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In Loco Parentis ~ Jeff Crosno

In Loco Parentis

Because longevity probably suggests at least some presumption of expertise, I think we became Godparents a few days ago despite the rather obvious lack of prior qualification on our marital résumé. Perhaps what was missing with regard to any previous experience at parenting was assumed to be supplied by the mere fact that we were roughly the same age as the father and mother who seemed both eager and a bit anxious to successfully launch their only daughter into her freshman year at college. So meeting up again with her former colleague two decades after their career paths had diverged, Carmen led me by the hand to our appointed rendezvous on the Gonzaga campus. We were about to offer our services in loco parentis as one part civic Welcoming Committee mixed with one part potential Emergency First Response Team, just in case. But really, when you think of it, what could possibly go wrong for your precious child when you release her for the very first time of her life into the care and custody of several thousand completely well intentioned university students? On second thought, perhaps we should scratch that idea given that the phrase completely well intentioned university student does seem well, a bit unimaginative. In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that Mom had reached out to Carmen on behalf of her very bright and confident daughter. At least we are certifiably old enough to be considered parental peers, so we have that going for us. Longevity equals expertise, remember? We will stand at the ready for our friends, just in case.

Now maybe our offer to stand in the gap will prove to be a comfort for those loving parents whose nest has just been emptied, and maybe it will not. But over the weekend I happened to read about the email auto-reply sent out recently by Michael Merschel, a book critic for the Dallas Morning News. For those attentive and curious enough to scroll through his computer response to their communications, Merschel offered a heartfelt explanation for his absence from the office: “I want you to imagine a middle-aged man who fell in love with a beautiful baby girl almost 18 years ago, and now he is driving her to a gigantic college in a distant city filled with all kinds of people who do the things people do at college . . . and he has to leave her there.And drive home alone. In the dark. In a minivan.” That sounds like perhaps one of the longest and most lonely drives a parent could make. So I will reserve judgment for today, and simply offer up a prayer on behalf of all those who have journeyed in similar fashion over recent days. And please, O Lord, let there be some Godparents in the area when needed. Just in case.

Well, it is the beginning of a new school year, and every last one of us has at least some vested interest in seeing these prayers answered on behalf of the offspring we are entrusting to the process of receiving an education. It matters not whether the child in question is being ushered up the steep steps of a large yellow bus on the way to Kindergarten or dreaming of the day that a satin doctoral hood will be lowered over her head in a last commencement ceremony. In any circumstance, we send them off in the hope that they will learn more than we have known, live better than we have existed, and serve more faithfully and effectively than we could have dreamed or imagined. For as people of faith, we would never consign our children to the fate of growing up to think, act, and be just like us. So with my sincere apologies to Shakespeare, let me paraphrase what most of us are now trying hard to avoid: “Some are born mediocre, some achieve mediocrity, and some have mediocrity thrust upon them.” Honestly, we want much better than that! We want them to grow up more like Jesus than we might even have dared for ourselves.

Of course, all great adventures can only begin with a bit of daring. In fact, if my experience as a North American pastor over these past decades is any sort of indication, there has been absolutely no shortage in that particular department given what I have seen of the parenting displayed all around me. On every side I see nothing less than the frantic and heroic efforts of parents desperately hoping to enhance the genetic cards that their children have been dealt, pouring all of their available time and money into an all-or-nothing bet that those sons and daughters will eventually play a winning hand in life. As the writer and chaplain Kate Braestrup put it in her memoir: “Parents try to immunize their kids against mediocrity with Baby Einstein tapes, soccer clinics, and SAT prep courses. How odd it is that for all of us . . . the characteristics we try to inculcate are not those we are, in the end, most proud of. In the choices we make about and for our children, we are often encouraged to be Richard Dawkins-style Darwinists seeking to maximize our children’s ability to compete against their peers – socially, academically, athletically, and ultimately financially.” But she noted, in the end, all of the so-called advantages we end up force-feeding into the over-scheduled lives of our children seem to turn out completely beside the point. To put it in terms of our Scriptural vocabulary rather than speaking about Darwin and competitive advantages, the real and best goal would seem to be that we teach both ourselves and all of our children how to live with covenantal compassion as people who know bone-marrow deep that we have been blessed by God to be a blessing to others. We are only Chosen and Adopted so that we might be in Frederick Buechner’s fine phrase, the true Luck Bearers of this world.

May I offer one final thought, intended as solace and encouragement to any and all of us who might at times be worried and anxious over whether we are doing enough on that score? Let me simply remind you that after he spent an entire night in prayer on a lonely mountain, after dawn on the next day the Lord Jesus named none other than Judas as one of his 12 apostles. I do not take that to mean that Jesus did so as a way of predetermining the fate and eternal destiny of Judas, a human being whom Jesus deeply loved to the very end just as the Gospels affirm. I think instead that it says two important things about Jesus that may be helpful for all of us to remember as we pour ourselves into the kids entrusted to our care. First, absolutely nobody should be considered Beyond Hope where Nothing More Can Be Done, for despite what Jesus knew to be true about all of the vulnerability and danger that was undoubtedly there . . . Jesus still chose Judas. But let’s also remember something else as well, for it may also prove crucial to know on one of those ordinary days of despair that do occasionally come, even among those completely well intentioned university students: Not even Jesus can be the determiner of results in someone else’s life. Ask any parent and they will tell you, even the very best of homes and upbringing may not be enough to protect your kid from the consequences of a whim-based lifestyle. Stuff happens. And because it does, let’s continue to pray again and again that there will always be some true Godparents in the area whenever they are needed. Better yet, let’s commit ourselves to being the God-given answer to that very prayer.

Jeff Crosno