Imagine a beautifully-wrapped box in front of you. Here are some clues to this mysterious gift:
- your name is on the label;
- the giver of the gift (whose name is also on the label) is one who loves you deeply;
- the wrapping is so beautiful that you are certain that the actual gift must be even more spectacular.
Now, wait. Stop and consider the kind of anticipation this creates. Do you have a warm rush of delight, an awe of being the recipient of not only a gift but of the love which motivated it in the first place?
With all of that heart-warming delight and eager anticipation, imagine unwrapping the box and discovering what lies inside!
Now, while this image is fresh in your mind, picture each of your children. In ways beyond comprehension, each of them (and each of us) is like that mysterious, beautiful box with a uniquely precious gift inside. And, this priceless gift has been given by the One who is Love itself.
It's not enough to just look at our kids, though, is it? We want to know them, to understand them, to fathom what makes them "tick." We want to motivate them, teach them, help them flourish in life, right? But they don't actually come with a user's manual. And that's where some of us get stuck. We'd love to experience joyful parenting, but our kids drive us crazy!!
Elements of Their Design
Every gift has elements of design woven into its creation. And, so, it is with our children. These small vessels of humanity are filled to overflowing with creative giftings, unique talents, fascinating passions and, let's face it, just plain quirkiness. They have their own unique timetable of growth, their own blend of learning abilities, and their own part to play in the history of the world. (Now THAT'S a startling thought!!!)
So, where do we start? How do we even begin to "unpack" who they are? Who will these little ones become as adults?
It is not our job to "design" them, but to enjoy them as we nurture and parent. (Think gentle, not harsh. Consider joyful, instead of impatient. )
Consider a golden lab puppy. Have you ever seen one? As the puppy awkwardly stumbles and falls, trying to figure out how to use its paws for walking, we recognize that though the puppy's paws are currently way too big for its body, it will soon grow into them. And that is true of our children as well! The gifts that God has set inside of them need time and nurturing in order to grow into fully functional adult usage. The gifts of a world-changing adult are awkward in a little child.
For instance, the famous Russian ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, had the giftings and potential of a world class dancer as a little boy, but it was undoubtedly at an awkward, immature level. Can't you just imagine him fidgeting, bouncing, jumping around, slowly growing into his remarkable abilities—just like that golden lab puppy with its oversized paws? This is where stepping back to gain perspective is invaluable. Ask yourself what it would have been like to be his parents. If you are anything like I was, you would probably have been more apt to tell him to sit down and stop fidgeting than to enjoy and appreciate the awkward, immature stage of an extraordinary gift!
How to enjoy, appreciate and honor the talents of our children while, at the same time, carefully raising up these immature and awkward little people represents the extreme challenge and heady adventure of joyful parenting.
Different Approaches to Life and Learning
Not only are particular talents, like dancing or talking, awkward in childhood years, but so are the individual approaches to life and learning which seem to be "hard-wired" into us and our children. Why is it that some enjoy working with their hands—and they are quite good at a myriad of glorious artistic, mechanical, even surgical processes—while others thrive in the realm of philosophies, abstract concepts, and highly regimented schedules? Why do some come to life when they are surrounded by people, while others light up when creating an artistic mess? (A good place to start in sorting out these different traits and talents is to learn about the 8 Great Smarts by Dr. Kathy Koch. Plus, check out my 8 Kinds of Smart DVD!)
Have you noticed that we didn't place an order for these traits in our children? As I recall, no one handed me a menu from which I could select particular talents, styles and passions in my kids—and I can guess why! Since we don't enjoy being uncomfortable or stretched, many of us would have happily settled for familiar, normal, even mundane characteristics. In our ignorance, we would have thought this would make us happy, but, in truth, it would have left our lives and families colorless and insipid.
Our Creator God, the One whose imagination and creative power runs the gamut from platypus to meerkat to manatee, loves us far too much to let us settle for anything less than a life-changing adventure. He has joyful parenting in mind!
Joy Takes Time
One final thought: Joyful parenting requires enough time to listen to our children's excited ideas, to romp together in the leaves, to laugh generously at the dinner table, to pray enough that we can bring our concerns to the Lord and actually leave them there. And maybe slowing down/simplifying life is the one step you haven't tried.
If we are too hurried, we are probably too harried to enjoy our children. And if we can't enjoy our children, we won't experience joyful parenting!