Unless the Lord builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Psalm 127:1 (NIV)
Family is messy. It just is.
When I was a young man, I embarked on a fact-finding mission to better understand my families of origin. What I discovered was that underneath the veneer of stories that I’d been told (the good, polite, and acceptable ones) there was a whole lot of mess.
The Great Story is full of wisdom that reads like simple binary formulas. A+B=C.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.
The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short.
I like simple formulas, and I’ve observed that most other human beings do too. That’s why name-it-and-claim-it televangelists get people to send them millions (“Give and you will receive!“). It’s how we get suckered into all sorts of things (“Just five minutes a day with the Ab Monster and you’ll have a six-pack like this dude!“). I’ve also observed and experienced that it’s how many institutional churches approach life. “Do this and you’ll experience God’s blessings; Don’t do that or you’ll suffer God’s punishment.” It’s no wonder the world is rejecting the church and screaming “It doesn’t work!”
Along my spiritual journey, I’ve come to the realization that the spiritual path, the path of wisdom, and following Jesus is not a simple math equation as it may appear on the surface and/or how it’s often presented. It’s more like actuarial science based on general rules, complex principles, earthly probabilities, percentages, and exceptions. Simple formulas are fubar’d when imperfect human beings enter the equation with our emotions, pride, passions, appetites, desires, fears, and free will.
Train up a child in the way they should go, and when they are old they will not depart from it.
It seems so simple that I want to name it and claim it. It appears so simple that when I witness someone’s child making poor choices it must be that his parents missed an ingredient in the good Christian, Focus-on-the-Family formula, or her behavior must reveal the proof I need that mom and dad are blowing it in the parental department. The simple train-up-a-child formula sounded so easy when my daughters were babes who were completely dependent on my absolute provision and authority. Then an adult child strikes out on her own path, making her own choices, and finding her own way. It looks nothing like the paternal expectations I anticipated as part of that simple formula when my head and heart were intoxicated with absolute authority over her life. It’s easy for me to feel cheated by what appeared to be simple math.
In my own life journey and experiences with messy family, Lady Wisdom has taught me a few things:
- The path Jesus prescribed for His followers was never about moral perfection, an easy-life, and earthly abundance; It’s about selflessness, sacrifice, and love-in-action.
- The only things I really control are my own thoughts, words, actions, and choices. The notion I control anything else is an illusion.
- My family members are on their own spiritual journeys, just like me. If I want them to have grace and understanding with my shit, I have to have grace with theirs. If I want them to have patience and understanding as I navigate this stretch of life in my 50s, which I’ve never experienced before, then I have to let them navigate their 20s and 30s, which they’ve never experienced, with that same patience and understanding.
- If I believe God is faithful and can be trusted, and I believe He is, then I can entrust others to God while I choose to let go of my personal expectations of them.
Today’s chapter, Psalm 127, is a song that the liner notes ascribe to Solomon, the son of King David. It is another one of the songs that ancient Hebrew pilgrims sang on their trek to Jerusalem. It is both a celebration of family and a reminder that all of life’s blessings and securities are gifts from God, not the In the quiet this morning, I’m making a little mental inventory of the family stories embedded in the Great Story:
- Lot was incestuous with his daughters.
- Abraham slept with his concubine at his wife’s insistence and the consequences are still being felt today.
- Jacob (and his mother) deceived his father and stole his brother’s birthright.
- Joseph was beaten and sold into slavery by his own brothers.
- David committed adultery and refused to deal with the incestuous rape his own son committed against his half-sister.
- David’s son, Solomon, was the offspring of his scandalous, adulterous, conspiratorial marriage to Bathsheba and murder of her husband.
And its Solomon who the wrote the lyrics of today’s Psalm. For me, reading the lyrics of today’s chapter knowing the unvarnished truth of Solomon’s family story strips away the notion of simple spiritual formulas with it comes to family.
Family is messy. It just is.
There are many spiritual principles that influence the outcomes I generally experience on this life journey, both positively and negatively. But it’s not always a simple equation. I can build a home and family, but it still won’t cure the mess. Solomon knew that as well as anyone. He reminds me this morning that life’s blessings and securities are gifts, not rewards.