Thursday, May 2, 2013

On Playing God

I did a workshop at our stake’s women’s conference, and I blogged about it at Real Intent (you can read that blog here).

The presentation was based on the 12-steps of the church’s Addiction Recovery Program which are, in turn, based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, which are, in turn, a straightforward way of applying the atonement to our lives.

The first three steps are all about our relationship with ourselves, God and other people. And they’re especially important for people who aren’t necessarily addicted.

One of the cornerstone doctrines of the gospel is agency – the ability that we have to act for ourselves, to make our own choices and enjoy (or suffer) the consequences of those choices. “God will force no man to heaven,” or so the hymn says.

In the first three steps of a 12-step program, once acknowledges his own powerlessness over his addiction (and, in the case of a program like AlAnon or Families Anonymous for co-dependents, over other people), the power of God to restore us, and the willingness to turn ourselves and our lives over to God.

For people who grow up reciting the first few Articles of Faith, this should be boilerplate stuff.  We believe in God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost; we believe we’ll be punished for our own sins and not Adam’s transgression; and we believe that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. We are taught from our earliest years that we get to choose, that we are agents unto ourselves, and that the fact that we are here on earth is already proof of our having chosen well at least once.

And yet, most of us who grow to adulthood try to limit the agency of others at one time or another. After acceptable rules of persuasion fail, we try to force our friends or our enemies to do things our way as kids. As parents, we learn by trial and error how much we can force our children to behave. As spouses we learn, often through sad experience, that D&C 121 is right – we really can’t compel others to behave in a certain way.

I’ve heard some say that trying to control outcomes for others is trying to play God. But even God does not control the outcome. He offers a choice and we make a choice. Our choice determines the outcome. Of course God facilitates the choice, and the path back to Him if we choose poorly. After all He loves us and His grace extends to each of us if we choose to accept it.

As a parent, the hardest lessons I’ve learned have been the understanding that I must let go. Now a loving parent doesn’t hold a child out a third story window and then let go. Instead, the parent does all he can to teach, guide, direct, protect, make safe, and then he lets go. And even when a parent lets go, he doesn’t leave his child alone. Good parents establish rules and boundaries with real consequences so that children learn early that with choice comes accountability. And consistent and fair consequences often do a better job of teaching than any lecture Mom or Dad could give.

Now six of my seven children have approached that point at which they begin to separate from us. All kids do it (or should), usually in the mid-to-late teenage years. Some of the separations have been easier than others. Some of our kids have separated but maintained the standards and patterns they learned at home. Others couldn’t run for the exit fast enough. A few have separated in fits and starts – wanting to be independent, but not really wanting to be independent.

Our job as parents – impossible as it seems – is to prepare them to leave, not to prepare them to stay. I learned some time ago that I cannot judge my success as a parent by the choices my children make. But I have learned there are things I can do to help them learn to separate themselves from me. I can help them see consequences. I can help them think a little longer term than the end of the hour or day or week. I can engage them in conversation and invite them to formulate and express their opinions (even half-baked ones). I can help them identify their strengths and help them to reinforce those. (Chances are they know their weaknesses better than I do; I am learning I don’t need to point those out, but I can still help them to learn how to work through them if they want to.)

Basically, I do need to play God. He put us here with teachers, trainers, parents, prophets, friends and family to help us to learn to live separately from Him (so we can return to Him). Similarly, I need to help my children to arm themselves to live separately from me.

What do you think? What has worked for you in helping your children to be independent?

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