Feb 27, 2015

The Third Parent

A lifetime ago now, when I was learning to fly airplanes, I finally reached the first milestone: Solo! It was late afternoon on a sunny but chilled autumn day when my instructor decided that I was ready to go it alone. So, on our third practice landing, he told me to pull over to the hanger. There, he climbed out of the airplane. 

As I took off and climbed to altitude without my instructor for the first time, the sun’s rays were becoming dimmed and more yellow. And, as I viewed the landscape from above, it was noticeably scarred with long, dark shadows.

Turning onto final approach for my landing, I could see my car near the hanger. And, I could barely make out my instructor and my future wife standing near it. They were both observing what was probably going to be either the greatest moment or the last moment of my nineteen year life. And, I’m pretty sure none of us held any great conviction as to which way things would break.

As I began my very tense final approach, the small plane buffeted sharply up and down in the turbulence of the cool Fall air. Besides the impact those little jolts had on my already nervous stomach, they also became another reminder that the outcome of this landing was, indeed, by no means, a foregone conclusion.

It was in these moments that I realized, I think for the first time in my life, the real heartlessness of a completely objective reality. Suddenly, I became very aware, in this do-or-die situation, that I was absolutely alone in a merciless circumstance which really didn’t care whether I lived or died.

And now, the airplane, itself, seemed so much a part of that indifference. This beautiful little blue and white Cessna 150, which before had been so inviting and friendly, suddenly morphed into a much too willing accomplice to this uncaring reality.

The acrid tension of the moment now very effectively stripped away any romantic veneer about this airplane. In this moment, it was clearly no friend. It too, was merely a soulless machine fully as willing to crash and burn as to glide softly to a landing.

Before that Fall day of my nineteenth year, I don’t ever actually remember being aware of such a completely indifferent reality or the harshness of it all. It seems, before that day, there had always been someone there, hedging life's indifference for me - my parents, my grandparents, my flight instructor.

But, that was definitely not the case this day. This day, I was absolutely alone and very circumstantially exposed.

In the years since that first unsettling encounter with a purely objective reality, I have discovered a bit more on the subject. It is the fact that this I-don't-really-care-what-you-do-or-how-it-turns-out reality is what really competes with God for our devotion.

It works like this. When we're born we encounter our parents.  So, our first parental relationship is with, well, our birth parents – the mother and father we are born to in this life. They may or may not be great parents – but it’s probably safe to say that, at least most of the time, they are not entirely disinterested in what happens to us.

And, in the vast majority of cases, they are, very invested in our well-being. Certainly, most parents spend massive amounts of love, wisdom, and vigilance in defense of their children.

But, be that as it may, once we outgrow the day to day parenting of our birth parents, we have a choice to make regarding the guardianship of our adult life.

And always, the God who created us stands first in line, ready to assume this later parental role to provide a very engaged and loving involvement in our adult life path. The whole redemptive work of Christ is aimed at positioning our Heavenly Father to lovingly parent us through our life. So, in that sense, God seeks to be our "Third Parent."

But sometimes, we reject Him for this role. We do this because we intuitively understand that His love will sometimes interfere with and get in the way of our preferences.

So, God's love is, indeed, forced to compete. It must compete with the personal freedom to do as we please which is the real draw of a Godless, and thus, disinterested reality.

However, what is so well hidden in this proposition of complete freedom is the cruel randomness which is always attached to it. And, indeed, there are always surprise endings which flow out of the randomness of a totally impartial reality.

So, with absolute freedom, also comes a constant exposure and vulnerability. Nevertheless, it's true, we often still venture undaunted and self-assured into the treacheries of adult life - believing ourselves to be equal to every challenge.

But, in truth, only God is equal to the challenges of a fickle reality. Only he can over rule its unpredictable whims. Only He can bring order and meaning from it random twists. No mere human being even comes close to having the resource to stand up to the extremes to which an unpredictable reality can take us.

For example, after years of business successes, raising our kids responsibly, giving back to our community, and doing it all right - it happens. Out of nowhere, the doctor says, "It's cancer; and, it's terminal."

Or, as we're happily coming home from a football game that our team won, 
a defective front tire blows out one rainy night on the Interstate. And, we wake up in the morning with a severed spine and useless legs. 

 Or, you name it, when any one of a thousand other things that we didn't expect to happen, do. There is no purely human resource which can stand up to life's harshest randomness.

So, that's it. Suddenly, without warning we're in way over our head. And, a Godless, heartless reality could care less.

And, so it goes far too often. We choose to embrace the freedom to do as we please in a reality free of divine interference.  We choose to entirely risk ourselves to the mistaken belief that we can always adjust life situations to our preferences. But, in truth, sometimes, for no apparent reason, oblivious reality just decides to break bad. And, we find that, in fact, there is no adjusting it.

The truth is this. Being solely responsible for your own self-preservation is a hazardous, draining, and a very lonely approach to life. And, in real life, the unfettered freedom which draws us to such a life in the first place is really mostly gobbled up by the constant pressure to survive.

As a loving Third Parent, God offers to unload the life process. He offers the help and joy of "Twomanship" - a life of confidence and synergy lived in league with Him. It is a life that is exponentially better than "Onemanship" - a life of constant and draining vulnerability.

But, won't God occasionally interfere with my agenda? Well - one can only hope so, dear heart. 


 Loving interventions are really what good parents, whether first, second, or Third, do best. They get us safely past the seriously damaging pitfalls of our "childhood" which, in human beings, typically lingers long past our childhood.

So, here it is. If the loving and almighty Heavenly Father doesn't have your back, you are really flying dangerously solo. And that means you are absolutely very exposed. Because, like the rest of us, some days you can fly pretty well; but, on any given day you can also crash and burn.


"Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." - Jesus