Service to others ...

"Service to others will help you become deaf to a voice inside of you that does not believe in happiness."

(Hafiz - Persian mystic, 1320-1389)

Forgive ...

#1 on my Top 10 List for Parents of Adult Children is ...

Forgive.

If there is one thing that can save family relationships,

hold marriages together,

heal old wounds

and protect new wounds from festering

it is the simple, yet costly act of forgiveness.

I love how Jesus puts it when his followers ask him how to pray.

He tells them to pray:

"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors"

or

"Forgives us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Tricky, Jesus .... tricky.

Do you see how he connects these two actions into one unified request?

We ask for the forgiveness of the Divine, our Creator, for all the ways we fall short, mess up, fail, wound, hurt.

And then ...

We turn right around and forgive all of those who fall short, mess up, fail, wound or hurt us.

Does this mean we allow abusive parents to still abuse us? Nope.

Does this mean we give our drug-addicted children drug money? Nope.

Does this mean we gloss over pain and heartache and mean words and broken promises? Nope.

There will always be hard conversations to have, truth to share and boundaries to set.

Always.

But, at the same time, we can also always forgive.

Always.

And we can start with the smallest of things - a word said in anger, a miscommunication, a forgotten birthday.

If we practice forgiveness in the small, we will be experts at it when it comes to the big.

If there is one thing I would leave all of us with as I bid a fond farewell to this little run of posts about parents and adult kids, it would be this:

Forgive each other in the same manner in which you have been forgiven by your heavenly Parent ...

If we can do that we may just spare ourselves and those we love from an abundance of unnecessary pain.

There is freedom and joy in forgiveness.

It is a gift you can give at any time; the greatest gift you can ever give to another human being.

And in the paradoxical way of the Kingdom of Jesus you will find that it is simultaneously the greatest gift you can give yourself.

Amen.

The year mom swore a little ...

Ok, one last little bit of hard-earned wisdom about the power of laughter in the parent-adult child system, especially around the volatile holiday season.

One Christmas I ruined everything by trying too hard.

WAY too hard ...

My daughter was bringing home a new boyfriend.

My brother and his family were coming for Christmas Eve dinner.

I - in my own mind - was going to crush it.

I was going to do all the traditions, have a great tree, cook a superb meal, make everyone feel welcome, have a few little surprises for my nieces who are Jewish, get just the perfect gifts, blah, blah, blah ... you know the drill.

Whole dang thing went south on me because no one - especially my adult husband and my 3 adult kids - didn't cooperate with all my ridiculousness. How dare they?

So I spent the bulk of Christmas Eve in bed weeping, pretending I had the flu, while my entire family laughed and celebrated at my dining room table.

Sad.

The next year I came up with a new plan - This would be the year mom swore a little. (Or, a lot depending on the circumstances.)

This created all kinds of fun for everyone involved.

A well-placed, polite little swear-bomb can sure lighten the mood, people.

Especially when young adult kids push back on all our best-laid plans.

Happiest. Christmas. Ever.

Now, I know the Bible discourages coarse language. I get it.

But what do you think is worse?

A cry-baby mom in her bed thinking bad thoughts about her family on the eve of our Lord's birth ...

or a nicely placed little cuss word?

Laughter - it works every time.

Try it.

Set the whole thing trembling ...

I love me some Freddy Buechner ... a Presbyterian pastor with a knack for turning a phrase.

The smallest acts of kindness, even circumscribed within our own families, can, as Buechner says, "set the whole thing trembling ..."

Stay kind, my friends ... stay kind.

Kindness can change the world.

Listen to how Buechner puts it:

"Humanity is like an enormous spider web, so that if you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling…

As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble.

The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt.

Our lives are linked together.

No one is an island."

(Frederick Buechner, b. 1926)

Laughter and grace ...

Getting to the end of this little blog journey through my Top 10 List for Parents of Adult Children ...

Point #2 is Laugh.

Simple, right?

Not so simple from my experience ...

One of the very first things to go when parents and adult kids start to tangle is our sense of humor.

Rather than laughing at the ridiculousness of our arguments, we clamp down.

We get defensive.

We get hurt, so we get serious.

Unfortunately, this has a multiplying effect on our angst.

Try this next time you find yourself in a brawl of sorts with your adult children, or with your parents:

Laugh.

At yourself.

Make a self-deprecating joke to lighten the mood.

Shake your head and grin at your OWN ridiculousness.

Agree with your adult child about your behavior and giggle at it.

And when you do this, you may just find the momentum shifting ...

For, as the great German theologian Karl Barth said:

"Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God."

Amen, Karl Barth, amen.

The perfect storm ...

I have been thinking lately about why it is often so hard for adult kids and their parents to be kind to each other.

Of course if we have not practiced kindness during the early years of family life, it is hard to all of a sudden become kind. It can be done, of course, but is much more difficult than starting the whole deal off with kindness as a central focus.

But for families who generally lean toward kindness, we often find ourselves shocked at the newfound kindness deficit which appears as our kids grow up and move out.

I wonder if this lack of kindness has to do with the fact that middle-aged parents and young adult kids are going through intense life stages simultaneously.

In my own life, I am noticing this ...

My adult kids are all in their 20's. They are all either in, or about to be in, graduate school programs. They are figuring lots of important things out - what they want to do with their lives, who they want to spend their lives with, where they want to live, what they want their lives to look like, etc. This stuff is not easy. It is one of the most stressful stages of human development.

My husband and I are in a totally different stage of life. We are happy with each other, happy with our work, settled in where and how we live. However, we are walking alongside our own aging parents, while aging ourselves. This is causing both of us to consider our own mortality; face the fact that there are not lots and lots of decades left for us to pursue our dreams, chase our goals, rediscover ourselves. We are confronting the brevity of life. This ain't for sissies either.

And, we are caring for our parents who are all in various stages of healthy aging. No matter how "healthy" aging is, though, we all know where and how it ends, right?

These simultaneously occurring stressful stages of life often "pile on" in family life.

The various parties, using much of their energy to navigate their own season of life, often don't consider what the other parties are facing - what unique stressors they are confronting - and this can create a perfect storm of short fuses and an empathy drought.

Hard stuff. Easy to be unkind.

But, when I snap at my mom. Or my son snaps at my husband. Or I feel hurt when one of my kids isn't kind in the moment, it might help for each one of us to look the other in the eye, consider the stage of life they are in, the battle the other is fighting, drop the fists and reach out our arms for a hug.

This perfect storm of family developmental stages is intense. Don't forget you are all in this together. 

Be kind. Be kind. Be kind.

And in a harsh world ...

"I become more and more certain, as the years go by, that wherever friendship is destroyed, 

or homes are broken,

or precious ties are severed,

there is a failure of imagination.

Someone is too intent on justifying himself, or herself, never venturing out to imagine the way things seem to the other person.

Imagination is shut off and sympathy dies.

If we know what it is that makes other people speak or act as they do, 

if we knew it vividly by carefully imagining all that may lie behind it, we might not quarrel.

We might understand.

Often we could heal the wounds.

But even where that is not possible - even where fuller understanding only leaves us rather sad and helpless, it would still give us the power to be kind - to act yes, but still to be kind - to go on being kind.

And in a harsh world, God knows that even that is something - to go on being kind.

(A. Powell Davies, 1902 - 1957)

If you want to be holy ...

Back to the Top 10 List for Parents of Adult kids ...

#3 on my list was Be Kind.

There is so much that could be written about kindness.

And it is a mystery to me why it is often so hard to be kind to those who are closest to us.

Here is a little sentence I carry around in my head from Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian pastor who writes like a dream.

He wrote:

"If you want to be holy, be kind."

The end.

Live carefree ...

If I start to become a safe person for my young adult kids to talk to about faith ...

we may end up having some really great conversations, especially if I do more listening than talking.

Especially if I ask curious, friendly, open-ended questions and then shut my mouth and open my ears.

But what if they say things that frighten me? Make me angry? Make me worried for them?

Then what do I do with my anxiety?

Can't I just tell them they are wrong?

Can't I just threaten them with God's anger if they don't believe what I believe?

Can't I try to just manipulate them into going to church? Force them to attend with me on the holidays?

Well ... of course you can do those things.

But the question is why?

Will they be helpful? Will they be encouraging to your adult child's faith? Will these things create a safe place for further conversation? Will doing them make you feel better?

Nope. Nope. Nope. And Maybe ... but only for a bit.

Here's another radical idea about what you can do with your anxiety when it comes to your adult kids' faith:

You can pray.

You can take all that anxiety, worry, frustration, anger, fear ...

wrap it all up into a tangled little bundle of emotion

and you can,

with great confidence,

hand it all to God,

and you can leave it there.

God is not full of anxiety about your kids. He just isn't. So he is far better equipped to handle all your pent-up worry than you are.

Release the lives and faith of your adult kids into God's hands ... and then live a joyful, grace-filled, friendly life with them.

"Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you [and your kids]." (1 Peter 5:7 - The Message - with a little touch from Alice)

How to be safe ...

How can parents create a safe place for adult kids to talk about faith?

First of all, I have learned anything I think I know the hard way. :)

Second of all, we all need to relax!

God loves our children and understands that faith development is a journey often filled with winding roads, dangerous curves, cul de sacs and dead ends.

If our maturing kiddos decide to push back on the faith of their childhood, we should practice seeing this as a good thing rather than something to freak out about.

We too often have the idea that if any of us make one wrong move, God is ready and anxious to give us the ax; to cut us off, toss us out.

What a sad and wrong view of God the Good Shepherd.

When our kids start to question things, tell us they don't believe this or that, or profess interest in another religion, rather than panicking, getting mad, defensive or anxious, what if we remained curious, open and calm?

What if we asked questions rather than preaching?

What if we learned what they were learning rather than trying to shut their minds down?

What if we believed God is much, much, much bigger and smarter and wiser than we've ever imagined?

What if we practiced being safe, honest and kind no matter what?

What then?