As I have four young daughters – each of whom I dread possibly dealing with the rebellion struggles Jack Miller did with his – I chose to read his book, Come Back, Barbara. The book is not particularly well-written, but in terms of new insight, Miller’s reflection on his relationship in Barbara’s youth sums it up for me:
“There was a particular serious flaw that I now see, though I did not see it when she was an adolescent. It was a sin of omission more than of commission. In brief, my friendship with Barbara was inadequately cultivated when she entered the junior-high years. I did not work to touch her inner life…and I was blind to my failure.” (14)
I don’t feel blind to my failure; I feel blinded by it. My focus with my girls too often revolves around training them by way of the negative than the positive, by making sure they know what’s wrong and what’s right rather than what’s good, beautiful, and true. Granted, there’s a place for such instruction, but it too often serves as my default mode, perhaps “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).
The question, then, becomes how to infuse power into my parenting pedagogy? Miller’s mental struggles with the matter mirror my own, especially in the area of prayer:
“What goes on in the minds of battered parents when it comes time to pray? Often a sense of defeat takes over the spirit, a cloud that can descend even when the parents have forgiven the young person and have real love in their hearts. The problem is that parents often have a fixed negative image of the child. He or she is seen as unchangeable, an image that may be powerfully reinforced by the recollection of the adolescent’s many failings: repeated acts of rebellion, words of rebellion, and looks of rebellion.” (96)
How do I keep from locking in a negative perspective of my girls that, between the accumulation of their sin along with mine in response to it, may possibly stand in the way of being able to pray so as to, by God’s grace, somehow change both of us and maintain hope? Miller’s answer to this question (and the application I take from his book) is this:
“Christ wants to reach the young person, to find that lost child, for he loves that wandering spirit. But the Spirit’s convicting work will be severely hindered by a parent’s unconscious rejection. The parent can have all sorts of bad memories festering in the mind and, as a result, close the eyes to the rebel’s need for love no matter what he or she is doing. Parents, therefore, must cultivate their relationships with their own heavenly Father, because only from him can parents learn to forgive, bless, and love.” (119)
The key to helping my daughters is to focus on my own life with God at least as much as on my girls’. It sounds both selfish and too simple to be right, but Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 (with one little adaptation) convince me otherwise: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother child’s eye.”