I believe a key requirement of the spiritual journey is to go out, to leave home, to “fall” or even “fail”. Yet, It seems to me as a parent I have done everything I can to keep my children at “home” or “safe”. I have looked at the Story of the Prodigal all wrong. For many years, the message always came from the perspective of the Eldest son, who did the “right thing” and stayed home. That has certainly been my own personal journey. Yet, his loyalty in doing the “right” thing, his own entitlement, his quest to be obedient is what kept him from the very “celebration” that the father prepared, even begged him to come to. It seems that in Western society in particular, we do all we can as parents and even in the Church and/or Christian Schools to keep our children IN the fold. We have created “eldest sons” and “Pharisees” with merit stickers, who can recite the books of the bible and can quickly judge those outside the church as “sinners” who need help. We forget that the "sinners" are the people Jesus spent most of his time with. Jesus never seemed upset with “sinners”. He had more to say to those who did not think they were sinners.
For each of us and our children, the journey and challenges will be different. Whether it is issues of sexuality, career options, belief systems, self-perception, narcissism or something else, there will certainly be times in our lives when we move from “one passage to another” and if not done well, it can stunt our growth in one of these areas.
“Western people are ritually starved people, and in this are different than most of human history” (R. Rohr, pg 44)
As I ponder on my teenage years and moving into marriage and moving out to create my own home, I feel that there were “rites of passage” that I missed, that stunted my ability to move to the next season of my life. The conversations that “good” Christians DON’T have about sex and relationships, rules that must be honoured. I was so busy trying to keep the rules, that once it was time to move into the next “passage”, I didn’t know how to enter the next phase well.
Richard Rohr describes this necessary process as “discharging your loyal soldier”.
“Paradoxically, your loyal soldier gives you so much security and validation that you may confuse his voice with the very voice of God. If this inner and critical voice has kept you safe for many years as your inner voice of authority, you may end up not being able to hear the real voice of God” (R. Rohr, pg 46)
Nowadays we seemed to have thrown the “baby out with the bath water” and now there are no rules. The “rites of passage” become inconsequential because there is nothing sacred to move into, as it has already been experimented with at an early age. Nothing is sacred or special these days. This is just as sad and negative as living strictly by the rules.
So, am I saying that the rules are there to be broken, that the safe house/environment is to be created only to be left and abandoned? In some ways I am...which is very hard for me to say for an “eldest son” who has stayed in God’s house all her life, although I would like to think that I have fought the system from within. It is hard for me to say as a parent with an 18 year old son who is about to leave all that we have tried to create for him for the past 18 years, to go into the world where he must journey to find who he is for himself. It is hard for me to say as a teacher/speaker who longs to see safe environments across the ages, growing and learning together and parents fully engaged with their kids on this journey.
The legalist in me honours the guidelines God sets, fully knowing that it is often when they are broken that we come to understand more fully His love and grace. I am thankful for that in my own personal faith walk. For me it means the intentional “rites of passage” and the “safe places” we create are even more important. They are important because when one “fails or falls” or doubts and questions or even walks away for whatever reason, there is always potential for growth, even total transformation, because there is a safe place to process. This is a better option than hiding, growing bitter, escaping, blaming or settling and living as a victim all your life. There is way too much of that happening in families, in the church and in the world today.
But there is a fine balance we walk, between teaching and living in a way that honours God and acknowledging that when we “fall” (and we all will) that He is a safe place to process this through. One of the “fallings” of the church /faith community I see is that we try to keep our “failings” secret. I have found as a Pastor that people don’t like me talking about my “fallings”... we must keep it all upbeat and positive. Pastors are supposed to have it all together. When we keep our spiritual walk private, we don’t have accountably. Conflict resolution, painful relationships and differences of opinions have not been handled very well in many of the church communities I have been a part of throughout my life. It is sad that we are not able to be an example to the world in the way that we live and love each other. That is a direct command from God for the community of faith that He is very clear about. The journey is meant to be done together, in true community, which sometimes means seeing “the good, the bad and the ugly,” instead of simply aiming to show our “best face” on a Sunday morning.
Some of our “fallings” as parents come when we do the same; we feel we need to present as if we have it all together, to our children and to each other. Some of the most significant times as a parent with our kids are times when we have shown them that we have messed up, made a mistake, needed to say “sorry”. I worry about parents who aren’t able to be vulnerable with their kids at times, homes that are always happy and where there are no arguments or tears. How can they ever live in a way that helps their children understand how to process difficult times? As parents in community together, I have found the hardest people to walk with are protective parents; either protecting their own kids, or protecting their reputation. This makes change and growth very difficult. When we are spending all our energy “saving face” and not letting our kids “fall” or venture out for fear of falling, we can very rarely get to the actual issues. When we shut down, over-protect, emotionally react, close ranks, we stunt everyone’s growth.
“Sin happens when we refuse to keep growing.” St Gregory of Nyssa
When it comes to “rites of passage”, how can this help the process? I don’t know about your experience, but I am surprised by just how many opportunities and changes happen within a child’s life from the age of 0-18, let alone what happens in adulthood. There are so many opportunities we miss as we move from “passage to passage,” opportunities to put “words” and “anchor points” in massive changes and growth. Almost every year in a person’s life in the early years has potential to create moments. From learning to talk to God and others, to pre-school, to friends, to social interaction, learning responsibility, puberty, decisions for Christ, significant others who speak into their life, driving, intellectual achievements, spiritual disciplines, relating to the opposite sex at all different ages, independence, gift development, conflict resolution, playing a part in the family and then in society, becoming other centred. There is something always changing.
As a family we have found being strategic and intentional each year with key focuses have helped us navigate life together and as a result we have created our own little “rites of passages” along the way. I believe these have helped form our kids to where they are today. And, in many ways it has been about putting up boundaries and them breaking them, resetting the boundaries and re-checking our own responses over and over again, while always applying grace, love and forgiveness.
I do believe a key requirement of the spiritual journey is to go out, to leave home, to “fall” or even “fail”. The questions I must then ponder as a parent and a person who is a part of a faith community are;
Do I encourage our young ones to “go”, or am I pressuring them to “stay”?
When one “falls”, do they feel safe enough to share the load or do they feel they have to hide it?
Have the “passages” been celebrated and communicated well enough that our young people are prepared to move through them in a healthy way?
What can I do to be a part of creating a HOME and FAITH COMMUNITY which lives in such a way that the world will know we are His children living under grace and love and forgiveness?
We are called to leave home.....it's a "necessary" rite of passage.
By Tammy Tolman