There is a phrase that I’ve heard often over the years, to “find yourself.” I’m not sure where the phrase has its genesis. Perhaps it has always been with the human race. But the phrase invites you on a journey into pop psychology, where you supposedly will discover who you truly are in essence, the discovery of which will finally make you happy and satisfied with your life. It might sound somewhat narcissistic, but it is understandable. I imagine we all reach some point in our lives when we begin to wonder who we are and why we are here on this earth. We usually start asking these questions when we have some crisis of identity in our lives at puberty as we are just beginning to explore the more meaningful experiences of life such as deep friendships or romantic love. Or we have them when our world view is shattered by some traumatic crisis. Or we start exploring these questions when we have crises later in life when we start to reach some level of success in life in education or occupation or whatever, only to find that we are not as happy as we expected to be when reaching these lofty places. So, failing to find happiness, we start to question everything in an existential crisis.
I suppose this is probably something that God has built into the human psyche to guide us back to Him, because otherwise we might develop idols in our lives that take the rightful place of the real God. It is human nature to throw yourself into some endeavor in life without any concern for anyone or anything else. Perhaps this is more typically a male thing as we try to make our mark in the world, but it is certainly not confined to men. For the man, we sometimes argue that we are doing it for others, which may be partially true, but the way we do it can be essentially selfish when we put too much time and energy into these things and ignore the emotional needs of those around us. It is not enough to simply be a “good earner” for your family. They also have emotional needs for your time and attention. They need to know that they matter in your eyes. You cannot simply think this. It must be manifested some way to prove its truth. But it is such a natural thing for men to overlook the emotional part of their obligations, supposedly while they are fighting for their families, providing for them and protecting them in the archetypal, macho hunter mentality. I suppose there is nothing wrong with this when it is executed with psychological balance, allowing time and effort to meet the emotional needs of those around us, our wives most definitely, but especially children who are just beginning to negotiate this thing called life, trying to determine what the rules are, to determine how they fit into the grand scheme of things, to determine what their value to the world is, and ultimately to determine whether they really have any value.
It is at this most vulnerable time in their lives that they need to hear and see in concrete terms the message that they are loved and valued and that they have an infinite value in your eyes and in the eyes of their Creator. If we put this message successfully into our children, then perhaps they will not feel the need to go looking for themselves, feeling as if they are lost and that their identity is out there in an unknown location waiting to be discovered. Children should never be left alone to wander aimlessly trying to determine why they are put here in this life and what they are meant to do or whether they have any value. There is a parenting philosophy that seems to have been widespread in our country as I was growing up, a kind of laissez-faire mentality. Maybe it has always been with us. In this approach to parenting, you simply provide room and board for your child, and you flit into their lives when you see fit or need some entertainment, as if your child is no more than a circus act to adorn your life and make you happy.
But children are human beings in their most innocent and vulnerable form complete with needs and desires of their own. They each have need of our input and training to help them negotiate this world successfully. When we carry out our responsibilities as parents correctly, we burn deep into their psyches lessons that they will remember all their lives. This is a truth that has been known over the ages through scripture: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). These early lessons are the greatest in magnitude, run the deepest into our hearts and souls, but when we do it incorrectly, we also burn deep into their psyche lessons about life that they will unfortunately carry for the rest of their days. If we do not successfully show them that they have infinite value, then they will carry the unmistakable message for the rest of their lives that they do not matter, that they are not loved, that they are not worth loving, or perhaps that their value is at least questionable. This is why you absolutely must get the relationships with your children right. There is so much riding on your success or failure.