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Soul Searching

Tom Saretsky


Desert wilderness of parenting lasts more than 40 days

Shortly after Jesus’ baptism by John, he is driven to the desert. Jesus stays there for 40 days and the devil uses the opportunity to tempt him a number of times. Each temptation is more enticing than the last, but Jesus stands firm and rebukes each one rather handily. Frustrated, the devil finally leaves him alone, and Jesus is left to the care of his angels. I had a spirited discussion about this very occurrence in Jesus’ life with my class not long ago.

The desert is a wild wilderness environment. In geological terms, the desert is commonly referred to as a forsaken area of land where little precipitation occurs, making hostile living conditions for plant and animal life. It can be a dangerous, lonely and difficult place to survive.

I think we all live in this wilderness at various times in our lives. Life “out there,” which can be in the hallways of a school, in family life, on the job or in public life, isn’t always pleasant or easy. Life is tough and demanding and sometimes one needs to be a survivalist in order to make it. Jesus experienced that first-hand.

We discussed the different kinds of desert wilderness young students experience. For example, they deal with the issues of peer pressure, exerting their own independence, identity (as we all do at times), friends, family, and future. As the discussion was nearing its end, one student asked me the question, “Mr. Saretsky, what is your wilderness?” It was a good question and, after pondering it for awhile, I submitted that my wilderness was parenting.

For most parents, parenting can be a frightening wilderness. Though it is a wonderful, life enriching, “stones-into-bread” experience, it can be punctuated with doubt, fear and loneliness. Even when it comes to decisions, parenting is difficult. The decisions parents make for their children aren’t always popular.

Parenting is stressful — there is no manual on how to parent, no formalized training. It is the most important job in the world, but it’s learn-as-you-go. Parenting and family life contain great joy, but it is a wilderness experience that sometimes leaves us hoping for angels to minister to us. 

I experienced this wilderness when I came home from school one Friday afternoon. As soon as I got into the house, my daughter Jenna was requesting to have a sleepover with a couple of her friends. I’ve never been a fan of sleepovers and when I told Jenna the answer was “no,” she, in the blink of an eye, somehow managed to summon and unleash the emotional power of the underworld. I swear Jenna has those spirits on speed dial. So much for a peaceful end to the week.

It was a back-and-forth battle and our stubborn natures were colliding head-on. Apparently, Jenna had already made the arrangements with her friends at school. All the plans were in place and she really didn’t want to make the phone calls explaining that her dad was tired and wasn’t up to anyone sleeping over. This wasn’t going well for Jenna, even though I was getting battle weary. However, my reinforcement was arriving in the form of my ally, my wife, Norma, as I heard her enter the house.

I whisked Norma into the briefing room and got her up to speed on the situation. We had the tactical advantage, but it was still necessary that Norma fall into place and assume the battle position. However, much to my surprise, nothing was said, except for her small whispered statement, “Memories are more important than moods.” Her silence usually tells me something more than her words do, but this time her words struck a chord.

There was a point, in my exchange with Jenna, where I was going to relent, but I usually try to match Jenna’s stubbornness. Maybe I simply found it difficult to launch myself from the high peak of my pride. Scripture says that God will send his angels to catch you lest you dash your foot against a stone. Apparently that doesn’t work with pride. You simply have to swallow it quickly, but I do admit it’s never given me indigestion. In the end, Norma delivered me and Jenna to the promised land of peace and harmony, and the sleepover went ahead without a hitch or a late night.

Throughout the time I’ve been a parent, there’s been a constant mixture of pain and joy; of confrontation and reconciliation; of windswept deserts and life-giving oases; of fighting hard and loving harder. Parenting is the most monumental blessing I’ve ever experienced, and it is an experience I wouldn’t trade for all the kingdoms of the world. I pray that you all feel the same way.

Saretsky is a teacher and chaplain at Holy Cross High School in Saskatoon. He and his wife, Norma, have two children, Nathan and Jenna.