God is Not a Lawnmower Parent

My friend and I were chatting recently about how the church of our youth offered a boxset version of God that we all bought into, hook, line, and sinker. All of it boiled down to a logical statement: “If you do X, God will do Y.”

If your first sexual encounter is on your wedding night, then God will bless and keep your marriage strong.

This was ground into us as truth all through high school. There was no other way. Those that were sexual outside of marriage would pay a steep price, which may not be evident until years later. It was as if sexual purity somehow insulated you against the messy onslaught of life, instead of treating it as honoring God, each other, and ourselves. Nonetheless, we took it as the gold standard.

If you are obedient to God’s laws, then God will reward that.

If you followed the Bible to the letter – black and white, there was no gray area with God, they said – blessings will rain down from heaven upon you, in the form of health, wealth, wisdom, knowledge, stability, a godly spouse, children, or some other Christianized version of the American dream. Again, the fairy tale got wrapped up in the gospel; it was taught that you can do things to keep the pain of life away, as if praying the prayer of salvation kept the bad things from happening, an insurance policy against poor decisions or things beyond your control. There were walking talking examples of this in the church – although no one bothered to pay any attention to the prodigal son’s older brother, apparently. And the good people who weren’t living the dream? Their time would come, surely, God would reward it. You know, in His time. There was no room for the pain of unanswered prayers, shoddy luck, or a medical diagnosis without a silver lining.

I have another friend who is going through a bit of a deconstruction of her faith, as the platitudes of her youth didn’t hold up when life happened. The seemingly well-engineered structures crumbled under the strain. The bulwark gave way slowly at first, and then washed away in a storm. And when the raging waters surrounded her, many said, “Try harder. Pray more. You’re obviously not doing something right.” But she did everything “right” – she even sacrificed her well-being, her sense of self, and denied her own needs in effort to make the situation better. And it only made the situation worse. For a woman who was the poster child for Christian obedience and a shining example of sexual purity, she got robbed of it all and then some.

Does God reward obedience? Absolutely. Do sexually pure marriages honor God? Yes, all day long. But I think it is amusing how we assume that obedience yields a reward. Our on-going discussions wonder where God was in the midst of all this. The fervent and frequent prayers yielded nothing of substance, only destruction and lament. I know that feeling, as I went through the infertility phase. “Not my will, but yours,” was constantly on my lips, hoping God would do a miracle on my behalf, as we gave Him plenty of opportunities. I also recognized He could keep us infertile for reasons beyond me this side of heaven – which appears to be His chosen path for us. This wasn’t something I could pray myself out of, although I tried.

God, as my friends and I have found, is not a lawnmower parent. Lawnmower parents are those parents who remove all obstacles from their children, so they never struggle, never suffer, never have to try again. They “mow” the course in front of them so the path is evident, free of rocks, and easy to navigate – the child never has conflict. Of course, helping children, especially the littles, is one thing, but never letting them learn how to work through a problem – or *gasp!* fail! – whether that is feeding themselves, learning a new skill, or straight up frustration when they don’t get their way – they become complacent. It’s learned helplessness. They fall apart if no one is there to “mow down” the obstacle. And many times, we expect God to “make the paths straight,” especially if we accepted Jesus.

I do not believe God abandoned my friend in the midst of her struggles, but I do believe God is not a lawnmower parent. The reason for her pain and rotten outcome may be evident in the years to come; perhaps it will not be fully realized until she is face to face with Jesus. Like a homesteader, I know God uses ever last bit of life – nothing goes to waste – perhaps not all of it for the goodness of our earthly selves. Compost is nothing more than decaying organic matter (it’s full of bugs and smells), but it nourishes the plants like nothing else. Life not always going to turn out like a Christian movie. Sometimes the “right one” never comes along. Sometimes the marriage doesn’t happen. Sometimes the ailing marriage isn’t saved. Sometimes the biological baby never happens. Sometimes it’s not going to ever be okay. Sometimes we will go through life maimed. And we as a church need to accept that and make room at the table for people who don’t get their Boaz and are rejected by their father when they return home, not even worthy enough to be a slave in their household.

Just because we follow the Lord does not mean life is going to be one big beautiful story where we can Pollyanna the pain away. Life is so complex, so rewarding, so disappointing, so painful, all rolled into one amazing story. Our triumphs as well as our pitfalls are all for the glory of God.

Even if we won’t know that glory on this side of the river.

While He never said the path would be a groomed one, He did say would never leave us to be alone in the forest. No matter what.

The Back Lot of North Carolina

In this age of COVID, meeting up with a friend has become an adventure in itself. We decided to meet half way between our houses, a three hour drive for both of us. Our socially distant gathering would take place outside; we would only enter buildings while masked for take away and bathrooming. Our meeting place was a small North Carolinian town on the bay. I had never been there. I planned it out as best I could with Google Maps street view with shots from 2014.

I got on the road early, an hour or so after sunrise. Once I got off the interstate, it felt like I was back in the Thumb area of Michigan – as rural as rural gets – and it made me nostalgic for days gone by. Between the farm fields, the small towns called to me. I daydreamed about renting a room in Beulaville, settling in for a week to write a novel. I’d walk to get my coffee at Duff’s Cafe, have dinner at Ann’s Thai Kitchen, followed by ice cream from IGA. I’d finish up the day writing, sipping a double shot’s worth of Deep Eddy Ruby Red vodka. A writer can dream. Maybe someday.

With my midwestern background, surrounded with only soybeans and corn, the tobacco fields always interest me the most. I’ve been here fourteen years and the novelty hasn’t worn off. The first time I saw a tobacco field, I didn’t know what it was. My friend, with southern roots a mile deep, looked at me like I was nuts. We were on the way to a funeral, but I made her pull off to the side of the road so I could get a closer view of these exotic plants growing in the middle of absolute nowhere. I marveled at how these plants could cause so much damage to a human, as someone who has a thing for distillates of potatoes and sugarcane.

The small towns – some disappeared within a blink of an eye as the cruise was set at 75mph on a byway – gave way to larger towns. I imagine people in the one horse towns would call these large cities. It took me a moment to adjust, too.

I didn’t expect towns this large to be in the back lot of North Carolina.

I didn’t expect them to be as nice as they were either. I have a few on my “must revisit” list.

The drive was easy, scenic, and before I knew it, I arrived at my destination.

It was more beautiful than the pictures and I was sad I didn’t investigate more of its historical significance until after I had left. My heart was singing as I drove through the quintessential downtown that hadn’t changed much from the early 1900’s, never mind the 2014 view. My friend had gotten delayed, so I had some time to explore and get the place wired. I parked right by the water and judging from the morning sky, it was going to be a beautiful day.

As it turns out, the visitor’s center had a large back porch, complete with rocking chairs and a postcard worthy view of the water out of the sun. I couldn’t have found a better place to enjoy the company of an old friend!

As I sauntered through downtown, where everything was clean, friendly, and the ambience made it feel like I wasn’t in 2020. I realized I had forgotten to bring deodorant on this adventure (of all days!), so I stopped in at the local pharmacy. The decor was straight out of 1978, but I found some Old Spice at a very reasonable price (I refuse to smell like flowers or baby powder, I prefer masculine scents). I made a mental note to remember this pharmacy also had an ice cream counter. Sears was going out of business and the sales I saw from the window were difficult to pass up as a bargain hunter, but I truly didn’t need anything, so I kept walking. This town felt like I was lucid dreaming. I also noticed my Great Lakes accent disappeared here. I usually save my southern lilt for patients at work, but it came out naturally in this town.

I walked back down to the water, just as my friend appeared.

I could write a novel in this town too, except I would require a kayak.