Monday, September 01, 2008
When God Fills In the Blanks
After more than twenty years as a clergyperson I have to admit that there are times I am prone to cynicism. I have prayed too many times with people whose lives have been shortened by the ravages of cancer. I have listened to the pain of too many people who have lost a loved one in an unfortunate or unexpected or unexplainable (in existential terms) circumstances. I have seen so many moments of mystery in my vocational journey that there are times when I become distant from God. This is not a distance that would be characterized by faithlessness or deep unresolved doubts, for I believe there is a purpose to the universe and I find that purpose centered in the life and work of Jesus Christ. But all the same, there are times when I wonder what God is really doing.
Over the past two weeks a new sense of God's life has been born in me. I use the word "born" intentionally, because I feel as though I have been in the past two weeks groaning with the pains of late pregnancy. As a male I have never and will never know what that means. As an adoptive father with no children by birth I will never experience pregnancy vicariously while accompanying my wife on that journey. But I have come through a difficult and painful spiritual pregnancy that has reawakened my sense that the mysteries of God sometimes break through with surprising clarity.
If you have followed this blog (or Claudia's) you know that in May we celebrated our oldest son's graduation from college. It was a delightful moment in time, to see the fruition of years of hard work on our part and his. I kept thinking to myself, "If only his social worker from twelve years ago could see him now!" He was diagnosed with conduct disorder when he entered our family nearly twelve years ago, and I think most who knew him at that time felt he was destined for detention as a juvenile and prison as an adult. He was just that angry and just that troubled.
But God allowed us to parent him, and God allowed me to father him. And he and I have maintained a fairly close relationship over the years. I was remarking to him just last night, "You know, it's funny, Kyle, how we share so few interests in common, yet we have been so close over the years." I am not a sports fan, I am not athletic, I do not enjoy competitive games or video interactions ... the kinds of things he enjoys, but for whatever reasons God has allowed us to create and maintain a bond over the years.
So, anyway, as summer has relentlessly slipped away Kyle has worked as a window washer, having had a couple of interviews with schools that resulted in no teaching position. As June turned to July and July to August Kyle was beginning to think he might need to move out of state to get a teaching job or perhaps even enter the military. I knew these were ideas spoken from frustration and not intention, and I would continue to pray for him, but only routinely.
By mid-August things changed for me. I suppose it's something like that when a woman is pregnant; the first months may be routine, but eventually the growing burden intensifies and one's attention is drawn in that direction. It is a joyous sort of burden, really. The hope of new life and opportunity will emerge, but getting to the point of delivery is arduous and taxing, requiring all the energy one can muster. And complex relationships, like pregnancy, cannot simply be walked away from. It is there, it must be experienced, and one can only go through the stresses involved.
Two weeks ago I had a critical conversation with Kyle concerning a nagging, intuitive question. It was a truthful encounter, but one that complicated my "pregnancy" significantly. And so I began to pray, with much more intentionality that I am accustomed to, with sleepless nights, disconsolate spirit and fasting de facto (when one's burden is very heavy there is little desire to eat). I began to pray that God would open up a door for my son and that in the process I would be able to move to a new place in my being.
About a week after our initial conversation I had a second conversation with my son which helped me to clarify some of the murkiness. I heard heartfelt recognition of my paternal role, the foundational value of my existence, the need for me to continue to be the primary role model of his life. While I was heartened by the words, it complicated my "pregnancy" even further, knowing the strength of suasion I held.
But I continued to pray. I prayed that God would open a door for a teaching position in a school that would reflect the kind of things our family values. And I prayed that God might place a spiritually focused, Godly person in Kyle's "way" as a first year teacher.
During the two week period in question Kyle was called in for an interview which proved fruitless. Another candidate was picked over him. I offered him my empathy and my encouragement that I was praying for him and waiting for God to do something. I reminded him that he would make a good teacher and that we were proud of him.
Then, several days ago, Kyle called to report a second interview for a different position at the same school. There were three or four candidates, so he wasn't sure how he would fare. I prayed, as only a "pregnant" man can do, that a "birth" might be imminent. When he called the next day to report his good news, I was as elated and relieved as he.
But there was still that unresolved conversation of two weeks earlier hanging in the emotional air. I knew we had to talk, face-to-face, but I knew time would be an issue. After all, he signed his contract on the Friday before Labor Day to begin teaching a new third grade class (which meant an entire classroom had to be readied for the arrival of students) to begin four days later. We chiseled out a time for us to visit, with much reluctance on his part, to have a conversation he didn't want to have at a time which was anything but convenient. I left late yesterday afternoon to meet him to resolve our situation.
We were scheduled to meet at 8 PM, which meant a very late return home for me, but I knew we had to do it. I left early enough to drive directly to his school. He didn't know I would be coming to his school, so I called from the parking lot, and a few minutes later a harried, stressed teacher-to-be met to let me in the locked doors. I asked how the progress was going on his classroom. "Slow, Dad. Real slow." I offered encouraging remarks and followed him to his classroom.
He and his significant other had been working much of the day putting up posters, bulletin boards and arranging the room. He had not even had a chance to look at teaching plans or curriculum yet. I greeted his companion (she is a final year college student this year) and thanked her for spending so much time helping my son. From the other side of the room another third-grade teacher turned from the bulletin board he was helping Kyle with to greet me. We exchanged names, remarked on the brevity of time Kyle would have to get things in order to teach, and then spoke about Third Grade.
"Well," the other teacher said, "I believe third grade is a critical year. And I think it is really important that a third grade teacher be a role model and an excellent moral guide."
Something in my "pregnant womb" clenched. Deep within were the stirrings of birth, a "child" anxious to greet its world. I could barely believe the next words.
"While I can't preach or prosyletize or anything like that, I show my students by example what it means to be a good person."
I could barely eke out of words of surprise, "Well, I think you will find that Kyle is that kind of person."
He nodded his head and continued to tell me of his teaching exploits over the years. This fall is his thirty-seventh year of teaching third graders. (I chose not to tell him that it was about thirty-seven years ago that I, myself, his new teacher's father, was in third grade). In the conversation he and I shared in the minutes ahead, I learned that he is a deeply spiritual Christian man, although he is very careful about his spirituality in the classroom.
In time Kyle and his friend packed up his materials, the senior teacher (who will be Kyle's mentor, whether formally or informally) departed, and we left. Sharing dinner with Kyle and his friend was delightful, and then Kyle and I rode together to provide closure to the critical conversation which had been looming for two weeks.
The conversation was a good one. We had a heartfelt, authentic sharing, and I released into Kyle's care the burden I had been carrying for him. I shared with Kyle the way God had filled in many of the blanks I had been praying about. As we sat in my darkened car outside of his house, I placed my hand on his shoulder and blessed him. "Kyle, you are so important to me, and you have done so much with your life. You will be an excellent teacher. Mom and I will always love you. I will do my best to be the role model you need me to be, and I will continue to hold a high vision for your life. You're going do just great on Tuesday morning! I love you."
"Thanks, Dad. Love you too."
With that he stepped out of the car, dragging his tired body home to be refreshed by sleep, and I hope, by the confidence and support of his dad. And as I pulled out of his driveway I rejoiced at the result of "my pregnancy," a sense of peace encompassing my previously disconsolate soul. Something new and fresh has been born in my heart. God has filled in the blanks in so many marvelous ways that I cannot help but reclaim the power of Providence (and that's not in Rhode Island).
Who says an adoptive father cannot experience the pain and joy of pregnancy? There has been a new birth, and I can't wait to see how it all turns out.