We are such ephemeral beings, physically speaking, at least. Part of the mystery about us is how we manage to avoid living like it! We live as if death will never come, as if we are invincible. A friend of mine told her young son, when he declared “I am invincible” that “No, you’re not, you are eternal” Big difference. Big, big, difference.
Don’t get me wrong, I do it too. All the time. It would be terrifying if our greatest reality was impending death. It is not – it is LIFE. And living with life at the centre is absolutely the better thing. (Suicide rates apparently go sky high in winter, in countries that are above the Arctic circle – living in constant darkness is not advisable, either physically or mentally!)
Here’s my question though. Is there a down side to this glorious lie? Something that, maybe, for all the necessity of it, we should be mindful of? I think there is. I am not a very passionate greenie, but there is one saying that I am thinking of right now:
“We did not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we have borrowed it from our children” (Moses Henry Cass)
My feeling is that we, ephemeral beings who live as invincible ones, have forgotten a critical reality – that we cannot own anything. At the very most, we are temporary custodians, guardians, and stewards. Not just of the earth, although that possibly is the most obvious example.
What about our children? The concept of “custodianship” is huge here. Do we create a world for our families that is an investment in their own future families, or do we just get by building our own little world that our families have to live in, with us? Full of coping mechanisms and unresolved issues?
Is it still our world, or by creating them have we moved beyond that to a place where it is actually their world? Should we not rather live humbly as a guest – a custodian – in their world? Have I lost you with this weird stuff?
For example. Do we raise our daughters always keeping in mind that that they will one day be partners, wives and mothers? Do we invest in them to build grace and wisdom for those roles, or do we make them victims or merely survivors of our own brokenness? If we are stewards, and custodians, we will deal with our issues so that they do NOT impact on the foundations of our daughters lives. Will their future husbands be grateful for our parenting? For the way we as parents resolved our conflicts and set an example for her? The way we modelled restraint, and grace?
Do we raise our sons to be husbands and fathers as well as (stereotypically) successful in business? What priorities do they learn from us? Is it more important to be rich, or have strong wholesome relationships? What have they learnt from our example about managing their own lives, or did they watch us tossed like a cork on the ocean? Eating healthily, being disciplined? Will their partners, wives and children be grateful for the example we set?
That’s just two examples and I am guessing there are certainly a multitude more. What about finances, possessions, materialism, conservation issues. Protecting the weak and fragile amongst us? Sowing instead of reaping? Being in business and being an employee – as business leaders, we steward processes, products, market relationships on behalf of others. On behalf of our colleagues, whose continued jobs depend on our excellence in sustaining the business? Or are we just building our own careers and climbing ladders for our own benefit?
The challenge for me, is to live as though every single thing we “own” is actually just held, like a fragile flower, on behalf of someone in the future. Plan, think, act, and love, with tomorrow, next week, next year, next decade in mind. It’s not hard. It’s just different. But it will make the difference between perpetuating cycles of brokenness and heartache, and breaking those same cycles. Setting people free, or constraining them by the same chains that bind us.
They say we will know how good we were as parents, not by our children, but by our grandchildren. If we have been great parents, we will not be focussed on creating great children, we will be focussed on creating great parents. The former is selfish – it makes our lives easier and gets us credit and approval from our friends. The latter is much, much harder, but so very generous. It may take huge effort, and deep digging to resolve our own issues, but it offers beauty and wholeness to a generation that have not even been born yet.
Let the brokenness of our parents’ generation die with us. Let’s not pass it on to our children.