Summary: How may we deal constructively with our loss of "freedom" as we grow older and become saddled with more and more family responsibilities?
"Jesus said to Peter, ’When you were young you were free to get up and go wherever and whenever you wanted: but when you get older, others will take you and lead you where they want and not where you want.’"(John 21:18)
Tradition says the apostle Peter was crucified in Rome, several years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Being a parent of three young children, I appreciate what Jesus said to Peter about his future martyrdom: When you were young you were free to get up and go wherever and whenever you wanted: but when you get older, others will take you and lead you where they want and not where you want.(John 21:18)
When I was younger I was very free to go anywhere and do anything I wanted -- but no longer. All the personal interests and hobbies I once enjoyed are now gone. The moment I return home from work, I am called upon to provide my children with attention, affection, and care. At dinner I pop up and down like a jack-in-the-box--to get the milk, wipe a spill, mix the spaghetti sauce in with the noodles, and so on. In the evenings I spend hours reading children’s books and playing children’s games. By the end of the day, I feel brain-dead. I have to beg my children to let me go to sleep--but at 10 p.m. they’re still wide awake.
Strangely enough, I have found encouragement and inspiration reading about prison camps.
Richard Wurmbrand, author of "Tortured for Christ", was in a prison camp in Rumania for many years. Victor Frankl, who wrote "Man’s Search for Meaning", was in a concentration camp in Germany during World War II. Both were degraded and dehumanized. They had to drag themselves through each day, toiling like slaves with little rest or food. However they reaped a great spiritual reward from their sufferings. Through their endurance, they proved themselves to be heroes. They demonstrated the triumph of faith and love over brutality and hate. While their bodies were enslaved, their spirits were free. They learned to appreciate the beauty and glory which exists even in the dreariest of circumstances. Wurmbrand in particular achieved a relationship with God which is intimate, genuine, childlike in its simplicity, and deeper than oceans. I found "Tortured for Christ" so moving that I fell to my knees and asked God for the strength to endure an ordeal like his, so that I could know Him as Wurmbrand does.
For several years I shared the Gospel in a country which was hostile to Christ. I was threatened, shunned, spied on, lied to, and cheated because of my Christian activities. That persecution was exhilarating. I envisioned myself in the footsteps of Peter and John, Paul and Barnabas (Acts 5:41, 13:50-52), and imagined that someday I would preach to thousands and share my heroic experiences. But my troubles were light and painless compared to what Wurmbrand went through.
Now I find being an ordinary American parent to be far more trying than preaching in a hostile country -- especially because the glow of imagined heroism is gone. My children bring out the worst in me. At times I’m more childish than they are. A little milk spill has caused me to completely lose my temper. When they want to play and won’t leave me alone, I fret. I have even taken out my frustrations on my children, to the point of hurting them.
But Wurmbrand and Frankl are teaching me a better way. Even as I spend hours reading boring books and playing boring games with my children, I may quiet my heart to listen for the still small voice of God. While I am vexed by their stubbornness and perversity, I may contemplate how my Heavenly Father may be vexed at ME. When I take pride in my children’s overflowing energy, curiosity, and spontaneity, my heart is warmed to realize that God feels the same way about me. As I pour my life into theirs, our lives become intermingled, to the extent that their joys are my joys, their glory is my glory, their sorrow my sorrow. In the same way, Jesus poured His life into mine, so that I am in Him, and He is in me.
If I can patiently give myself to others with no expectation of recognition or glory; if I can endure frustration and boredom without building up pressure inside to the point of exploding; THEN I will know the love of Christ which is free of ambition and egotism. Then I too will taste true heroism, as those who have endured torture for His sake.
Prayer: Father, grant me the grace to lose my life. As Jesus said, the one who wants to gain his life must first lose it.