At the close of Simple Life Camp, I had a conversation with two parents picking up their son. Both they and I are interested in living lives that prove to be a blessing for our children, but as we spoke I realized there was something different in my vision and motivation. As we discussed it, I realized how important it was. In this article, I’d like to share it.
Many virtuous parents are making selfless decisions in their lives that will help to free their children from many of the constraints that affected them as young adults and put them in the less-than-desirable place they’re in as older adults. For example, many parents are re-thinking college, moving from suburb to country, learning to work with their hands, trying to eat more sustainable foods, etc.. The greatest challenge is often the move from suburb (or city) to country. The reason is that it costs a lot of money to buy land and, once on the land, it takes a lot of money to establish a beautiful, fruitful family farm.
I find many parents are discouraged as they get into this process and most often it’s because they just don’t think they’re going to have enough time to get it all done and enjoy it. They may be 40 or 50 years old and it just seems that they, like Moses, are not going to be allowed to enter the “promised land” after sacrificing everything to get there. This discouraging prospect can zap the life out of such projects and lead the parent to throw his hands up and say, “Aw, forget it.” However, there is a problem here that, once corrected, can clarify the mission and foster a patience that will never fail.
The problem is that, in America, we think of a family as a social unit made up of two generations: parents and their children. The parents in this society have a nearly impossible task: to marry, establish success in their profession(s), start a family, maintain success in their professions, raise children, maintain success in their professions, manage their household, etc.. While this is normal in modern America, this is not normal, believe it or not, either in history or in other places in the world today.
In most places, there was an extra layer or two in the household. In history, household servants greatly assisted the parents in their work–and not just in manual labor as many falsely think. Today, there are no servants, though people will say, cutely, that their appliances are their servants. No, they’re not at all like servants. They are not living, thinking, working human beings who manage their work independently and contribute to the order and flow of a household every day…the parent still has to buy the appliances, prepare them every time they are needed, maintain them, etc., and they can only do what they’re programmed to do–usually a specific task. They’re not at all like historical domestic servants. We know that in history, for example, boys were assigned a “pedagogue” who served as the boy’s chaperone, bringing him to and from school, making sure he stayed out of trouble, supplementing his studies, even administering discipline when needed. We don’t have pedagogues today, no.
Elsewhere, households included grandparents. The family was a three- or four-generation social unit as opposed to a two-generation unit. Rather than the modern challenge, parents often were free to concentrate on their work while grandparents attended to the children. While I was a graduate student at Rutgers University, my wife and I lived on campus in graduate apartments with many foreign students. They were often from the far or middle east and, though they were married with children, they had no children with them. Their parents were caring for their children back home while they pursued their professional studies in America. A three-generation family–with grandparents who shared their religion, culture, values, etc..
Now, reading that, you’re probably saying, “Yeah, well, my children don’t have grandparents like that anyway, so blah.” No duh, that’s part of the problem, but one that’s not in your control. I’m not concerned here about your children’s grandparents in this article or gossiping about the last few generations which have all but eliminated Christian culture. This article is about your grandchildren’s grandparents—that means you and me.
Really, we don’t have much hope of making our children much like Christian children of the past without the social arrangements they had that allowed them to do what they did. We can pray, yes, but they prayed too–while enjoying the benefits of those social arrangements. The perennial Christian culture that many generations knew was owed to this three- or four-generation family life and we don’t have much hope of duplicating it in our two-family household. The stress and discouragement many good parents are suffering from is caused by this family arrangement, not some mysterious spiritual disease. It’s a household management issue and the problems are practical, not spiritual. We have to be realistic and humble in thinking about our situation and how we might best attack it. God is not afraid that we suffer while on earth and he only rewards the patient with good things, and sometimes not until they are in heaven.
The reason I bring all this up is that our minds must understand our duty in the present and future. Brother Simon of the Missionaries of the Poor taught the boys at camp here, “If you spoil your present, you spoil your future, but if you have spoiled your past, you can amend your future in the present.”. Our work in the present must be directed by dreams for our future or our future will be no less confused and frustrated. We should not be imagining that we will, in our generation, restore what has been lost. No way. We need to be careful to respect the work and sacrifice it took to establish what has been thrown away in recent years and knowing that it is harder to build than destroy we won’t rebuild it as easily as it was torn down. Years and years of non-stop destruction isn’t going to remedied by a few good days of building. Come on. Most people who visit my farm and household suggest that we seem to be restoring it very quickly, but we’re nowhere close to where people were 200 years ago as regards culture and family life and better isn’t good–we’re just closer to the side of a boiling pot.
Therefore, I’d like to remind you of a principle I’ve written about before. We are not wise to seek to expect the benefits of a return to traditional family values in our generation, that is, as parents with growing children. God can fit us for heaven, but Christian culture is something more complicated than “getting saved” and “getting saved” isn’t all that God has commanded us to do in this life. We pray, “Thy will be done on earth” in the Lord’s Prayer and that’s the focus of our earthly lives, not sitting around singing, “Amazing Grace” with an indifference that Our Lord did not model for us at all. However, we are not going to raise children with the benefits that children enjoyed in many past generations. We are not going to have the same adult influence on our children that household adults had on children in the past because we’re missing a layer of influence and (face it) we’re too busy trying to make sure we have a house to have the privilege of worrying about what hymn we’ll be singing next beside the piano in the evening. Those of us with means to purchase land and get that old-fashioned family started should not expect to have a farm that resembles anything that existed centuries ago. No way.
What we should be doing is looking ahead to our grandchildren. They are the ones who can have it. We can buy the land and our children can develop it, but their children will LIVE on it. We will struggle to raise good children will making a living in our generation, yet we can provide our children’s children with the grandparents our children don’t have. We can be those grandparents who are honored in future generations, the grandparents remembered on the wall, whose forethought, diligence and generosity is praised by generations to come. It will be our job to teach our children and grandchildren to do what we did and not coast down a hill their grandparents pedaled them to the top of. We should not expect to enjoy the benefits of coasting either or even the benefit of help pedaling because most of the people around us will think we’re lunatics (as Noah’s peers did) , but we should close our eyes and picture our grandchildren enjoying the fruit of our lives and striving to imitate our virtues as they mature.
Here’s an encouraging (yet frightening) meditation from Scripture to close with:
David, after becoming king, was consumed with zeal for one mission. The psalms draw our attention to a vow he made in this zeal:
LORD, remember David and all his anxious care; how he swore an oath to the LORD, vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob: “I will not enter the house where I live, nor lie on the couch where I sleep; I will give my eyes no sleep, my eyelids no rest, till I find a home for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.
Therefore, just as you are zealous to establish a godly household, so David was zealous to build a temple for God. It was a mission that consumed him to the point that he would allow himself no comfort until it was accomplished.
David went on, as we know, to bring all of Israel’s enemies into submission and the time came for him to fulfill his life’s aim. However, he learned a lesson like that which I am suggesting we learn in this article. David said to Solomon:
My son, it was my purpose to build a house myself for the honor of the LORD, my God. But this word of the LORD came to me: ‘You have shed much blood, and you have waged great wars. You may not build a house in my honor, b ecause you have shed too much blood upon the earth in my sight. However, a son is to be born to you. He will be a peaceful man, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. For Solomon shall be his name, and in his time I will bestow peace and tranquility on Israel. It is he who shall build a house in my honor; he shall be a son to me, and I will be a father to him, and I will establish the throne of his kingship over Israel forever.’
We, like David, are full of zeal, but the glory is not for our generation. Our work is the bloody warfare, the dirty, grimy work of preparing the way of the Lord. Like David, we cannot run ahead of God, but must recognize His will: “Solomon” (our children) will be the one to build “the Temple”, when God bestows peace and tranquility on “Israel”.
What, then, are we to do? What David did! He said to Solomon:
‘I have laid up for the house of the LORD a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver, and bronze and iron in such great quantities that they cannot be weighed. I have also stored up wood and stones, to which you must add [catch that? -WM]. Moreover, you have available an unlimited supply of workmen, stonecutters, masons, carpenters, and every kind of craftsman skilled in gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Set to work, therefore, and the LORD be with you!’ David also commanded all of Israel’s leaders to help his son Solomon: ‘Is not the LORD your God with you? Has he not given you rest on every side? Indeed, he has delivered the occupants of the land into my power, and the land is subdued before the LORD and his people. Therefore, devote your hearts and souls to seeking the LORD your God. Proceed to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, that the ark of the covenant of the LORD and God’s sacred vessels may be brought into the house built in honor of the LORD.’
We will not be the ones who build it, therefore, let us prepare everything that our sons may do so. Plus, let us teach them and their sons to be both builders in their generation, but also investors in THEIR children’s and grandchildren’s generations. May we see the happiness and be filled with the hope that is set before us–if we are content not to be the parents of the renewal, but the grandparents.