We’re living through times of intense debate on political, social, and economic issues that rock the foundations of our society. The questions of the age revolve around, “Who am I?” and “Who are we together?” Turning on the TV, browsing the internet, or talking around the family table, these issues permeate the environment as surely as the air we breathe.
I’m not one to shy away from debate. I think it’s good that we’re having out these issues. Wrongs long-buried are finally coming to light. Many of the things we presumed as solid are actually more cracked than we supposed. We need to be shaken out of our presumptions, the better to see each other and find good ways forward.
As I was pondering these things, I asked myself another question: Should any matters not be debated? Do we hold any things so foundational that without them, our existence has less—or even no—meaning?
When the pressure becomes too much, when the slabs beneath our feet crumble, what’s left?
I have two children, ages 9 and 12. They’re not yet to the teenage years, but they’re ahead of the curve. They’ve landed with both feet in an age of exploration, pushing the boundaries of what they once knew in a quest to find out what they’ll become. Part of that boundary-pushing is shrugging off once-instant obedience to parents in favor of arguing back or passive non-compliance. Anyone who wants to see a great example of civil disobedience should ask a 12-year-old to clean their room. I defy anybody to spend as much time in the general area of a problem, appearing to comply with authority without actually doing anything about it.
Naturally, this leads to some push-back from dad, who still lives in the world of, “If my voice says it, it’s automatically important.” When dad flares up and kids resist, there will be conflict.
At the end of the day, no matter what has happened—no matter how hard or easy the relationship has been—I always spend time with my children, giving them hugs, sitting and talking a bit, reassuring them. It’s not time for lessons or arguments. It’s time for us to affirm what’s really important.
During those times, I tend to repeat the same things: You are beautiful. You are loved. I am your dad. I will never stop being your dad. I think the world of you and I’ll be there for you. I am so glad we get to be together. Those words form our foundation…the “not debatable” part of our relationship.
I don’t think they’re that different than the words God says to all of us in this, and every, time. God doesn’t just say them when things go right. They’re not reserved for times we feel at peace and one with the universe. God doesn’t limit them to churchgoing folks with particular points of view in the most faith-populated sections of the United States either. God uttered those words to ancient nomads, itinerate shepherds, and Roman centurions. God has whispered them to plague-sufferers, abuse survivors, beggars and thieves, prisoners and slaves, women and men, young people and old people.
God does not let go. God never stops loving us. Should the world hate us, even when everything goes wrong, we are children of God: beloved, beautiful, and treasured. That is the core of our identity.
It’s sad when you look at all the systems and choices we’ve made that don’t reflect that identity well. Debates are important, disagreements valid. When our debates and disagreements lead us to answers that don’t convey that core message of love, nobody wins. It’s like basing a relationship on how clean a room is instead of how deeply you’re bonded to each other and care for each other.
At the end of the day, as a parent, I say, “Forget the room. Give me my children.” God says the same thing. Let’s think about that God-given gift, and the identity that comes from it, as we consider how to make decisions in our own lives and the world.