I often jokingly say that before I became a parent, I was the “perfect parent.” Can anyone relate? At times I would criticize others and the way they parented their children, believing that I would have handled unpleasant situations rightly and that my child would never [insert random act of disobedience here]. Sadly, I assumed that snotty-nosed toddlers who did not immediately obey their parents must not be disciplined at home. And now, several years later, as I consider my own snotty-nosed toddler, I shake my head and sigh in disbelief that I ever thought I’d be able to control another human being’s actions. Ha!
While there certainly are biblical principles for parenting our children that should not be dismissed, and while we should strive to discipline the little sinners in our homes according to God’s Word, I now understand that – as my husband lovingly reminds me – my child is not a robot! Parenting is extremely humbling when you finally accept the fact that your child is going to do all the things you said he would never do. And, throughout my three short years of being a parent, I’ve come to realize that [almost] all of us are just doing the best we can with the lessons we’ve learned and the knowledge we’ve been given. To be honest, most days I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m learning as I go. Parenting is hard, and it takes a lot of time and effort to try to teach my child not to step on our five-pound dog, throw his toy trains across the living room, or poke me with his foam sword as I cook dinner. And guess what? Our children will not obey on command every time. They are living, breathing souls. They have their own desires and make their own decisions. All we can do is guide them along the way.
One of my many weaknesses in parenting is that I often focus too much on my child’s outward behavior and not enough on the thoughts and intentions of his heart. I separate the external from the internal instead of seeing that the external stems from the internal. After all, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Luke 6:45). I’ve had to train myself to observe whether his poor behavior is a heart issue or a matter of naïveté and immaturity. Often it’s both, but it’s important that I approach disciplinary action in the right way, seeking to get to the root cause of the issue rather than just slapping a Bandaid on top of his bad behavior.
While I want the main focus of my parenting to be upon shepherding my child’s heart, showing him his sinfulness, and pointing to his need of a Savior instead of simply modifying his behavior, it is right and important for him to understand and possess the skills and qualities that are necessary in order to be a considerate, ethical, law-abiding citizen one day when he’s an adult. I was thinking earlier about some of the particular qualities and skills he’ll need to be successful in this life, no matter where he goes or what he does:
- I want my child to be kind and courteous to others. He’s not going to make many friends or get very far in this life if he doesn’t possess basic kindness and a courteous attitude.
- I want him to respect authority, whether it be parents, teachers, bosses, or other authoritative figures in his life. He must learn to honor those who are over him.
- I want him to possess basic communication skills. Just to get by in this life we need to have some people skills and should be able to carry on a conversation with another human being.
- I want him to exhibit honesty and integrity. He will never earn the trust of a spouse, friend, employer, or co-worker if he does not display genuine honesty in his life and work.
But I must always remember that while these skills and qualities will help my son be successful by worldly standards, they will not grant him an entrance into the heavenly kingdom. Correct behavior is certainly good, right, and important, and we will be judged according to our works (Romans 2:6-11), but we cannot merit God’s favor. I want to show my son that he will never obey perfectly, which is why he needs a Substitute to stand in his place at God’s judgment throne. Moments of discipline and correction are beautiful opportunities to shine a light on Christ and on His perfect righteousness that not one of us possesses without saving faith. Praise God for sending His Son to live a perfect life, to die a gruesome death, and to be raised again on the third day, defeating death and hell for all eternity for those who believe and trust in Him. And I pray that my own devotion to Christ, flawed as it may be, will point my child to the Savior, as my son witnesses my utter dependence upon God when I continually fail but draw ever nearer to the Lord in my weaknesses, striving to live a life of holiness. May the Lord, in His sovereignty, prick my child’s heart and grant him repentance and saving faith that he might trust in the Lord all his days, and may I always direct my child to Christ through my words and through my life.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.