This past week I lived out a breathtaking moment which I had envisioned as a teenager; it was a moving spiritual encounter which outdid anything I had imagined. I remember dreaming of being married with children, and living out the role of the potter: the clay of my children at my fingertips. Their physical and social experiences indeed, but central to my awe was that most divine, fragile and intimate treasure: their heart, mind and spiritual selves. That proposition, perhaps above any other, gave me such a zealous respect and passion for life and a desire to manifest an excellence as pure as my humanity allowed. I knew that one day I would hold in my charge the most precious entity on the planet, that is, a pristine soul, a sentient canvas: my own child. And I would also be the shaper of the social cocoon into which my child emerges and which immediately imprints itself onto this palpitating extension of myself. I knew that one day I would be guiding my child to understand who she (in the case of a girl) is, and initiating her into the power she possesses as a human being.
And so it was this week a particular conversation arose, quite spontaneously, and I explained to my daughter a concept which is summarised in a refrain which has echoed through our house all week. You can see Andjelia explain it in the linked 10-second video (here): “sometimes you choose, sometimes I choose.” She has been growing into a bold and clever little girl, and her emotions, desires, needs and wants have, in natural turn, collided with the sometimes-giving-but-mostly-unyielding world. That is – for the time being – mostly us, her parents, hehehe 😉 … who have the prerogative of setting boundaries to help her come to grips with the fact that there is never in fact only two options. So it was time for me to talk her through some parameters of negotiation when her and our wills collide: sometimes I will allow her to choose, but at other times she won’t have that luxury and I will expect her to comply… moreover with increasing amiability. (In truth, “sometimes you choose, sometimes I choose” is mostly helping me control her hopelessly fickle wardrobe flights of fancy, and the tantrums which ensue when all I’m flippin’ trying to do is get her dressed and get on with the day – aargh!)
In my mind, for her to understand the power of her choice is unquestionably one of the most significant gateways she will ever pass through. I want her to realise that this is what makes her human, and what allows her to give another human their dignity – to nurture humanity in the world around her. She is a real, infinitely unique, beautiful, powerful and influential entity in the universe, and her ability to believe that strikes at the very core of identity. Perhaps above all other features of identity is that she is a human being, and she can choose to believe that or not. But also this: she is made from the stuff of perfection, filled with the essence of beauty, directed by the power of resurrection, and surrounded by a never-ending love. And I’m only referring to her family – I haven’t even started to describe what she has the choice to believe about God. I want her to know that she can choose to move, or not move, to give or take, to build or break, to submit or lead, to fulfil the role of sister, or not. I want her to be happy, so I am teaching her that she can choose. Of course, this will allow her to choose and fail, choose to believe lies and choose to abdicate her will. But I sense that I am giving her her humanity – the dignity to choose.
There is another reason I came to have this discussion with Andjelia. It was result of the best single piece of parenting advice which I have been given (“best” in terms of manifested, effective results). Prior to having children, my wife and I stayed at Misty Mountain health retreat where we were cleansed and invigorated in body and soul. Our host and teacher was Barbara O’Neil, and within her health and wellbeing seminars she counselled from her wealth of experience in raising children. And this advice, along with her anecdotes, stuck with me: “always work with the will.” The idea is to steer the child by giving choices and consequences, thereby keeping them onside without squashing that essential human trait of personality, and nurturing the emergence of a liberated, empowered will. My wife and I have applied it to the best of our ability, and on any given day you might see us responding to an intemperate child with a pair of options to choose from: “Andjelia, I know you’re upset that Jet is taking your pens but we don’t shout and scream. Now, do you want to stay here and share with him, or go to your room and draw by yourself?” I can’t thank Barbara enough for the way she implanted that concept – together with a punishment and consequences rationale – because it has given our daughter and indeed us a way out of strife so many times! And I think it is building a habit of reaching deep into herself and her identity as an overcomer in life, a critical thinker, a foresighted problem solver and self-directing soul. It’s giving her the tools to navigate the tensions within herself and conflicts in the world that she will face.
There’s an inevitable struggle which I already know is part of a human’s lot which she is yet to perceive. It’s that journey of self-discovery, and finding peace in a crazy-beautiful world which sometimes seems to be born of darkness. For now, she needs to understand and accept that as a little girl under our care, “sometimes she chooses, sometimes we choose.” But that is just temporary until she takes her own path. I want her to know that in time, she is going to be faced with a government, an ideology, a religion, a peer group, an identity theory, a personal insecurity, a destructive primal instinct – some faux power which is trying coerce and crush her – and she is going to stare that bully* down and say, “I am a child of power. And for me, you NEVER choose. I choose.”
* “bully” is a term which doesn’t do justice to the anger that rages within me at times towards the powers that can push their self-interested, annihilationist evil upon individuals. In fact in the original draft of this blog I used a different word which you could discover by watching the movie Good Will Hunting, the “you don’t want to hear that” scene where Will (Matt Damon) offloads onto Skylar (Minnie Driver) about his true past, and uses that choice slur to describe the person who stabbed him. I ultimately believe that God controls all, and so I’ve chosen this euphemism to reflect my hope at the best of times, rather than my rage at the worst.