In her memoir, “The Hiding Place,” Holocaust survivor Corrie ten Boom tells the story of a conversation she and her father had when she was a young girl. While riding on a train together, Corrie and her father were talking when she had asked him a question about sex. Instead of answering her directly, Corrie’s father sat quietly, thinking about his next move, before reaching above his head and hoisting down a heavy suitcase.
“Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?” her father asked.
After a brief struggle to lift the suitcase, Corrie stated her inability to lift it off the ground: “It’s too heavy.”
“Yes,” he said. “And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry if for you.”
Recounting the story—which becomes something of a guiding principal throughout the rest of her account—Corrie sums up her reaction to her father’s unexpected words.
“And I was satisfied,” she writes. “More than satisfied—wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions—for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.”
How often, in our world today, do our children deal with the aches and pains and scars from having to carry the load their father or mother is unwilling to carry for them? How often does our selfishness in marriage cause our inability to be the parents that God is calling us to; mainly because most of our energy is focused toward anger, resentment and frustration with our spouse? So many people come to therapy with me, as adults, who struggle in life and with relationships because of having to carry a great burden of having grown up with sexual abuse, or neglect, or addictions. Do we ever stop to think of the innocence being lost in our children, and the burden we lay on them when we are unwilling to “take up our cross” for our family and carry it?
The great call for marriages today is for all of us to learn care and compassion for those around us, especially those in our family. For us to learn how to step outside of our own selfish ways to nourish or marriage and to love and spend time with our kids. Most people don’t want to hurt their children, but little do we often realize how our maltreatment or neglect of our spouse does just that. When their mother or father hurts, so do they. And every child longs to love their parents, even in the midst of the chaos and anger. That’s why so many, even though hurt by their parents, say they long to hear their mom or dad just say, and mean, those three little words, “I love you!” After 40 years, my father finally heard those words from his alcoholic, dying father for the first time in his life. Though initially it caused pain and anger over the many times he didn’t hear it when he needed it most, my dad was able to find some resolution after my grandfather passed away.
When we are at peace with our spouse and truly working to have a loving, sacrificial, Sacramental marriage, it frees us up to truly be what our children need: loving, attentive shepherds. Parents that have the time and energy to guide our children and to guard them from potential dangers. To have those special moments of connection and faith sharing that they are starving for. When they see us loving and respecting their mom and their dad, they too feel loved and respected, and all the while feeling safe and secure. It becomes a burden if one spouse chooses not to share in the carrying of the load and only results in resentment, division, and pain. But when couples bear the load together, it is much easier to manage while still meeting the needs of their children. This is what so many children need today and so many of our generations to come will also need. But are we willing to change the trajectory of our family systems today by learning what my eight year old daughter just said to me last night: “People are more important than animals and things!” Who is carrying the heavy suitcase in your family?