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Volume 16, Issue 4: Childer

Releasing and Receiving

Douglas Wilson

Parents who give in the demeanor of faith are teaching their children to give in just the same way. Parents who demand to be given to are teaching children to do the same, which unfortunately means the traffic flows the opposite way. This is just one more way of saying that grace liberates and guilt debilitates. Those who give, receive, and those who take, lose.

There is something in our nature that recoils from emotional demands. I am not saying that it is right to recoil in this way, only that we have a tendency to do so. This means that parents who demand and manipulate are actually trying to provoke their children into an emotional rebellion. This does not justify such rebellion—God tells children to honor their parents even when the parents are being difficult—but at the same time, it is easy to see how God (in His decretive will) works this kind of thing out.
Parents who truly give bring up children who truly give. But what is meant by truly giving? Extending Paul's statement that love keeps no record of wrongs (meaning the wrongs of others), we should also realize that love keeps no record of rights (that is, those things we have done for others, those things we have done right). When Jesus commends the righteous at the end of history for visiting him in prison and so on, they are baffled by this. "Lord, when did we ever do that?" They have kept no record of "rights."
In the very nature of the case, parents give a great deal to their children. It is almost as though God wanted to give us a head start on what we need to do to genuinely teach our children. But unfortunately, many parents manage to turn even this golden opportunity into guilt for the children, and resentment for the parents when that guilt finally rebels.
The gifts are to be gifts, open-handed in every respect. The lesson for the children is this: just as the parents have given in this free, open-handed way, so they also are to learn how to do the same. But there is a way of "giving" which does not have this result at all. Usually the trouble begins in the parental heart, and all the things that are done for the kids are entered into an emotional ledger. "I did this for them. I did this for them. And then that."
When conflict arises about something or other (and it always does), the books are opened, and accounts are gone through. "How can you say that? You won't pick your aunt up at the airport? After all the times I picked you up at the airport?"
Now the point is not whether or not this bookkeeping is right or wrong. It may be either one. The point is that it is bookkeeping, not giving. It is a matter of debt, not gift.
This leads to another issue. It is extremely important to realize that grace creates obligations just as justice does. A family tied together by grace is tightly-bound. But everyone wants to be there. Paul says that we are to owe no one anything, except the debt of love. But this is really another way of saying that we are to owe everyone everything. Love obligates, but the yoke is easy and the burden is light. The obligation is far stronger than anything created by demands of justice and what seems to the aggrieved party as what is "only fair."
This mentality puts everyone in a negotiating frame of mind, and, just as when you are selfishly haggling over the price of something at market, each side wants to minimize their own costs, and maximize those of the other. When this occurs in families, as it often does, it creates a significant disturbance. The point being made here is that over the long haul, such a frame of mind is almost always counterproductive. Those who grab really do want what they are grabbing for, but they lose it. Those who surrender what is difficult to surrender find with joy that what they have given up is given back to them, thirty, sixty, and a hundred fold.
This is how many parents create significant problems for themselves when it comes to their grown children. If "the kids" don't make it home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, enough emotional distress is created in the family to ensure that the kids really don't want to make it next time either, or, if they do, it ensures that everyone has an unpleasant holiday. "Why don't you ever want to spend time here?" is a difficult question to answer, because the honest answer is, "Because of the steady stream of questions just like that one." The answer is clear enough, but still hard to say. And because it is hard to say, families just drift apart, rather than dealing with it.
Those who are open-handed are not just making the giving possible. They are making it easy for others to see to it that they receive. And those who are tight-fisted with those things they believe to be theirs "by right" are making it hard for others to put anything into their hands.

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