Spent a week with the in-laws yesterday. And it was hard. Just plain hard! Aging isn't for the weak, that's for sure. Giving up independence one year at a time, until suddenly all autonomy is yanked away. This is what we faced yesterday. Or, perhaps it would be more precise to say that we were the yankers (which isn't the same as being yankees or from Yonkers).
We sat down at lunch with the aged parents and before a word came out of our mouths, one of them was saying, "I don't want a single piece of furniture taken out of the living room." And this from the parent we've always seen as mild mannered and accomodating. And that, my friends, was only the beginning. While the alleged stubborn one agreed to everything we suggested, the alleged people-pleaser resisted every move we made. Didn't want us going through the large pile of papers on her desk, certainly didn't want us throwing anything away, although was happy to allow us to toss everything of her spouse's cluttered mess. Every step we took, there was an argument about, a reason not to do it, though the reasons were a bit like a child's when, holding on to a melting popcycle, he says, "I don't want it in a bowl. I want it this way."
We kept up a running conversation--about how we understood how difficult change is, how, of course, she was uncomfortable with us going through her private papers, how we'd react exactly the same way. And that's absolutely true. I get it, I completely get how painful it must be to have all choice taken away, how it feels like one is no longer in charge of one's life. We crave choice, crave control from our first breath. All those "no's" of a two year old are the beginning of taking one's life into one's own hands. Shoot, it's even earlier than that. The first time E chose something for herself, something contrary to my will for her, she was about seven months old, sitting in her brand new high chair. I said, "Don't tip your cup," (she learned to drink from a tippy cup when she was about six months old, never used a bottle at all) and she looked at me for a moment, very seriously, very intelligently, then calmly turned her cup upside down. And just like that, made her own choice. I was shocked, I tell you, more shocked than angry. And I remember thinking, "And so it begins."
From that moment on, whenever that moment comes, a parent's job is to allow more choice, to loosen the tight ropes binding our children to our wills, so that by the time they're adults, they're capable of making good, solid choices on their own. It's why I always said, "We're not raising children, we're raising adults."
But fifty, sixty, seventy years later, we yank those choices away from these people who have been adults, making adult choices for far longer than they were children, ascenting to their parents' wills. But even if their brains aren't functioning well, even if their bodies are failing and refusing to allow them to do what they will to do, people hang on to choice. It's part of being human, this decide to choose. This desire to resist choice being taken away--by anyone.
What we understand when our children are small is that they aren't capable of choosing. They need guidance, boundaries, safety in order to grown up well--even if they chafe against those walls. And what we regretfully understand as we look at our parents (all three of them), is that they have lost the capability to choose well. They also need guidance, boundaries, a degree of safety--even if they chafe against us as well. The only way to soften what must be--and must be against their wills--is to continually remind them that we love them, we understand, and that we are working with their best interests at heart.
Just like God. Funny, I never really expected that being an adult child of aging parents would teach me something about how God deals with us. Being the parent of a small child? Yes. Being a pet owner even. But this is a new place, and once again He tells me about Himself by making me live it. There are times when God takes away choice because we aren't capable of making an eternal one. This is when He answers 'No' to prayers we pray, even prayers we pray while sweating blood. He knows that to answer such a prayer, to give us what we want, to give us control or autonomy or our own will, would be disastrous. We need His boundaries around us as protection. Maybe all we get from Him is, "I understand you're frustrated, I understand why you would want what you want." But He still doesn't give it. And maybe there are more frequent times when those unanswered prayers are accompanied by His seeming silence. Sometimes, of course, He lets the chips fall where they may, He allows us to go off half-cocked, (how many cliches can I use in a sentence?)--to get our own ways. Then we discover we're not really adults yet, we will fall and get bruised, and be a little worse for wear. Maybe we resist and get hostile and are downright afraid to lose our autonomy. I think He'll show us how dangerous that is. I believe He will.
By the end of the day, when we were putting on our coats and heading for one more ferry line, the parents decided that the living room was much better rearranged, that it was okay to remove some of the excess furniture and papers, that they really could live better this new way. And that moment, that thankful moment, makes me hope--believe!--that God will do that in my life too. When He doesn't answer my prayers, doesn't seem to even hear my concerns, I have faith that it will become clear to me--a week, a month, a lifetime from now. And then I'll thank Him for all the unanswered prayers that made a difference in my life.