The best ways are often the most ancient ways.
This truth has long resonated with me on a theological level. I’m not drawn to flashy megachurches and multi-media sermons. I like ancient rituals, well-worn prayers, the tradition of the sacraments.
Not to say that I don’t appreciate innovation and inspiration – the Spirit is always renewing the church and we are called to respond to the signs of the times. But I like my church ways deep and ancient. Linking me to a past of seekers and strugglers and believers that came before me. Reminding me that I am not alone.
And yet, when it comes to parenting, I find that it is tempting to be swept up in the newest fad, the flashiest products, the latest study. You should “wear” your baby and not push them in a stroller. You need the high-tech bottles that reduce burps. You can’t give them strawberries before age 1 or they’ll become allergic to everything.
Really? You’d think no one ever had a baby before.
When I was pregnant and wandering around Babies-R-Us trying to decide what we needed, I became utterly overwhelmed by the stuff-ness of babyhood. For every conceivable need – and many I’d never even conceived of before – there was a product, a solution, a system. My cynical, sarcastic side kicked in upon every attempt to visit the store like a mature adult, and I’d resort to mocking everything in sight.
“Why does everything have to make ‘womb sounds?'” I snorted. I stalked up and down the aisle of giant baby swings, pressing every button that promised to replicate exactly the whooshing sounds of the womb to soothe a colicky baby to sleep.
“Why does everything have to be a ‘system?” I sneered, at the long aisle of hulking stroller-carseat combos. “Why can’t it just be a stroller? Or a car seat? Or a play pen? Why does everything have to be 12-in-one and claim that I can use it until my child’s 16th birthday?”
F & I decided we’d rather go the simple route, if we could. We didn’t want a houseful of giant plastic stuff. Didn’t humanity survive this far without a newfangled product for every baby whim and need?
[Ok, full disclosure. It’s never an all-or-nothing deal. We did end up buying one of those swings eventually, on the recommendation of countless friends. And it was a God-send for a few months. But it thankfully did not try to replicate my womb’s sound.]
So I have learned that for the vast majority of my parenting questions and crises, the ancient wisdom often give the better answers.
If the baby sleeps terribly on his back, let him sleep on his belly. The American Academy of Pediatrics will NOT come beating down your door.
If he cries inconsolably, hold him close and shush in his ear. There’s a reason the quiet old woman is murmuring “hush” in Goodnight Moon.
If he’s cranky, go for a walk. Whatever the season. Everything seems better after fresh air and exercise.
If he wants a toy, give him a cup and a spoon to bang on the floor. Peek-a-boo will make him laugh more than any flashy developmental toy.
So it is with the church, too, I believe. Our most pressing modern problems often have ancient answers. When we try to reinvent the wheel for relevancy’s sake, we can lose sight of the message. Scripture grounds us, brings us back. Sacraments and rituals do, too.
It’s not like nobody had a church until we came along.
Granted, there is modern ingenuity to be grateful for. Yes, we use cloth diapers, but we rely on the new kind with velcro and snaps. Yes, we make our own baby food, but we depend on a modern blender to puree and freeze it.
Yes, we need the sacrament of reconciliation, but in what forms to reach people today? Yes, we need to preach the same Gospel truths that were preached in the early church, but in what language to speak to people today?
There is wisdom in the ancient ways. But we have to cut through the hype and turn down the noise and let the wisdom of our own hearts speak if we are to hear it. Otherwise we’re constantly chasing after the next new thing, the promised solution to all our problems.
Life’s not that easy. Neither is parenting. Or leading a church. But many have gone before us, trod these same paths, and left wisdom behind to guide us. If we can stop to listen.