Letting Their Life Speak

I am a parent … for almost three whole years now! The other day I heard myself in conversation with a friend saying the exact kind of thing I internally vowed as a younger person never to do when I had kids. I said something to the effect of: “I’m pretty sure Ella (my almost 3-year-old) will one day be a world-renowned translator for the president, or she’s at least going to be fluent in hundreds of languages.” And so it begins. I have already begun doing it! Within just the first three years, I am subconsciously imposing my unlived frustrations on my child’s future!

Seems harmless, the wishing-out-loud about the future capabilities of your children. We are just bragging about our kid in a roundabout way, right? And plus, who knows our kids better than we do? I mean, for me it just makes complete sense: I saw Ella come into this world with a head circumference well above the 100th percentile, which means much more room for extra brain matter. And, judging by how verbose she already has become at her age, what else could she possibly do besides easily learn several languages for her life’s vocation? I know … makes complete sense, right? There … I’ve already decided her life’s work for her. I’m sure she’ll thank me later.

Recently, I have run back across a couple of reflections that I thought might be relevant to both you and I as parents, even at different stages of the “game,” as we both deeply care about our children growing into their God-given vocations. The first was actually the inspiration for our chapel series at Fox this spring: “Let Your Life Speak.” In his book (of the same title), Parker Palmer cut me to the heart:

“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”

Parenting a child toward his or her vocation should be like a good farmer who, instead of assuming their new piece of land is able to grow bananas, sticks around and pays attention (or “listens”) to what wants to and will grow on that soil. We parents would also do quite well to pay attention and listen to the lives of our children, while helping them also to pay close attention to what wants desperately to grow out of them naturally (without forcing the kind of growth we really wish to see … especially from our unlived frustrations).

The second reflection I’d like to also offer to you and your child as a potential spiritual formation activity together. It comes from a book called The Path: Creating a Mission Statement for Work and Life by Laurie Beth Jones (particularly useful are pages 33-100). In it, she quotes Carl Jung as saying “Nothing affects the environment of a child so much as the unlived life of a parent.” Jones went on to remind me of the profound impact my life and words can have on the lives of my children, but also provided ample opportunity to take inventory and “listen” to my own life.

So, my formational activity suggestion is for you to check this book out (or some other like it) and spend some extra quality time both in solitude and on a “date” with your son/daughter, taking an inventory of your lives. Pull out the old pictures and tell them all the beautiful strengths you saw and heard coming from them, even before they knew what they liked and disliked. Remind them of the roots from which they’ve come, so that they might be able to better listen and continue to grow vocational “fruit.” Together, may you both go about searching to answer the questions we’re asking in chapel this spring:

“When you listen to your life, what is it saying to the world?”
“What is God wanting to say with your one, wild and precious life?”

Rusty St Cyr
Director of Spiritual Formation