This post is the eighth installment of a series on children’s faith development called Vision from the Frontlines: Voices, Experiences & Practices of Faith Development. For more information about this series, click here. Phyllis and I met about fifteen years ago as I was embarking on a life-changing stint in youth ministry. Her children (who are now full-fledged, amazing adults!!!) provided countless memorable moments and Phyllis & her husband, Scott, became dear friends and mentors to Matt and I. Phyllis’ gift to me upon finishing work with the youth, provided the inspiration for this blog’s focus. She provides support and inspiration in my life—and I can’t wait for you to let her words and wisdom wash over you.
“… Side by side all that, we will witness transformation, people finding out who they were born to be before their parents ‘pretzelized’ them into high achievers and addicts and charming, wired robots.”
~Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott
When I think about ways I tried to nurture the spiritual lives of my now adult children, I have to go back to the hopes I held for them when they were but distant, pre-zygote longings in my heart. My husband, Scott, and I had numerous conversations about who we hoped our children would be. I especially wanted my future offspring to be strong, confident and able to express their thoughts and feelings. I now realize I wanted to not “pretzel-ize” them, in Anne Lamott’s deft turn of phrase. I wanted them to grow into who God created them to be and I prayed for the grace to love whoever showed up in my arms. I wanted my children to know they were loved for who they inherently were, not because they conformed to our expectations for them.
I was raised in a legalistic, authoritarian home. Negative emotions, especially anger, were actively discouraged as was questioning the Bible. Expression of thoughts and opinions different from my parents was not okay. “Sassiness” … Not Okay! We had an image to keep up, and I complied at the expense of really knowing myself, my thoughts and beliefs as my own. Once on my own, I developed a deep uncertainty as to who I was, what I really wanted and more importantly, who God was to me. I was also fearful of the emerging emotions that had been discouraged, and fell into recurring states of depression.
Fast-Forward — I met and married my husband, Scott, and joined a church in Berkeley where I heard refreshing words of Grace and found many opportunities to ask hard questions that refused the “easy” answers I had learned as a child. There I met a loving God who could tolerate not only the “hard questions” I had, but also my doubts and strong emotions. I encountered the embrace of a God who turned out to be much bigger than I had previously known. I came to know Grace instead of Guilt and Shame.
Eventually, Scott and I joined a small group in which the kids were invited for dinner and play while the grown-ups had our Bible Study. Those evenings were anticipated with squeals of “YES!! –fist pump– Bible Study!” They loved seeing their friends and we loved the love lavished on our kids by other adults. Scott and I had no family in the area, so these friends became our family. We grew our families together, encouraging and supporting each other. And these children are still friends, having become what we call, “surrogate cousins.”
As our children grew up in the church, they participated in choirs, plays and musicals led by other parents in the church. They eagerly anticipated being in productions reserved for Junior High and High School aged kids and when they finally reached those desired ages, they were loved and encouraged by “youth advisors” two of whom were this blog’s own, Christine and Matt Gough (before they were married), who made learning about a loving God not only life-giving and life-shaping, but also very fun. I am so grateful to the young adults (just a few years older than those they advised, but younger and definitely “cooler” than the parents!) who came alongside our kids and helped them discover who they are. Matt even introduced our son to a skill (video editing) that has become his passion and career.
We of course did other things Christian parents typically do; we prayed with them, celebrated the seasons of the church year and bribed them with Fenton’s ice cream after the Good Friday Tennebrae Service. But the faith of my children was also shaped by who they “hung out” with, and they mostly chose to hang with their church friends and spent time in their friends’ homes, being cared for in various ways by other loving adults. It “took a village” of people who loved our children and had conversations with them that perhaps they could not have had with us. I feel blessed to have had so many loving people participate in the lives of my children.
Now that my children are grown ups themselves, I love who they are and who they are becoming. I love that they can express their thoughts and feelings and I love that they are on their own faith journeys, still discovering who they are as God’s children, as I continue to pray for them, entrusting them into God’s plan and care. I especially love that they enjoy hanging with us now.
I learned along the way that part of being a “good-enough parent” is being able to tolerate my growing child’s strong emotions. Strong emotions were not acceptable in my family of origin, but, I discovered God can tolerate them, and in fact understands that becoming “whole people” involves experiencing the full range of our emotions. God asks us to come to Him as “little children” and as we all know, little children naturally have strong emotions. God is our perfect parent, while we, and our parents, are and were not. However, God’s love and forgiveness persistently teaches us to love and forgive each other as we each continue to grow into who God created us to be.
Phyllis Lorenz has been married to Scott for 38 years. They have two adult children. Phyllis recently retired from a 42 year career as a flight attendant for an international airline. She is also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who works for Family Paths in Oakland and Fremont, CA. and has a small private practice in Oakland. www.phyllislorenzmft.com