All honesty, whether it’s telling the truth about chopping down a cherry tree, or stopping the impulse to take or keep something that is not ours, or avoiding the inflation of our image with a spin of fiction, begins by facing the truth about who we are.
No matter how great we are or were as parents, in the end, we are only human. As such, in the process of going and growing as parents and as people, we must be self-honest. To be honest we must have the courage to take an ongo- ing, honest and fearless inventory of ourselves AND our role as parents.
In doing so the hero discovers two truths:
1. Parents (like all of us) are Children of a Greater Power. As parents, we learn that our identity is not determined by na- ture or nurture. We know that we are not held captive by our past, no matter how much of a victim of circumstance, of other people or of our own bad choices we were. We know that genetics may have a say, but not the final say, about who we authentically are. Parents know that situations we live in or find ourselves in do not define us. We know the props of our lifestyle define us neither as good or bad, as a success or as a failure. We do not even define ourselves by what we do or by title. Finally, we know our identities are not created by what other people expect, say or think about us. As one of my parents said to me, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” Indeed a parent is defined not by where we’ve been or where we are but by where we are going.
If nature or nurture or other people, places and things do not define a parent, what are we defined by?
If all of us, including parents, have the courage to be honest with ourselves. We learn that, in our essence, we are stand-ins, if you will, for what Native Americans call the “Great Spirit.” When it comes to the struggle for justice, we’re called to provide the muscle; when it comes to those who’ve been marginalized, we’re the heart of compassion; when it comes to the sick, the hungry and the tired, we’re the healing hands.
As children of a power greater then ourselves, we are called to acknowledge, understand and embrace our authentic identities as courageous, compassionate, joyful, humble, honest, persevering, responsible, accountable, visionary people. Anyone who claims they are less then this is simply not being honest with themselves or others. Indeed, if we are not honest about our true nature, we will fail to realize our heroic nature as parents.
To stay in integrity, to be true to ourselves, to stay honest parents, we are asked on a daily basis to look themselves in the mirror and evaluate how we measured up when it came to courage, compassion, honesty, responsibility, forgive- ness, serenity, patience, faith and other virtues of the spirit. When we’ve fallen short, we make amends to ourselves and others and learn from our mistakes.
2. Parents (like all of us) have a shadow side. If a parent is honest he or she will acknowledge, understand and em- brace the fact that far from being perfect, life is a “work in progress.”
While a parents’ authentic being may be defined by the virtues of the spirit, if this is all they (or anyone else) believes about themselves, then they are bound to commit acts of hubris. Hubris inevitably leads to the collapse of the paren- tal pedestal, or worse, the victimization of others.
So the second truth the parent (and by extension, all of us) must face with courage is that within us lives a shadow side. Our shadow side is fully capable of morphing into an anti-parent–something quite ugly and self serving. We deny this truth at our own peril.
Now the shadow may include anger, selfishness, jealousy, pride, insecurity, feral nature or destructiveness. Although the shadow is a part of who we are, it seems natural for us to deny or hide it. When we do this it’s inevitable that it’ll creep out of our inner being, and we’ll end up projecting the shadow onto others, including our spouses, children, friends, and neighbors and noticeably onto other races or cultures and societies.
Parents know that it is much easier to demonize enemies and blame things outside of themselves. Leaders of nations do this as well as private individuals. Failing to be honest and recognize our own complicity in family dysfunction, including the addiction of our loved one, we can choose to project the problems of our own lives onto innocents. We can actually believe we have the corner on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
How can we be honest?
Catholic priest Richard Rohr once said: “God calls us to take the path of the inner truth–and that means taking respon- sibility for everything that’s in you: for what pleases you and for what you are ashamed of …. In…life nothing goes away. There is no heavenly garbage dump. Everything belongs.”
Parents accept the truth that we are not perfect. We are conscious of our shadow side. As such we are able to name the demons of jealousy, pride, greed, impulsiveness, insecurity, destructiveness to self and others when it arises within and address them. Resisting the temptation to demonize or blame our addicted loved one, we learn and grow from our own shortcomings and defects of character. We also know we are not alone. But most of all, parents learn to not only love the virtues we carry within, but also to “love the leper inside.” (St. Francis of Assisi)