlling, we promise to be more trusting. If we thought they were too pushy, we promise to be more flexible. We think we learned well, then we discover we weren’t paying close attention. So it helps to be reminded every so often.
We refer to the family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as holy, not perfect. Mary was an only child, the daughter of older parents. As a young woman, she was faithful, hard-working, and humble. We know nothing of Joseph’s family origins, but the gospels tell us he was a just man. And from the way Jesus turned out, we can be confident he learned well the important lessons of life in the home of Mary and Joseph.
The passages we read in scripture from Sirach and Paul’s letter to the Colossians may have elements that belong to another time and place. But they have some relevance even in our day. Sirach promises God’s rewards for honoring our parents—forgiveness for our sins, a listening ear when we pray, and long life. We should remember that honoring our parents is one of the ten commandments God gave Moses on Mt. Sinai, the only commandment that comes with a promise. “Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
The passage from Paul to the Colossians can be a perennial obstacle for some people. The first part, which we should probably pay more attention to, speaks of our need for “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another, forgiving one another … and over all these, put on love.” Now if that prelude guided our attitude, the second part wouldn’t trouble us. Be subordinate, love, avoid bitterness—is addressed not just to wives, but husbands as well. And as I always tell couples at weddings, if you’re keeping score, no one wins. In fact, you both lose. Children should obey. Parents shouldn’t provoke. If we were more attentive to our part, and less to everyone else’s, we can at least be assured that God sees our efforts. And pleasing God above all others should be a much higher priority.
The story of Jesus’ parents fulfilling their religious duty in the temple tells how they wanted a normal life for their child, much like every parent. Then taking the child, the old man Simeon blessed God, as his parents looked on amazed. But he also spoke troubling words of dark days ahead, images his mother would likely recall when they came to be fulfilled. And while parents make every effort to shield their children from danger, it helps more to give them the tools for when they have to face challenging times. We can only protect those we love so much. They grow up eventually. And if they are patient, forgiving, resilient, and determined, it should all work out in the end.
It is really the things we don’t see coming that will tell us of what we are made, things like terrorism and Ebola, earthquakes and tsunamis, religious intolerance, racial prejudice, and partisan politics. Our unwillingness to forgive, or to give others the benefit of doubt can cripple our faith in God. And our lack of faith in God can diminish our trust in the inherent goodness of people. What we learn at home in childhood about ourselves, about the world, and about God shapes the people we eventually become. And those lessons we will pass on to others. But we cannot teach well if we have not learned well. And if we possess the proper tools to handle those challenges we don’t see coming, we will be better off. The time for learning does not ever end. And the more relevant lessons are less historical facts, or mathematical formulas, or ethical principles, but rather that we are created in the image and likeness of God, that the values of the gospel surpass all other values, and that God desires we become more like him in all things.
It all works out in the end. And if it hasn’t worked out yet, it isn’t the end.
Rolo B Castillo © 2014