This morning was one of those parenting mornings.
If you’re a parent, you know what I mean.
The kind that makes you want to put a pillow over your head and pretend morning never happened.
The kind that leaves you hustling hurriedly out of playgroup early because you’re horrified at your child(ren)’s behavior and they’re out of second (or seventeenth) chances.
The kind that makes you question if you’re doing anything right, because the little people don’t seem to be practicing anything that you’ve taught them.
The kind that leaves your already-throbbing head hurting worse, the tension between your shoulders tightening by the second.
The kind that makes you remember you are absolutely powerless to control your children’s hearts and actions.
The Paradox of Parenting
Mornings like this make me honestly re-evaluate my role as a parent (and no, I don’t mean jumping on a plane headed for Jamaica under a new ID, although I’m not denying that passing thought may have occurred once or twice). Because there are two paradoxical realities at play here:
- My children have their own free will.
- It’s my job to lovingly guide and shape their hearts.
The delicate reality hanging in the balance between those two paradoxes is this: I’m powerless to control my children, but I’m not powerless to shape them. In fact, it’s my job as a parent to shape my children to be functional individuals who can rightly live within the context of society.
The Calling on Christian Parents
As a Christian parent, that job extends further to a calling placed on my life by God – the calling to “train up a child in the way he/she should go” (Proverbs 22:6).
Now, I know this verse gets a bad rap because of the ways it is misused to support abusive or authoritarian parenting measures. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, shall we?
Over the years I’ve discipled several students who were violin majors at a local university. They’ve described the two violin professors they can choose to study under (let’s call them Professor J and Professor B). Both are highly respected professors who are known for turning out quality violinists well-prepared for master’s programs or professional careers. But their approaches could not be more different.
Professor J is known to be a caring professor who challenges his students to meet their potential and work hard with an undergirding foundation of support and encouragement. The students love him, and they flourish under his instruction, not just musically but as individuals.
Professor B is known to be a cold professor who demands them to be perfect by belittling them, condescending them, embarrassing them, and being downright mean to them. The students improve under his instruction, but often at the expense of their mental and emotional health.
I’m afraid when we hear the phrase “train up a child in the way he/she should go” we automatically picture Professor B style parenting. Hard line. Critical. Cold. Harsh. Belittling. May produce “results”, but at the expense of the overall well-being of the child.
I think there’s another way, and I know this because Scripture is clear: God is love. God IS love. God, the one who calls us to diligently train up our children, is a God who abundantly loves His children. Part of how His love is manifest toward us is through His patient, diligent “training” of our hearts and minds toward what is best for us.
Anything worth doing in life requires training. Why should we expect parenting to be any different? Yet I admit, all too often, I expect parenting to be a walk in the park with minimal interruption to my day. Hah!
Training Up a Child – The Right Way
As Godly parents, I think the calling to “train up our children in the way they should go” means three things (someone older and wiser, please tell me if I’ve got it all wrong!):
Train up a child in the knowledge of the Lord
God’s ultimate desire for our children is that they know Him. That they know His word, because that’s His story and His love letter to us. That they know His heart – how He loves them and went to great lengths to redeem them. That they know His character – that He is trustworthy and good and dependable. We are shaping them to have a clear understanding of who He is and what He’s done for them. What they choose to do with that knowledge is up to them.
Train up a child in the ways of the Lord
God created humans to function in
a certain way, in terms of how we relate to Him, to each other, to the world around us, to authority. That’s what His rules are all about – His loving expression of how He created us to thrive in human society. As we give our children clear rules and expectations, we’re teaching them how to rightly relate to God, to others, to the world around us, and to the authorities over us. We are shaping them to be functional, contributing members of the Body of Christ and of society. How they choose to live as adults is up to them.
Train up a child in the love of the Lord
God Himself is love, and His greatest commandment is to love Him with all our hearts and love others selflessly. As I teach them, I can model and demonstrate His love, His mercy, His grace, and His kindness to them so that, like the students of Professor J, they flourish in who He created them to be. I can shape them to treat others with kindness and respect. If they choose to love God is up to them.
Notice I didn’t say “train up a child to be saved.” That part is beyond our control – I cannot make my children believe anything. I cannot force them to repent of their sin. I cannot flip a magic switch to surrender their hearts to His loving lordship of their lives. In that sense, I am powerless.
But I can shape them toward a right understanding of God and themselves. I can shape them to live in the way He intends for us to live, because that is what’s best for them and the world around them. And I can shape them to feel loved and extend love to others.
Parenting is Not for the Faint of Heart
On a day like today, I am reminded that this job is not for the faint of heart. I want to go to playgroup and sit back and talk with my friends about what God is doing in our lives while the children play peacefully nearby. I want to eat my lunch uninterrupted. I want them to play together without arguing.
But that’s not my job. Each of their squabbles is an opportunity to shape them toward loving others. Each of their meltdowns is an opportunity to shape them to feel loved. Each of their acts of disobedience is an opportunity to shape them toward obedience. Each of their expressions of hurt feelings and frustration is an opportunity to shape them toward knowledge of the God who heals, who restores, who loves.
Peaceful parenting isn’t the goal. Productive parenting is.
So though I felt fried by 9 a.m., though I didn’t sit for more than 2 minutes at a time during playgroup, though we had to leave early, it’s not all for naught. The bumps are the path toward growth. The friction is the heat of transformation. The tears are the drops of restoration.
It’s for something much greater, much more significant. It’s for shaping the little people God has entrusted to me so that, prayerfully, they know Him, they walk in His ways, and they live in love of God and others. It’s doing my part to shape the dough and trusting Him with the exact outcome.
It’s training time. Who’s with me?
Violin photo by Duboix at Morguefile.com
Bible photo by jclk8888 at Morguefile.com