Giving Our Children Everything
(Genesis 12 – 17:27)
26th October 2017 | 6 Cheshvan, 5778
Over and over again, God tests Abraham – ten tests in all. As the Rabbis tell us, ‘in order to show his great love for Abraham’. He must leave his society and travel to a strange land. He is caught up in a famine. His wife is kidnapped – twice! He is instructed to kill his own son…..
At first glance, if that’s love, I’d rather see if there are other alternatives!
But on deeper reflection, I do think I get it. Because I believe that the most effective parents ‘test’ and challenge their children constantly.
I was blessed to spend some time with my beautiful daughter, and her beautiful daughter the other day and I was thinking about it afterwards. Tevye-like, I thought to myself that I wish I were a wealthy man so that I could shower gifts on them throughout their lives and make them happy.
But then I considered further. If I had lots of money to spare, what would I buy for them that they do not already have? A car, perhaps? But surely, I thought, if their happiness is my goal, then working for themselves and buying their own car would bring them much more happiness than my buying them one? And that same logic applies to almost everything.
The pleasure of life is not in the receiving, it is in the earning. It is in the growing and the developing, the taking of responsibility and the accomplishment as a result.
No, I do not want to unreservedly give to my children. More so, I want to challenge them. For their own benefit.
So, I will send them kicking and screaming to their first days at school. And I will not buy them the ice cream before dinner, no matter how much they beg. I will play a ‘boring’ board game with them, instead of letting them play on their tablet all day. And I will drag my daughter, as I did this summer, to the top of the waterfall even though she hates me for doing so, certain that she will die from collapsed lungs before arriving.
It is the tests and challenges in life that make life worthwhile; that provide our very deepest pleasures. They may be distasteful in the moment. But once the pain is over, they make us who we are. Once my daughter stood at the top of the waterfall (with fully functioning lungs, I might add), she was deeply grateful to me for getting her there.
So yes, the most meaningful parenting is when we ‘test’ our children, when we challenge them. Giving into them and providing for their every need is so tempting. Because in our love for them we hate to see them lacking. But letting them stand on their own two feet and create their own lives is what parenting is about. Allowing them to struggle – in order that they can overcome. Letting them taste the bitterness of failure, so that they can understand and savour the sweetness of their own success.
On reflection, unlike Tevye, I do not wish I were a wealthy man. I am glad that I cannot buy my daughter a car. Because, by doing so, I would deny her the pleasure of buying her own.
And so too God, with Abraham, and indeed each and every one of us. In his love for us, he gives us the greatest gift that he has to offer us. The gift of making our own way in life; of facing challenge, overcoming it – and feeling that I am a very real person for doing so.