Wednesday, May 23, 2012


"I will send you an advocate."  An advocate is one who supports, defends, or intercedes on behalf of another. This was Jesus' promise of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. I thought about that text this week when I encountered a parent interceding on behalf of her child,  defending the child for something the child had failed to do. I believe this to be one of the things that we are called to be as parents: our children's advocates. We are to support them, defend them, and intercede on their behalf. It is holy work.

Some of us do this too often and too much. We are the helicopter parents that educators complain about. We are so much in their business that it becomes our business. We stick up for them in situations where they ought to stand up for themselves. We make excuses for them. We get involved in their disputes with other children, and try to get college professors to change their grades. This is not good advocacy.

Others of us advocate too little.  Perhaps we believe that our children need to stand on their own two feet; we believe that if they expect someone else to defend them they will be disappointed. Maybe we hate or fear conflict so much that we won't get involved, even when our own children have suffered an injustice, or when they are up against an adversary they are not equipped to handle. This is not good advocacy either.

As with most things in life, finding the right balance is not always easy. In my years as a parent I have sometimes been overly protective and sometimes not intervened as I should have. None of us will do it perfectly, but it is important to look at situations and carefully consider what our role  should be: supporter, intercessor, or defender. All three are means of advocating; which one is best?

I think Jesus sent the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to the disciples for things outside of their own skills and abilities. I doubt that the Holy Spirit got very involved in Peter and Andrew's fishing ventures. They were competent at fishing even  before Jesus arrived on the scene. The Advocate, however, showed up on Pentecost when it was time for the disciples to come out of hiding and testify to what they had experienced. That was a big deal, a big crowd, multiple languages, lots of soldiers, lots of fear, lots of discernment and wisdom required, and in that case the Spirit supported them, gave them the words and the courage.

Maybe this is the model we parents should follow. Let our children navigate the day-to-day business of their lives and advocate for them when the big deals happen: when they face something new, when tragedy strikes, when they have a job that's bigger than their training and experience has prepared them to handle. In between we can wear some of the Spirit's other titles: Helper, Counselor, Friend, Comforter, Wisdom. In this we don't replace the Spirit, we merely imitate the spirit in our own limited and human fashion. We are, after all, created in the image of God, and the Spirit is God. The Spirit came to us, and to our children, in baptism. As we advocate for our children, know that there is one who supports, defends and intercedes on our behalf as well!

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