Posted by: Beverly Dale | September 11, 2009

Robins and helicopters

This spring I saw a robin that was neither a scrawny hairless creature fresh from the egg nor an adult soaring through the air. Most probably in its adolescent years, it had not yet got the hang of soaring and flying. I watched as it walked around the concrete patio and every few seconds furiously fluttered its wings, managing to lift its body about 12 inches off the ground. Then, down he would come. Except for the fluttering wings one would think from a distance that he was hopping. I was not too worried, however, because its mother was watching from a high wire not far away. Occasionally she would swoop down with a grub in her mouth and feed it but for the most part she watched from above. It was definitely hands-off mothering. Would her offspring make it? If it did, it would be without her meddling.

There is a wisdom in this type of parenting that we might do well to consider. Love is knowing when it is time to step aside and let the young figure things out on their own. Some college students have ‘helicopter’ parents these days who talk to them multiple times a day, proofread papers and sometimes, I fear, even write them as well. Unlike the mother robin, they are extraordinarily involved in the lives of their young. What kind of independence does this foster? Not much I am afraid.

I recently watched “Save Me,” a movie about a Christian woman who desperately believes she has a divine calling to save gay men from their “affliction” of being gay. She sets up a residential house serving as both the administrator and housemother. While her intentions are seemingly pure, at least on the surface, her mode of saving them is to watch them constantly, controlling as much of their lives as she can. This monitoring is portrayed subtly as the residents build bird houses to sell. Her controlling methods were not unlike the ways the houses are an attempt to domesticate the birds.

But just what kind of love is it that controls in such a way that it interferes with personal growth or the personal decision-making of adults? And, how can this be called love when those on the receiving end experience judgment and condemnation? Her “love” was predicated upon changes she determines are necessary. If it is controlling or oppressive, can it be love? No. I would say it is not. And for this conclusion I turn to scripture.

What kind of love does God model for us? Is God like a helicopter parent always monitoring every move, weighing in with advice, and giving directions whether we ask for it or not? Or, is God’s love controlling? Does God hold out the promise of deliverance but only if we shape up and become something we are not?

The words of I Corinthians 13, which is also called “The Love Chapter”, come to mind. In this passage love is described as patient and kind, not self-seeking but always hoping for the best. This description does not sound to me like telling other people how to live or what they need to change. Jesus’ story, commonly referred to as the Prodigal Son, is helpful in thinking about love. In this story the parent, who represents God, lets the son go down the path he wanted to go even though the father knew it might well have disastrous results. It did. But regardless, the parent waits patiently and never stops hoping for the best.

One saying goes, “If you love something set it free… If it comes back, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was yours.” This is the kind of patience and freedom that was expressed in the Garden of Eden when God says to the first earth creature “You are free to eat of any tree in the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” God sets humanity free to make choices about how to live, and sometimes, like the robin, we try and try and just never quite get the hang of it. But a love that is real and, I believe, was modeled by Jesus, does not condemn, but patiently waits for us to get it right.

I think both the mother robin and Jesus understood that love and freedom are inextricably connected. So go into your world and live freely, doing the best you can. But rest assured, someplace on a high wire out of your sight, is the One who is patient and kind and always hoping for the best. And the name of this One is Love.

Copyright ©2009 Beverly Dale all rights reserved.


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