Learning from our children – Christmas 1C

Luke 2:41-52 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.
Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

I have often been heard to say that being a parent for the past 25 years has taught me more about God’s relationship with humankind, than all the theology books I have read. So when I have the privilege of this Lukan window into the world of Mary and Joseph’s parenting of Jesus, I am delighted to see that they had to learn similar lessons to mine.

It was the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, in The Prophet, who first alerted me to the fact that, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They came through you but not from you and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Over the past twenty five years I have learnt the truth of this saying as I have not tried to be my sons’, controller, dictator, policeman, moralist, publicist nor garbage disposal unit.
In fact learning to be, not the perfect parent, just the Good Enough Parent, is what taught me so much about God’s parenting.

Mary and Joseph begin their school of Good Enough parenting, by learning the following lessons.

  • Children are never really lost.
  • Children find their true home despite us.

Children are never really lost, they are just on their own path.


There is a parable for me in the way that Mary and Joseph set off back home and travel a whole day with the assumption that Jesus is tagging along.

I feel their discovery of his absence viscerally, for as a parent I know how it is to wake up to the fact that my children are under no obligation to follow the path that I have chosen for myself. I remember the awakening to how I simply assumed that they, and every other rational being on the planet should emulate my path, my values and my way of looking at the world.
I also resonate with the shame, blame,game that Mary tries to lay on Jesus when he is found in the temple. Even down to the way she tries to triangulate Joseph onto her side of the power play!
Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.

Such a familiar scene. Or is my family the only one who played those games?
Remember the old relationship training adage, “Never assume. It only makes an ASS of U and ME!”

Please don’t hear me suggesting that parenting does not involve the formation of young lives. Of course it does! What I am suggesting from the lesson of Mary and Joseph, however, is that this formation must be done with deep respect and discernment for the destiny that our children’s Heavenly Parent has for them.

Chances are, that their destiny will be different from our own and may even be radically different from the plans that we may have made for our children.

I have had too many counselling conversations with distraught, damaged and depressed adults and adolescents who have been made to feel less than adequate for having “let their parents down“.

To any of us who may feel that way, let me remind us that in this passage Jesus also “let his parents down“, and not too gently either.

Can we begin to pray to be “let down” from our lofty delusions of how perfect and conforming our children should be?

They may not need to follow us back to Nazareth. It doesn’t mean they are lost. They are simply finding their own destined home, often closer to God’s heart than we are!

Which is really the core of the second lesson the Holy Family learnt.

Children find their true home despite us.

I have never been able to get my head around the notion of predestination. The idea that God has it all planned and determined from before our birth is offensive and mechanistic for me. Parenting has taught me the impossibility of predestination.

The amazing grace of a relationship with children who are not forced nor manipulated into loving one as the parent, and who do it nonetheless is one of the most profound human experiences. I hope I am never in a relationship where I feel I have to love someone simply because I was told, or required or determined to do so. Such a relationship would be an experience of deep oppression.

Yet, having said that I also know that despite the twists and vagaries of this precious human existence, there is a deep perfection at the heart of the created order. I know it sounds contradictory to human freedom and self determination. I also know that I cannot say it to another human being.

For example to say to my friend who is getting divorced as I write this, or to a congregation member who is grieving deeply years after their child was killed in an accident; “It’s all perfect”, would be scandalous and rude.
Yet somehow when I look at my own life, the past, the present, the pain the joy, the mistakes the success. In all of these I can say, in faith and with reference to my own life alone, “It’s all perfect”

It’s a faith response. It’s a chosen way of viewing my reality. It gives me deep peace.
Is it predestination?

Dear Lord, No!

It is integration.

Mary and Joseph, despite their mistaken assumptions, errors of judgement and anxiety, could also come away from the temple encounter with Jesus with a sense of deep peace, knowing that it was all perfect.
Parenting has taught me to trust the universal and unconditional providence of God, even when terrible and traumatic events tear at my sanity.

It’s all comes home to God.

Didn’t I know that we all need to be in our Father’s house?

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4 Comments on “Learning from our children – Christmas 1C”

  1. Don Scrooby says:

    Lovely insights, Peter. Funny how just the other day I was having one of those refelective moments, which seem to come around more often as you get older. I was thinking about our boys and their lives now and what kind of parents we were and are. There were things we got wrong, but also got right. The one thing I am greatful for is the freedom we gave them to become their own person and follow their own paths. This wasn’t easy, as you well know, living in a manse and a church community. The temptation to mold them according to all sorts of expections was ever present, something we continually fought against and at times gave in to. But looking at them now, on the whole I think we got something right. So thank you for this. It really came as a kind synchronicity.

  2. Iano says:

    Peter, thank you for your insight. How perfectly timed your message is for me, having recently stepped into the realm of fatherhood. There is so much wisdom in the Bible – if one only takes the time to look.

  3. Hilton says:

    Thanks for wise insights. I often catch myself wanting to live life through my children.

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