Today, for example. Our 21-year-old son who has been living with us since March (after his last stint in jail) was in court again today. He was in court yesterday, too, but that was for a different set of charges, I discovered. His day, for all outward appearances, is fairly carefree. The basic expectation we have for him is that he will stay of out of legal trouble. You can see how that's been going.
My day, on the other hand, started early and will end late. Claudia left town this morning on the shuttle for a flight to Indianapolis, where she will be speaking over the weekend. After dropping her off, I returned home to take three of our kids to ride one of thirteen charter buses transporting students to the state soccer championship. I returned home to make sure three other of our kids were getting ready for their ride to school some twenty minutes later. Took that group of kids to school and then drove directly to the church office, where I worked on administrative details until a 9:00 AM meeting with clergy colleagues.
In the midst of the busyness I hear from our 21-year-old son who asks me for a ride home from his early morning court hearing. I agree to transport him, knowing that it will mean missing the first part of my clergy gathering (which is hosted by the congregation where I serve Christ). An hour later I receive a pleading call. Will I bail him out?
Yesterday the judge told him he needed to find a job prior to his thirty-day sentence (to begin in late November) so that he could engage in work release. Today the judge puts him in jail with a $1,000 cash bail or $150 bail bond. So, of course, he is confused and frustrated by the process. He has no money. We haggle for several minutes until I hear his plan to pay me back the $150 before the end of the week. It sounds tenable, so I agree, reluctantly.
But then again, I am a fool. Over and over again I have opened my heart to my errant children, only to have a similar pattern of behavior repeated. I'm never sure, really, who is the fool: the kid or me. Perhaps the answer is both, but for different reasons.
Our clergy gathering begins with conversation, then proceeds with morning prayer (including a hymn sing of sorts) and holy communion. The gospel reading cites the sadducees and pharisees who were so preoccupied with their own self-righteousness that they had little time for compassion, especially for the outcast. I can feel my inner person grinding because of the relevancy. Among the hymns we sing is one that includes these lyrics:
Differently abled, differently labeled widen the circle round Jesus Christ:
Crutches and stigmas, cultures' enigmas all come together round Jesus Christ.
My soul is pushing back. "Yeah, yeah, yeah" I hear my soul say. But deeper still I hear the quiet voice of the One saying, "This is your son. He has disabilities, he is labeled, he is stigmatic, he is enigmatic."
Another song was suggested which included a reference to prisoners, and I knew that I was in a moment of reluctant spiritual awakening. But God is like that sometimes, many times maybe; a relentless sentinel for compassion and selflessness.
While we are singing the hymns I receive a text from my son. "I'm really sorry for having to put you through this ... I know I have been an ass and just been seemingly taking advantage of you and mom. For now I'm gonna shape up and follow house rules and everything. I really need to put my life together. I've just been really down and depressed lately. I apologize."
This is not revelatory. It is reactionary, and it has occurred numerous times before. He gets in trouble, needs money, and suddenly penitence flows forth.
But I'm a fool. Have I mentioned that? I have a tender heart, and I love my kids, even when they use me and speak disrespectfully to me and take advantage of my good nature.
Rationally I know that the text I received are illusory, but emotionally I still believe that there is hope for my son, so I meet him at the jail, take care of the bail bond and take him to lunch, where we have the conversation we have had for years now, but with a twist. I remind him that I have loved him for thirteen years now, but I confront him reality. "Mike, you have a hole in your soul. You are a lonely, angry person who needs to find peace. You will be able to get beyond this, but it's going to take developing your spiritual life."
He looks at me, his translucent green eyes a contrast to the orange hair that covers his head and part of his face. And he says, "Yeah, I know."
The conversation that ensues is not earth-shaking. I continue to hear how Claudia and I have been the cause of his problems. It was our parenting, it was our choices, that have brought him to the place where he is. I choose not to defend myself too much, but I listen to the anger and the pain.
And then, fool that I am, I say, "Mike, you may never trust us or love us. And that's OK. We chose to love you when we adopted you, and I want to offer you the opportunity to blame me and be angry with me as much as you need to be. I will accept your anger and your pain, in hopes that one day, even if it is when I am dead, that you realize how much I love you."
He nods his head, chagrined but not changed. At least not yet.
But then again, I am a fool.
"We are fools for the sake of Christ." The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 4:10.