Keep the Main Thing, the Main Thing
Parenting. Is. Hard. Period.
Some things about parenting feel like we are shooting in the dark, hoping for the best.
Parenting kids with special needs is…hard, complicated, and lonely. Truth.
It’s lonely because each case is unique in its complexity, and parenting requires intuition and courage that can only be summoned from deep within. The bulk of parenting kids with special needs feels…more like shooting in the dark after having been blindfolded and then spun around in a circle 20 times. The disorientation isn’t just that I cannot see clearly what I am shooting towards, but that I am also coping with my own confused, disordered, dizzied interior direction. Chronically parenting in this condition can slaughter “hoping for the best”. Most time, I am just hoping I don’t throw up or hurt someone in the process.
After my two sons were diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome, I was overwhelmed with all sorts of “expert opinions” about what my boys needed. However, because of the uniqueness of each individual person with special needs, there were no true guidelines. I felt as if I was on an island all by myself, occasionally catching a faraway glimpse of another parent of special needs kids, alone on their own respective island. There were parameters, suggestions, and anecdotal confirmations of techniques, therapies, parenting styles, and implementations. Still, something troubled me about parenting. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was so much still unknown. I felt lost in a vast chasm where I felt my soul’s cry echoing off the towering walls, only to haunting whisper back at me: “How do I do this?”
I prayed. I went to the only person I knew I could trust to give me the answers my soul needed. I was petitioning the Lord to give me guidance as I moved into this new world because I trusted that this mysterious chasm in which I found myself would shine as bright as the day to Him. Unlike myself, He was not surprised or confused one bit. I still believed He had “knit [my sons] together in [my] womb”.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but His response did not only apply to my original request for guidance about therapies and schedules and discipline, but it has also become the main directive I have returned to again and again. In a way, it has become the ultimate tool I measure all my decisions; a type of guardrail from danger, purge for my selfish heart, and even functions to help me determine what I allow into my daily schedule. After all my praying and waiting and seeking, God simply answered:
“Love God. Love others.”
Seems simplistic and cliché. But if we stop for a moment and meditate on what that really means, we can understand that it is how we (as my Mother use to say) “keep the main thing, the main thing”.
I sat with that answer in my heart for a long time. Gradually, it began to burn like a roaring fire within. The dark, echoing chasm between all that I knew I had to do and actually making it all happen was lit by the simple revelation: Love is the main thing.
I wonder if that is how the readers of Hebrews felt when they read “consider how to spur one another towards love and good deeds” (Heb. 1:24)? I wonder if they felt that those instructions were too vague or “preachy”? I wonder if they expected more solid directives, much like I was expecting. It’s a good thing that God knows what we need more than we do. That’s a beautiful grace.
I knew all the “good deeds” suggested for my children and I had read all the books. I knew what the experts suggested, and how to organize a holistic approach to their care. But, what my soul was really searching for was how to be – not what to do. And God’s seemingly vague answer to my prayer was the reminder I needed, because all of my "doing" would flow from my "being". I had to be loving before I could do good. It has always been this way in God's kingdom, and it always will be. It is His kingdom, and He is love. It is both the rule and the reward.
God knows that we often forget to “keep the main thing, the main thing”. We forget that love is the “main thing” of following Christ. It is our guide, our identifier, our standard of measurement, and our call. We, like the pious who have come before us, like to reduce our beliefs into a checklist of good deeds, much like collecting badges for some sainthood sash to prove we are His. But, that’s not how this works. It’s a relationship with Jesus, built on His love for us and our willingness to be loved by Him while loving others. And this loving Him and loving others in a bazillion different, sincere, unique ways is how we mimic Christ’s message of love first given to us. We are echoing that love is the “main thing”. Love is what Jesus came for and died for.
Jesus told His followers “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another” (John 13:35). Not if we do all the “right” things. Not if we can quote Scripture. Not if we can debate theology. Heck! Not even if we could perform miracles! Apparently, doing all these things are not enough to qualify us as true followers. It’s love for one another.
Love is the guardrail that lets us know we are still following Jesus’ example. A loving heart will naturally do the right thing, even when we are unsure of what the right thing is. Our concern is to follow Jesus in loving others, not to justify our own souls by collecting and ranking our good deeds. Sincere love functions as a heart check: are we loving God through this deed, or bringing glory to ourselves? Are we loving another person as we perform these things, or are we harboring secret anger, pride, jealousy, or hypocrisy deep within? Do we serve others with a holy amnesia of our part to play, because we see more of the other person and less of ourselves? Do we count our good deeds as our superiority over another person – falling prey to the lie that “being the bigger person” is a virtue, instead of being a covert form of pride in reality?
This is the encouragement we need repeatedly, often, and from people who understand the same call, because it’s not an easy thing. We need and rely on our gathering together, more and more, so that we are spurring one another towards remaining in this love. We need reminders of how love motivates our heart, encapsulates our actions, indicts our pride, and lingers in others’ hearts long after the good deeds have ceased. We need to see love like this in action: people loving us and loving others as we gather together, so that we may not grow weary or forget what this great love looks like, feels like, acts like. We need to be reminded that this is how Jesus walked among us: not as a superior (although He had every right to do so), but as a friend who shared in our humanity – our tears, our hunger, our exhaustion, and our scorn – and He loved us.
Love is His main thing.