Monday, August 20, 2012

Sage advice from an experienced parent

John 5:19-23 (NIV)

Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.
I came across a few thought-provoking comments the other day regarding Christian parenting. The source is Scot McKnight, who among many other things authored “The Jesus Creed,” which our small group studied from roughly Labor Day 2011 to the start of Lent 2012. He also happens to have been a Little League coach the entire time I played youth baseball, including two seasons when I was on his team. He runs a very popular blog concurrent with his other writings and teachings. The link I followed Sunday said simply, “Great comment on parenting,” which was enough to draw me in.

What he shared was comments a blog reader, “Mickey,” identified as a pediatrician, made on a parenting post earlier in the week. The words interested me on their own, and tonight’s scripture brought me instantly back to review them again.
I am the father of six children that are aged 13-22.5 years. I am also a practicing pediatrician in the Midwest. My wife and I have home-educated our children all the way through their “formal education” years until they have reached college age. I guess I am about as conservative as you can get both from a scriptural and social perspective, although I would consider myself “generous” in my orthodoxy.

I have always approached the education of parents with a few perspectives in mind:

You cannot spoil a child during the first year of life. They are completely dependent on their parents for everything. The warning I give parents with the approach is that adolescence starts at 12 months not 12 years.

After the first year of life parents need to help them learn they are not God, like they think they are. I submit this is an application of the greatest commandment. The second principle they must learn is they are to be responsible for their actions, an application of the second greatest commandment. I have challenged parents to find ways to apply these two commandments in every aspect of parenting for the last twenty years.

There are three corollaries to these principles. First, remember that we parents are not gods either, so admit to your mistakes to your children when they are old enough understand your mistakes. Second, during the very earlier years of their training, when having a battle of wills with them, WIN; and when you cannot win make them believe that you won. Finally when training children, you only have 18-21 years to train them for the following 60 years of their lives. Be their parent these early years, be their friend later.
The reason these words spoke so clearly to me tonight is tied directly to my first reading of Jesus’ comments in John: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”

My initial reaction was to write something along the lines of, “OK, I totally get Jesus is talking about the ‘God the father, God the son’ relationship, but it also makes me think about me being a dad, and I know I’m not God, but for the sake of this discussion…” But when I look back on Mickey’s comments, I see how dangerous this logic can be.

I do think there becoming a parent taught me good things about my relationship with God. For starters, I think about how much I love my children, then realize how much more God loves me (and them), and I am absolutely humbled. I remember the first time we were somewhere with a bunch of other kids, and yet I could distinguish Jack’s laughter and crying amid all the din. I imagined it to be just a taste of God’s ability to hear the concerns of each individual person, no matter how many people are coming to Him in prayer at any given moment.

When the kids got older and became willfully disobedient, I imagine how much harder it must be for God to observe my disobedience of him. After all, if a parent’s love pales in comparison to God’s love, isn’t every emotion similarly magnified? God has done so much for all his people, far more than I will ever be able to do for my children. And how do we repay Him?

But after a while, the similarities end. I pray for God to give me the ability to make the best choices when dealing with my kids, but I know I am imperfect. But God is not imperfect in his dealings with us. I make my kids apologize to each other and ask for forgiveness. But my emotions in response to their behavior are not in any way what I would call Godlike. I want my children to see evidence of my faith in the way I treat them and others, but I must never forget my obligation to tell them where my faith comes from and how it affects me — and admit freely what exactly I ask God to help me with, or, as Mickey puts it, to tell them about my mistakes as it relates to them.

I want my kids to look up to me. But first I need to make myself something worthy of their respect. And then I need to make sure they know I’m not better or worse than any other human, and that only God is worthy of their actual praise and worship. (I do not have any notions that my children worship me, specifically, but I know what it means to idolize something or someone that isn’t God, which is a topic I could explore via today’s passage from Judges and Psalms).

None of us are God, and the sooner we come to terms with our human limitations, the better off we’ll all be. Just because little ones look up to us by sheer instinct does not mean we should abuse that privilege. In fact, we shouldn’t see it as a privilege at all — it’s a responsibility, and an incredibly important one at that.

A prayer for August 20:

Lord, thank you for Jesus; for his birth, death and resurrection; for his impassioned teachings; for the example he set that we all might follow. Thank you for children, with whom we may share the story of your love and grace, and might so inspire them to live lives worthy of you. Grant me everything I will need to be a positive influence for my children, that I may glorify you by encouraging them to glorify you as well. May my triumphs be reason to praise you, may my failings be occasion to teach about humility and forgiveness, and may my family in your love all the days of our lives. Amen.

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