The non-toxic Parent

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We have this book here called Toxic Parents (by Susan Forward). It makes for unpleasant, but truthful reading:

“Children who are not encouraged to do, to try, to explore, to master, and to risk failure, often feel helpless and inadequate. Over-controlled by anxious, fearful parents, these children often become anxious and fearful themselves. This makes it difficult for them to mature. Many never outgrow the need for ongoing parental guidance and control. As a result, their parents continue to invade, manipulate, and frequently dominate their lives.”

From the child’s point of view, it’s the old rabbit-frozen-in-the-headlight syndrome.When you’re scared, you stay put!

And what happens next? It’s a kind of spiral of worry which makes your decision-making more and more cautious. You read the signals wrongly, perceiving threat and risk where there is none, leading to more fear-driven decisions. You get stuck.

And the doctor puts the blame squarely on Toxic Parents.

But what if your parents are non-toxic? Or rather, what if these inadequate specimens were magically switched for their emotional opposites? My online Thesaurus struggled with an antonym for toxic, though it finally came up with

If your parents were like this, surely it would change everything, right? You could take that psychology textbook and flip it on its head, enjoying every positive alternative! My decisions would be calm, rational, fearless. I wouldn’t worry that my parents would “continue to invade, manipulate, and frequently dominate” my life. Instead, they would provide back-up, peace of mind, reassurance and the resource of enduring love.

And that -precisely that!- was how Jesus lived in relationship with his Father.

That relationship forms the backdrop to how he lived and to what he said.

But far from claiming that this relationship was unique or exclusive, he repeatedly urged his disciples to acknowledge it as the basis for their own lifestyle. It was  to be a shared experience. “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father.’” The mutuality of the “Our” is the starting point for prayer itself, for the understanding of love and resource, and uncritical acceptance.

According to Jesus, God is the ultimate non-Toxic Parent, (healthy, helpful, kind and wholesome).

And so, on the basis of all of that: “Whatever you do, DON’T BE ANXIOUS.”

This was Jesus’ clear word:  “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” (Matthew 6:31-32)

It’s easy to miss the key word in this verse. It’s the word “Your.” Jesus is comparing outsiders and insiders.

It’s not a comparison that says “God loves Israel and hates everybody else” – though sometimes the Old Testament seemed to tend that way.

No, God is the Father of all nations and peoples, but many do not acknowledge that relationship. 

The consequence of that lack of relationship is to seek to fill the void with other stuff. So don’t be like those outsiders, then, who “seek after all these things.” No, for you who know him as Father, operate out of the rich resource of that relationship.

The verse goes on. “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all these things shall be added to you.” Your heavenly Father knows” all about your needs.

Just get your priorities right. God is aware of all our needs, physical, intellectual… and spiritual.

And it is his delight to provide for his children.

Once you know him as Father, there can no longer be any need to be anxious. Your relationship is an infinite resource.

In Rachel Vincent poignant little novel, Alpha, there’s a beautiful reflection on the concept of a non-toxic father:

“When I was a child, all problems had ended with a single word from my father. A smile from him was sunshine, his scowl a bolt of thunder. He was smart, and generous, and honorable without fail. He could exile a trespasser, check my math homework, and fix the leaky bathroom sink, all before dinner. For the longest time, I thought he was invincible. Above the petty problems that plagued normal people…”

Now you know where she’s going with this. It’s nostalgia heading straight for regret. But when Jesus spoke of his Father, there was an eternal quality -a sublime confidence that “all I have needed, his hand has provided.”

God is a faithful, truthful help in ages past and our hope for the years to come. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine….” -fix the tap, do the Maths- nothing is too little and nothing is too big for someone so loving and capable. And Paul’s verse (in Ephesians 3:20) brings us into the loop too: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” 

Working in us! He is working in us!

Lord, give me a fresh awareness of your Fatherhood, as I traipse through my day with its decisions, its responses to people and circumstances. Enable me to smile more and worry less, because you are there beside me.

And my relationship is my resource. Thank you!




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One Response to The non-toxic Parent

  1. siobhan bulfin says:

    Beautiful piece of writhing, sums up perfectly what this Christian walk is all about, getting to know him ,love him and work with our HEAVENLY FATHER.
    in all the Doing we can just forget that,.
    Thanks KEN

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