This past weekend, the community in which I live was jolted awake by the senseless murder of a high school student. Students and parents alike have been shocked, they have had their worlds upended at such an act of violence in a fairly quiet, suburban town. How could something like this happen? What caused it? How do we prevent it from happening again in the future?
The initial blow of something like this always causes fairly volatile and raw emotions to flow freely from those who have been most affected. Attempts to reconcile violence are rarely simple. We live in a fallen world, broken and twisted by sin, and the resulting aftermath of that is never easy or simple, nor is it ever comfortable to live with. Life can be difficult and sometimes causes us to wrestle with questions that have no simple or easy answers.
I grew up in a small, quiet, suburban town in Connecticut. There were a number of times throughout my childhood that our community was rocked by things that seemed so out of place. Just because a community comes across as a real-life Bedford Falls does not mean that there are not deeper secrets lurking beneath the surface. When those secrets come out, which they will inevitably do, they are met with resistance and disbelief, especially for those who don’t approach life with open eyes.
I work in a church. I am a pastor. My family is in church every Sunday that we are healthy. Our presence in church does not excuse us from the reality of life. We are not immune from bad things simply because we believe in God. I also realize that it is not the responsibility of my children’s Sunday school teachers or school teachers to teach them certain things in life. I am a parent, whether I like it or not, that comes with certain responsibilities. I did not have children so that someone else could raise my children. I did not have children to arrange like ornaments on a tree, they are not simply for show.
There are things in my life that I have done that no one would have expected from me. I was not proud of them, but I do not dwell on them. Through Christ, I am forgiven. In many ways, my parents were pretty oblivious to those things. I grew up with other kids who were involved in things that their parents could probably never have imagined. If the truth was discovered further down the road, it most likely came as a shock.
Although my children are very young, the relationships that I establish with them now will determine the relationships that I have with them in the future. If I am not involved with who they spend time with, what they look at, what they read, and what they listen to now, how much will I be involved with any of that stuff when it can have a dramatic influence on them?
I learned a long time ago that one of the worst phrases that I could ever utter is “I would never…” I have seen the repercussions of eating those words after they have exited my mouth. I have seen others do the same thing. I will not say that I will never be a parent who does or does not do something. I am a flawed and broken individual who is in need of grace, that’s what Christ is and does for me, brings me that grace.
I know that I want my children to feel comfortable being honest with me. I want them to know that there are consequences to certain actions, but I don’t want those consequences to prevent them from telling the truth. It has been my experience that the consequences of truthfulness are much less severe than the consequences of dishonesty, especially when that dishonesty is discovered. We can only hide from the truth for so long before it finally makes itself known.
I want to be a parent with open eyes. I want to see my children through the eyes of love that God has given me, but I do not want that love to blind me to the fact that they are as fallen and broken as me. They need a savior as much as I do. They are as capable of making mistakes and poor choices as I am. Grace is allowing them the freedom to let that happen and still loving them afterwards. It is also the realization that there are consequences to mistakes and choices, sometimes irreversible.
I hope and pray that lessons can be learned from the tragedy that my community has experienced. I pray that parents might look at their children with open eyes of love, seeing them as “perfect” and yet willingly admitting that they have their flaws. I have always joked that my wife and I did enough things when we were young to keep us pretty well-informed about the potential things our own children might get into in the future. Even with that to be considered, we still remain fallible. May God continue to form and shape us to be who we need to be in Him. May He give us the grace that we need and the wisdom and discernment to know how best to handle the situations that life will inevitably throw at us.