Over this Christmas break, I had a stark realization: parenting is hard.
This Christmas was unlike any other we have celebrated as a family. Our youngest, adopted from Ethiopia after over a year of abuse in a state-run orphanage, is currently living in a therapeutic foster home because of nearly four years of violence against the rest of our family. Our oldest, who had turned to self-medicating to try and cope with the chaos that has enveloped our home these past years, finally realized she needs to admit herself to rehab and get the help we've been desperately pleading for her to get. During break our middle two children had routine therapy visits to address their issues also stemming from loss, adoption, and its consequences.
None of these events or activities is new to our family, but the combined load of all of them really hit me like a ton of bricks in the past few days. As much as I deeply love my children, this isn't easy. As much as I want to provide them nothing but the best and see them lead happy, healthy lives, this takes its toll on all of us. As much as I recognize the hand of God at work in all of the chaos and messiness of life, this is emotionally and physically exhausting.
I'm not looking for sympathy or pity. I'm not writing to get kudos or encouragement. I'm writing because these circumstances crashed together in perfect timing (surprise, surprise) with a great quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I read this weekend:
People cannot make a new beginning at all; they can only pray for one. Where people are on their own and live by their own devices, there is only the old, the past. Only where God is can there be a new beginning. We cannot command God to grant it: we can only pray to God for it. And we can pray only when we realize that we cannot do anything, that we have reached our limit, that someone else must make that new beginning.
--Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I Want to Live These Days with You
That's where we are in our house. We realize that we cannot do anything to help our children apart from the grace of God. They cannot even do anything to successfully help themselves without God working in them. The intersection of helpless and powerless is a difficult place to find oneself. It goes against everything that being American allegedly stands for. It runs counter to my years of military training. It is antithetical to the ethos of contemporary Evangelicalism and meaningless to the vapid theology of Mainline churches.
But helpless is exactly what the Gospel is all about. Powerless precisely describes our reality in the face of sin and death. For it is into helplessness and powerlessness that Christ breathes eternal life, through his precious Word and the nourishment of the Sacraments. For it is only with empty hands, that we can receive the righteousness of Christ through faith.
We must remember that helpless and powerless do not equal hopeless. In fact, the truth quite the opposite. In Christ, helpless and powerless equal hope-filled.