Wednesday, January 6, 2016

THE LIVING YEARS




1989


          Who can know and understand all the ways or means which God uses to communicate with His children.  I have heard His voice through many different vehicles and instruments; still I am often surprised by His methods.

          Would God use the words of a secular song to reveal knowledge concerning a subject He wants us to be aware of?  Certainly He would, if that was the only way to get His message across to us at the time.  With Balaam, it was necessary to use a donkey for God to be heard by such a determined individual. For me, this time, it was a group known as Mike and the Mechanics.

          Sometimes we seek God's help in a certain area of our life and when He answers we are distracted by something else and just are not able to hear Him.  God is interested in every aspect of our daily life and desires to help.

          Most of us have some unanswered questions, curiosities of life, about which we would like understanding. Perhaps those questions are connected with events in your own past, behaviors which you, yourself demonstrated and you believe them to be relevant to your present day relationship with a son or daughter.

          Do you have a teenager in your house?  Do you communicate well with them all of the time?  Do you understand all you would like to understand about them?  Are you confused at all concerning them?  Do you ever look back at yourself when you were a teenager and see that your parents had much the same problems as the ones you may be facing now?  Did you learn anything from all that reflecting, something which has helped you in your present relationship with your teenager?  Did you see some mistake your parents made and say to yourself, "I won't be like that"; "I'll do things differently", and low and behold, in your efforts to do better, your solution to the problem only made things worse?

          Don't you see that this parenting business is haphazard at best?  It's trial and error, mostly error, learning from the mistakes you make as you go along, hoping that your mistakes won't have a long lasting affect on your child.  You read books written by experts on raising children, or listen to other parents who have experienced similar circumstances, weigh all the advise carefully and then, painstakingly, place your other foot in your mouth.

          The first time I heard "The Living Years", Kellie, my fourteen year old daughter, called it to my attention.  She said "Dad, listen to this song, I think you will like it."  I listened, and you know what, she was right, I did like it.  I thought to myself, "My daughter is developing a better taste in music."

          From that time on, I seemed to hear the song repeatedly, on the car radio, on TV and in the shopping malls.  I don't believe in coincidences.  That term is misleading and can cause one to miss out on a valuable learning experience.  Sometimes, God has to knock on our mind's door continuously to get us to answer.

          There was something about that song which stirred feelings deep inside me.  They concerned a subject into which I had invested much time in thought.  I was brought to tears at times as I listened to the perfect combination of words and music, and I was puzzled by my reaction.  Finally, after several attempts to obtain my own copy of the song, I broke down and purchased a cassette from a local, discount outlet at the Florence Mall. For $6.99 I got that one song and not much of anything else.  One bonus was the fact that the cassette cover had the words of all the songs that were on the tape, printed out on it.  Not that I had any trouble hearing the words of the song as they were being sung.  It just helped to have the words in print so I could study them and their possible meaning at my own pace.

          One Sunday morning, as Kellie and I were getting ready for church, she was in the bathroom, the door was closed and I could hear that she had the radio on.  Suddenly, I heard the familiar beginnings of that song again.  She opened the door, announcing "Dad! here's your song again".  I sat down in my desk chair to put on my socks and shoes, and as the music sped up and the words began, I felt as if my heart would break.  "Every generation--blames the one before--and all of their frustrations--come beating on your door--I know that I'm a prisoner; to all my father held so dear--I know that I'm a hostage to all his hopes and fears--I just wish I could have told him, in the living years."

          "Crumpled bits of paper--filled with imperfect thought--stilted conversations--I'm afraid that's all we've got--you say you just don't see it--he says it's perfect sense--you just can't get agreement--in this present tense--we all talk a different language--talking in defense."

          Then came the chorus, it tore away at what remained of my own emotional defenses, and I felt crushed.  "Say it loud--say it clear--you can listen as well as you hear--it's too late, when we die--to admit we don't see, eye to eye."

          In my mind's eye, I could see the great gulf between generations. It seemed to be constantly expanding, growing ever wider.  On one side is the parents; on the other, the children. The only way they can communicate over that great distance is by screaming the words they have to say to one another.  Sadly, I could see just how true that whole scene was.

          I wondered to myself, "Can even LOVE bridge that wide an expanse?" Are they so much like us that our relationship to one another is like two powerful magnets whose like poles repel, pushing away, increasing the distance between us?  I felt so helpless at that moment; and there were more tears.

          Why do we have such difficulty expressing what we feel to one another?  Why do we pull away into seclusion and write imperfect words down on paper in an effort to relate, only to crumple the paper up and discard it before someone has the opportunity to read it?  Perhaps, the act of writing it all down gives us some form of release, temporary relief, but left unshared with someone, what has it really accomplished?

          I believe that most parents have met with that same rebellious attitude in their teenagers at times when they have attempted to correct or instruct them in what they see as some critical aspect of this life. Seeing that kind of attitude displayed; withdraw, back away from the situation, not wanting to bring further separation between themselves and this child which they love so much. This child, the product of parental love and concern, the very fruit of their own bodies; how can it appear so alien and remote from them?  They are confused, undecided as to what action to take next.  Will it be another mistake?

          Then, guilt sets in.  "It's all my fault; I've made them this way. I have passed on to them, all my own frustrations; all my own personal faults.  They are only what I have made them."  Yet, there is something inside us, which will try again when we see them heading for a fall.  It's called LOVE.

          I had to look up the word "STILTED" in my dictionary before I fully understood what the words were saying.  "Pompous-Lofty-Formal-Stiff".  Is that how our children see us?  Do we make ourselves appear lifted-up, superior to them?  Do we put on the pretense of being unable to make their kind of "stupid mistake"?  Are we pompous in our attitude when we talk to our children?  Do we lecture instead of discuss?  I'm afraid, most of us do exactly that.  The reason we know so much about it, is because we DID make those same stupid mistakes and are not honest enough to admit it to anyone, especially not to our own children.  They have little enough respect for us now; what would they think if we admitted to something like that?

          I believe that the chorus to this song has pretty much hit the nail right on the head.  Someone needs to point out to both parents and children, that it is very hard to understand what someone else is trying to say if you don't listen. Not listening usually leads to more shouting and more hurt, more rebellion and more determination on the parent's part, to make their point understood.

          Lack of communication skills leaves so much unsaid, and so much which is said, misunderstood.  Parents believe that because of all the experience they have had at communicating, the full meaning of what they had just expressed to their teenager has been fully understood. They had expressed it such a way, anyone could understand it.  The problem is, most teenagers seem to speak a different language. They have the ability to read a lot into the tone of one's voice and are very good at interpreting body language, as are parents. What does it take to gain the confidence of one's own child?  Even when parents are completely honest and open, they are not seen that way because, in the past, they were always less than that, sometimes they were thought to be devious, divisive and scheming.

          To continue; the second verse of this song says, "So we open up a quarrel--between the present and the past--We only sacrifice the future--It's the bitterness that lasts--So don't yield to the fortunes--you sometimes see as fate--it may have a new perspective--on a different day--and if you don't give up and don't give in--you just may be OK."

          Does the present actually have a quarrel with the past?  Being a parent; I know how much time I have spent reflecting upon my past.  I don't care much for the phrase "The Good Old Days." How can we forget the painful experiences we knew while growing up and remember only the good times?  How dishonest we parents are with ourselves and how selective are our memories.  Of course, most of us had loving parents and there were plenty of good things to remember, but what about those childhood friends, the ones which turned on you, called you spiteful names and tore your simple world apart?  There was no way for you to explain it to your parents so that they would understand.  Some children are abused physically by their so-called friends, and the hurt went far deeper than any cuts or bruises could penetrate.  The hurt is hidden away, deep within their young emotions and never expressed.  Who can they talk to?  Who would understand?

          The root of bitterness; what a monstrous cancer to carry around all those years of a young life.  It never shrinks, it only grows larger as more and more bitterness is held within.  Is there such a thing a fate?  Are some of us destined to unhappiness and conflict with the world around us?  If we don't give up and don't give in to the forces pushing and shoving us in one direction or another, we may find that life will turn out all right.  For so many teenagers who don't possess the patience, suicide is their permanent solution for a temporary problem.  A calm and peaceful exterior displayed by your teenager could be covering up a raging storm of bitterness within.  If parents can't take the time and find some way to express the bitterness that they experienced as a child, and assure their children that with time, their life will change; that bitterness could overpower and consume their future.

          A new perspective; how does a person obtain one?  Certainly not by ignoring one's position in life and hoping it will simply go away.  There is an age, a time in everyone's life, when they realize that they are not a child anymore, and yet, they are not an adult. How confusing a time that is for everyone.  I will say this; maturity has a way of changing one's perspective.

          Parents know about change.  They have found ways to adjust to those changes.  The good old days are far behind them and their perspective is "NOW".  Responsibility weighs heavy upon their shoulders, and doing everything right is most critical.  But there is no assurance of doing everything right all of the time.  There is no carved in stone method for raising children, because children are individuals, just like us.  No two are identical.  Don't look to me for any pat answers; I’m as confused by all this as you are. Giving the task your very best couldn't hurt, and love, though it isn't a cure-all, will bridge most of the small gaps.

          There is one bit of wisdom I would share with parents and children alike, if I could.  It is something I learned through my own mistakes, some advice that could make a difference;  "COMMUNICATE".  If you can't find the words to say what you want to say in a face to face talk, by all means, write it!  Put those words, imperfect though they may be, down on paper, but don't crumple them up and throw them away.  Forget about your pride and that perfect image you wanted to project to your children.  It will help them to know that you were once, where they are today, that you didn't have the answers and needed to seek someone else's help, even if that help came in the form of a sympathetic ear, just someone who was willing to listen as you poured out all the hurt and all the bitterness which was building inside you.  Sure, your children will present different circumstances which shape the problems they are facing, circumstances you may be unfamiliar with, but all that experience you have had is valuable; combining that with parental wisdom and logic and that special kind of love God grants all parents, you will work it out. 

          Imagine this, if you can; you will become the first person they turn to when they are facing difficulty in their young life; not the last.  They could even present you with a problem that will stump you completely, but wouldn't it be great to know that they had the confidence in you to bring it to you for a solution? Should that happen, don't be ashamed or too proud to admit that you too, may need to seek outside help.  It's enough that you were willing to listen and try.

          The end of the song says, "I wasn't there that morning--when my Father passed away--I didn't get to tell him all the things I had to say--I think I caught his spirit--later that same year--I'm sure I heard his echo in my newborn baby's tears--I just wish I could have told him--in the living years."

          How sad it is to say that parents have the most influence upon their children's lives, only after they have left this world.  It's a sad commentary on the human state of existence.  For the children, it's as if their parent's personality took up residence within the words and actions they recall.  Ignored statements and bits of advice suddenly have meaning, or forgotten deeds of love and kindness take on a value never noticed before.

          Love and dedication are never wasted on the young.  Those heart to heart talks do sink in, slowly, that's for sure, but they do have value and are important.

          There is a way to change this all too common outcome in human relationships; please try to find it for yourself and take action.

The living years are over and gone, far too quickly.



                                                                        Clarence Bowles:            PARENT


Copyright 1999, Clarence Bowles
All rights reserved. Reproductions without the author's express permission are prohibited.

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