A few weeks ago, we had a conversation, in my ladies’ Bible study, that has really been weighing heavily on me. The conversation had to do with parents, in another country. Someone we knew had been serving there and had been shocked to find that, when told their children were likely going to die, many parents simply walked away. Another acquaintance, someone who works with difficult family situations here, told her that it’s the only way some people know how to cope. She conveyed the message with conviction, having been taught this over and over in her social work training, but without personal understanding. Because of what she sees every day, she was not shocked, but was still deeply saddened by these parents’ reactions to their children’s diagnoses. As the conversation was going on around me, I felt compelled to speak up. I had a different point of view.
Listening to the conversation, I had been taken back to some things that I hadn’t thought about in a while. I was overwhelmed, again, with the suddenness of remembering what has been forgotten – or at least pushed aside. Sometimes, we work so hard to get past something that we forget it was ever there. It’s not, necessarily, that we mean to forget. It’s more that, sometimes, looking ahead is just more important that looking back. And, sometimes, when we work extra hard to get around something, we get so much out of the “detour” that we forget it wasn’t the main route to begin with. So, when we’re suddenly reminded of that giant pothole we were going around, we’re surprised to see it there. Which was kind of what happened to me.
Before I go any further, I should probably explain something else. In a lot of the ministries that I have been involved with, over the years, one of the ideas that has come up a lot is the concept of “investing.” Most people think of investing as a financial concept. It is. But in ministry, it’s often used to refer to relationships, especially the ones that require a lot of commitment.
Think of it this way: when a person is looking to invest money, there are a lot of options. Maybe they want to put something into the stock market. This is somewhat risky. They may want to invest a moderate amount, hoping to earn a little more along the way. However, there’s no way to know how this will work out. The stocks they invest in may crash next week, next month, or next year. If they ride it out, they may be able to break even. With a little luck, they may even come out ahead. But it may take years. Commodities, on the other hand, may be a little more stable. Gold and silver may fluctuate in value, but they won’t cease to exist, like that start-up company might. Then again, maybe you want to invest in art. You purchase a mixed collection of works that you appreciate. Maybe you find a small work by one of the masters (if you have more money than you know what to do with!). You buy it at auction, add it to your collection, and enjoy it every day for the rest of your life. Now that is an investment!
In ministry, relationships with other people are sometimes approached this way. Every relationship requires you to invest something of yourself. You know what I’m talking about. That friend who calls you every day, to talk for five minutes about coffee? That’s an investment of your time. If you weren’t willing to give that five minutes a day, you wouldn’t have that friend. Or what about the text message you send, three times a week, to check in with your co-worker who moved to another city? That’s another investment. How much you invest in a relationship directly correlates to how much that relationship is worth to you. Those five minute daily calls? If she wanted ten, you’d be out. You get the idea. Relationships are investments.
Some relationships are costly, but we deem them worth the commitment. Family relationships, for example, often demand a great deal of investment, but we put in whatever we have to because, well, it’s family. Marriage, too, requires us to put a lot in. A good marriage takes work. But a good marriage is worth whatever it requires of us, because it’s the kind of relationship that just doesn’t come along every day. In ministry, we strive to invest in everyone, especially the people that most write off as “not worth the investment.”
That brings me back to why I felt I had to speak up that day. While I was listening to the other ladies talk, expressing their shock and sadness that these parents could just walk away from their dying children, I was thinking a little differently. I remembered. I remembered how tempting it was to hold my daughter at arm’s length. I remembered how hard we had to try to keep from building walls, to protect ourselves from what we knew was coming. I remembered talking to my husband about how we needed to be intentional about “investing” in her, choosing to pour ourselves into a relationship that we knew could not last. I remembered. And I could understand, in that moment, how those parents could walk away.
I shared, then, with all those beautiful women, what was on my heart. I told them about having to consciously choose to love my daughter, without allowing myself to focus on “tomorrow.” I told them about how hard it is to “invest” in someone that you know won’t be here in a year. Someone that you know is leaving, soon, and forever. Our only strength was in believing that we will see our Zoë again someday. Without that hope, I told them, I can understand why someone would walk away.
I spoke what was on my heart, I cried a little, and then I stopped. Later, the woman who had explained the parents’ behavior as “a coping mechanism” thanked me. She said that, while she’d been taught the concept for years, she’d never really understood it, but that my words had given her some insight. I was glad the Lord was able to use what I had said.
Anyway, it’s been weeks since the conversation, but I still can’t stop thinking about it. I keep coming back to idea of investing, particularly in our children. As parents, we assume that our children will require commitment, on our part. We commit to bringing them up. In many cases, we even do so before our churches, committing to bring them up in a way that honors the Lord. We assume the commitment will consist of time, energy, emotion, finances, support, and many other facets of our resources. We assume the investment will be long-term. We assume the outcome will be favorable.
A financial investor always hopes to come out ahead. Investors may even assume that they will. But it would be downright foolish for an investor to assume that every single one of his investments was going to do well, long-term, with only minor bumps in the market.
So why do we, as parents? We are devastated to learn that our investments, in any of our children, fall short of the projected results? Why do we think we should have the right to back out of our investments? Less than 18-20 years? Forget it! Not worth my investment. Less than favorable outcome? Forget it! Not worth my investment. What do you mean my son’s going to grow up and stop talking to me? I’m not interested in that! Why is it that we have no problem taking risks on financial investments, based solely on good business, but we don’t think we should have to take risks on our personal investments in human beings? I don’t know how many women have told me that they wouldn’t carry a baby to term, if they knew that the baby wasn’t going to live to his or her first birthday. Why do we think children should come with guarantees, when we invest in a market that doesn’t?
I’m not really sure I have the answers to these questions. I used to assume the same projections that every other parent does. But then I grew to understand how a parent could walk away. It still breaks my heart, because I believe every human being is worth the investment, but I understand. Mostly I’ve just been wondering about the investments we make in our kids. They really aren’t any more stable or predictable than any other investment. But, then: if that Picasso you bought at auction turns out to be a forgery, does that mean you suddenly stop enjoying the artwork, or is it still worth the investment, if only to you? And, for those of us who understand the investment, here’s a challenge that’s been on my heart: how burdened are we for those who are so poor in spirit that they cannot afford it?