I recently came across this essay by Henri Nouwen. I could say so many things to preface it, but I’ll simply say that I felt it was important enough to post in its entirety here. Whether you’re a parent, a child, or both, I hope it meets a need for you.
“Many of us not only have parents but also are parents. This simple truth is quite sobering because it is not unlikely that our own children will spend quite a lot of time talking to their friends, counselors, psychiatrists, and priests about us! And we tried so hard not to make the same mistakes our parents made! Still, it is quite possible that, while we may be more tolerant than our fathers or mothers, our children may be complaining that we weren’t strict enough! And it is not unthinkable that, while we were making sure that our children were free to choose their own lifestyle, religion, or career, they may be talking about us as weak characters not daring to give concrete direction!
The tragedy of our lives is that, while we suffer from the wounds afflicted on us by those who love us, we cannot avoid wounding those we want to love. We so much want to love well, to care well, to understand well, but before we grow old someone will say to us, “You weren’t there for me when I most needed you; you didn’t care about what I was doing or thinking; you didn’t understand or even try to understand me.” As we hear these remarks or feel the criticisms of those we love, we come to the painful realization that—as we had to leave our father and mother, brother and sisters—they too have to leave us and find their own freedom. It is very painful to see those for whom we have given our life leave us, often in directions that fill us with fear.
It is here that we are called to believe deeply in the truth that all fatherhood and all motherhood come from God. Only God is the father and mother who can love us as we need and want to be loved. This belief, when strongly held, can free us, not only to forgive our parents, but also to let our children forgive us.”
Does this strike a chord with you as well? Do you agree with Nouwen’s essay?
Photo by Allison K. Flexer.