I for one was deeply impressed with "the Prophet" and its profound insights and spirituality. Here is one of my favorite excerpts from the 26 poems that make up the work.
And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, "Speak to us of Children."
And he said:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
While this is a natural manifesto for a somewhat rebellious Christian child like me, my interest in it now is in what Gibran wants to convey about the proper theology of children, and how parents should relate to and raise them. One of the things that has most disturbed me about conservative Protestant child rearing in recent years is the attempt of parents to either 1) relive their own lives, hopes, and dreams through their children, and/or 2) re-create their children, not in God's image but in their own. We often proudly say "well he's a chip off the old block". But isn't a child supposed to be recreated in Christ's and his heavenly Father's image, not in the image of his earthly parents? I think Gibran is trying to speak to this in this poem.
There is another point Gibran is stressing in this poem. Our children do not belong to us-- they are gifts of God which come through us, may well resemble us, but God has his own plans for them along the way. The question becomes when does a parent, if ever, realize they need to ask the question--- but what would God have me do with this child, much as Samuel's mother had to ask? Letting go of one's children is hard. I know, I have three of them, and one is moving to Washington D.C. tomorrow. I will sorely miss the good times we have had together in recent years. Yet I know deep in my soul it is the right thing to do-- a mother should never become a smother, and father should never be a bother. We are the bow, but God is the archer, and he knows where the target is-- whereas I can only guess.
It is a delicate balance I know between care and possessiveness, concern and fear when it comes to children. One of the problems that can happen with home-schooling children is that often they do not learn how to cope with the world or real life. They do not learn the proper social skills. They grow up in a Christian laboratory or hothouse, and the question becomes whether the plant can be successfully transplanted into a real outdoor garden somewhere. This is what happens when fear-based parenting replaces faith-based parenting.
And Gibran is suggesting that we need to have more faith in God, and help launch our children into the world, not merely shield them from it. Is it not true, after all that God is greater than the world? Is it not true that "greater is he than any forces in the world"? This surely should affect the way we raise our children if it is indeed true.
I do not claim to be an expert in Christian child-rearing, but this I do know. The world is God's world, and Christianity is an evangelistic world-transforming religion, not at heart a world-negating religion. These truths ought to affect the way we do our child-rearing as we launch them into their own futures.
If ever there was a parent who might be forgiven for being over-protective of a child it was Abraham, with Isaac-- the child of his great old age, the promised one. And yet there came a day when God required the child of him, indeed he asked Abraham to be prepared to go up the mountain and sacrifice the child. Before you ever say "but God would never ask me to do X,Y, or Z with or for my child" you should re-read that story. If you want to receive back your children someday in joy, you must be prepared to give them up to the Lord in tears if need be, and give them up to the pursuit of their own futures. When you do this, sometimes the child even becomes the tutor if not the father or mother to the man or woman.
It was Paul who warned-- do not exasperate your children. Well nothing is more exasperating that inhibiting or prohibiting your little angel from stretching his or her wings. In fact Paul says that we should not treat our children in such fashion that they lose heart, become depressed, give up trying to be their own person, and pursue God's leading in their lives. We need to hear again the advice found in Col. 3-4/Ephes. 5-6 about child rearing. There comes a time when a parent must finally and fully trust God in regard to their offspring. What did the old sage say "Train up a child in the way that they should go, and they....." And then let go and let God. Think on these things.