Thursday, January 25, 2018

Parenting 101

Our family is blessed--extremely blessed. God has provided and we live a life of grace and gratitude, thanks to Him. There is a sense in which others want that same blessing; it is a wonderful gift, but there's no way to pass on or multiply the blessing to others except to turn them to God Himself, through Jesus.

As our children grow (and have grown), one thing is certain: God uses them to change us. And, as struggling parents ask questions, share concerns, and look for answers, Jesus' simple but impossible charge stands central: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. Simple, because we understand the premise. Impossible, because apart from the saving work of Jesus Christ and dependence on His Spirit, Word, and people, we cannot begin to put it into practice.

If we, as parents, are trying to be successful we will lose the war. If we follow a contemporary path of certainty, another's example, a way of thinking, or our own reasoning, we will fail. If we try to impress our neighbors, community, coaches, pastor, church members, and extended family, we will stumble. (Let me add that neither my husband or I came onto the parenting scene feeling equipped or confident. As I've mentioned before, I still can't find the family videos of our early years of parenting that I hid because they gave our children the wrong idea and modeled push-over, permissive parenting on my part.)

If, on the other hand, we prayerfully commit, "I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart" (Psalm 101:2), loving God first and foremost, we will please the only One who counts. God does not promise godly children. He has given principles to live by, but if we follow His example we must admit that even He does not have perfectly obedient, godly children! What He does guarantee is that He will make His children in Christ more and more like His precious Son, whatever it takes. The salvation and spiritual life of our children is not our responsibility. It is God's. We can provide a godly environment, influence, consequences and training, but we cannot work heart change. The children in our home are gifts--temporary residents--we are given to steward, train and prepare for life. It is a constant seeking after wisdom (Proverbs 1-5).

A speaker recently said, "We hold to the Proverb, 'Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.' But if we, as parents, put more trust in our training than in the Lord, what kind of example are we setting?"

Second, we are charged to love our children as we love ourselves. They are not pawns, advertisements, posters, or mindless followers. My duty as a parent is not to mold them into my idea of success. The basis of my instruction is to love them more than myself in daily, practical exercises. In loving my husband and children, I am called to die to myself: my desires, my plans, my schedule, my goals. I do not martyr myself for the sake of my children. I make a deliberate choice to put God first and others (my husband, then children) next, trading my wants for their needs. I choose to lovingly serve them by doing what is in their best interest instead of what makes me look or feel good. What is best? What do they need most? How can I help? How can I cooperate with God to train this child so he is suited for the world? I know his bent--what does s/he need to learn how to navigate independence? How can I facilitate his/her natural growth?

Late in the teen years one of our children said, "Mom, sometimes I really didn't like you." "You know what, sweetie?" I answered, "I didn't like you either....But I always loved you."

Parents, we need to grow up. We need to look up. How is God using our children to make us more dependent on Him? To hack away at unseen idols, desires, and sinful habits? Do I love God first? Most? Or do I love what He can do for me more? Do I love His promises more than God Himself? And what about my children? Do they see me loving God or loving myself? Do they know I love them more than success, other's impressions, my reputation, their salvation or future choices? Do I truly love my children more than myself? We won't always get it right, but by God's grace, we will learn, love, change and grow--and He will bless as He sees fit, in trial and relief. It's all in His hands.

One more thing--if life doesn't turn out the way I think it should, if I don't experience "blessing" or tragedy strikes I have learned to ask myself, "Is God still good?" Someday I'll tell you the story about a man with a gun, a lawsuit, a traveling husband and a house full of sleeping children when I imagined the worst and that still voice asked, "Even if.... Is God still good?" And the answer, with tears, is always, "Yes. God is still good."

"Good and upright is the Lord;
Therefore He instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in justice,
And He teaches the humble His way.
All the paths of the Lord are lovingkindness and truth
To those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.
For Your name’s sake, O Lord,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.." (Psalm 25:8-11)

One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)

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