Archive | Parenting

Do unto your children as you would have them do unto you.

The Lord has been convicting me from this verse for a few weeks. I am long familiar with The Golden Rule, yet it’s only in the last month that I’ve thought of it particularly in terms of my children—not treating them as they ARE but as I would have them TO BE. As often is the case, God used my son’s little secular hippie preschool to bring this home for me. At a parent meeting, the speaker asked parents what were their main concerns for their children’s behavior right now. Parents yelled out things like sibling rivalry, angry tantrums, hitting, general snotty attitudes and so forth. Then she asked what character qualities we hoped they’d have when they headed to college. The group suggested empathy, perseverance, and self-confidence, among others. As a believer, I would add grace, service, and love. I really want my boys to have personal confidence in who they are in Christ that equips them to extend grace to others. I want them to love as I Cor. 13 defines it – with patience, with a long fuse, not rude, not keeping a record of wrongs, giving the benefit of the doubt, and so on. I want them to serve like Christ.

Then the speaker led us in an exercise. She said, “Put your feet squarely on the floor.” She did it, and we did too. “Sit up straight.” She modeled, and we did it too. “Touch your thumb and first finger in an OK sign.” We did it with her. “Put the OK sign on your chin.” But she put hers on her cheek. And every last one of us in the room without thinking put ours on our cheek too. She had made her point effectively. We say we want one thing with our kids, but so often we model something else. And they will always pick up what we MODEL over what we SAY.

God got my attention. My son has an anger problem because I have an anger problem that I have well modeled for him. And when I get angry at him because he got angry and threw a toy, I’m not helping anything. Apart from Scripture, my default belief system is that when he sins I need to get really angry in proportion to the seriousness of the offence, that the angrier I get the more effective it will be at deterring him from doing it again. The only problem is that my anger is NOT a deterrent to him doing it again. It just models anger for him and educates him in more sophisticated ways to act on it. That’s not how God transforms me, and it’s not how He intends me to disciple my children.

Here are Jesus’ instructions from Luke 6.

31And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

32″If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

As I wish that my boys would do to me and others, I should do to them. Not do to them in a reactionary response to what they just did. It’s my job to break the cycle of act and react. I should just ACT. Stay on course. Love. Grace. Compassion. Endurance. Act on my vision of what I want them to be and model consistently for them my end goal. My angry little boy sure can make me angry. But my job in Christ is to stop the cycle, correct him, and model for him with my life as well as my words a new and better way through gospel grace to deal with conflict.

Of course, the Golden Rule transcends child-rearing. I had just never thought of it in those specific terms. It applies to my children, my husband, my friends, and my enemies. Do to them not in reaction to what they just did to me, but do to them with a vision of where God is calling them. And THAT is the essence of being salt and light in the places God has called me to function.

Playing Candyland

I have a lot of worthwhile goals I am trying to accomplish. The readership for this blog is growing. I have three book projects in the works, one bearing down on me this month. Each of these projects cause me to study the Word and wrestle with God over what He is saying, particularly to His daughters. I WANT to do these things. They bring me joy. They make me think.

Then up walks my 3 year old asking me to play Candyland with him. I love my 3 year old, but I hate Candyland. It doesn’t make me think, and it does not bring me joy. Neither does finding his harmonica or putting together the United States puzzle. Tuesday as I studied Hebrews in preparation for a women’s Bible study that night at a friend’s house, it slowly dawned on me how often I put him off when he asks something of me. I’m a “stay at home” mom. I’m with him the vast majority of the day. But though I’m with him physically, I’m often far away mentally. I am very skilled at occupying him so that I can get my worthwhile projects (the ones that are fulfilling to me) done.

You don’t need to lecture me. I already know the truth. THEY are my worthwhile project. But raising them is such a slow, steady process that I lose sight of the value. I like short-term projects that I can see a worthwhile result after minimal time. I find joy when I can hold the end project in my hands and admire it after the fact. But long-term endurance and perseverance for decades is much harder. And sometimes I am just afraid—I know I can’t control the outcome of this project and fear that the more I invest the bigger my let down when they reject me or the gospel. I’ve experienced enough disappointment in life to know that they may very well one day profoundly disappoint me. So I like projects I can control. That won’t disappoint me.

While studying Hebrews at our Bible study Tuesday night, we were all reminded of the hope that will not disappoint.

Romans 9:33 just as it is written,”BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

Romans 10:11 For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”

In light of that hope which will NOT disappoint me, I can live with my concerns about lesser hopes that may disappoint. No matter how well I attempt to train them, my boys may or may not get in trouble at school, they may or may not make wise choices with girls, they may or may not want to go on mission trips or serve God in ministry. But I know that when I sit at the marriage feast with Jesus and it is all said and done, I will not be disappointed. I don’t really know anything other than that. But I do know that. I will NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.

So I put down the lesser projects that I can control and reengaged with the greater project that I can’t control. Yesterday I played Candyland, set up train tracks, put together a puzzle, watched bike riding in the garage, and explained the story behind the pictures in the children’s Bible. It is all an act of faith with God. I can’t control any of it, and that’s okay. Because whatever happens now, I know I will not be disappointed when I finally see Jesus face to face and take my place beside Him for eternity. All my hopes will be satisfied. All will be well.

The Troll Who Torments My Children

Whenever a blog topic begins rolling around in my mind, I can usually count on being attacked and failing royally either right before or right after I post the article. But that’s okay. This blog is primarily a lecture to myself, and it’s good to have documented on it what I know to be true even when I fail and must repent.

Today’s post on the Troll who torments my children was inspired by a friend’s recent status update on facebook.

“I really don’t like the unfriendly, unbending troll who takes my children to school each morning. I’ve fired her several times, but almost every morning, she shows up about 15 minutes before we leave, jangling my keys.”

Oh how I identified with my friend. And apparently so did many other friends, for that one little status update generated quite the conversation. That nagging, mean spirited troll shows up at my house all too regularly. I hate her! And she usually shows up shortly after I’ve felt some self-satisfaction at my skills at crisis management on a particular day. Then suddenly, something happens, that straw that breaks the camel’s back, and the bitch voice comes out of my mouth. I look back and think “Where did THAT come from?” But I know exactly where it came from. It came from ME. My mouth, and my heart. Often, I don’t realize the troll has appeared until my boys look at me with that crushed expression that shines a mirror on exactly who I’ve become and how I’ve hurt them. And in that moment, the self-condemnation kicks in big time. I hate her! But in reality, I know she’s just me.

The troll fades, leaving in her wake crushed spirits and much regret. And I have found only ONE salve to the devastation she leaves behind—gospel repentance. It’s not worldly sorry that only brings regret and looks for something other than Christ to make me feel better. That may work for a time, but it won’t bring real change. In that moment of sin, I have to preach the gospel to myself. In Christ, I am no longer this woman and she doesn’t have the power over me that I am giving her. I confess to my children and repair with them what I have harmed. Then I can walk forward believing in the awesome power that gospel grace has over our sins. (and I repeat that in the evening when she shows up again, and the next morning, and so forth)

I hate being that troll. But cross-centered repentance and restoration with my children is really beautiful. They are learning the gospel by watching me repent. And I see them better understanding repentance for themselves when they sin against each other. I would much rather them not learn repentance from watching me having to repent after repeated sins. But I am so thankful for the good news of all Christ has accomplished on the cross, for it alone can pick me up after another crushing defeat by the troll and turn it into something of gospel significance. And in Him, I have confidence that one day I’ll kick her butt into a place of irrelevance. Some days even now, I actually see her coming and start pelting her with gospel truths until she turns and runs for her life. Until the day that she is totally eradicated, I repent, and in light of the gospel, that alone becomes the lancing of my festering wound that begins the process of healing.

Luke 5:32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

2 Cor. 7:10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

Parenting Our Children the Way God Parents His

The phrase “parenting our children the way God parents His” has stuck in my head since I first read and reviewed Grace Based Parenting. It’s been the summary phrase through which I’ve filtered my views on discipline and punishment. I am God’s adopted daughter, cherished and well loved. How does He parent me? How does He train me in righteousness? How does He root sin out of my life? What does He do when I don’t obey?

I have gained insight into a tiny piece of this from watching the teachers at our preschool. Sometimes, kids have strong opinions on something that is negotiable. If there is room to accomodate, the teachers will always do whatever they can to do so. They are very gracious. But sometimes there are non-negotiables. No, right now, every student in class has to sit on the rug at meeting. No, taking off your shoes and socks outside in the rain is not an option. The answer to the children with non-negotiables is that either they can do it on their own, or a grownup will help them do it. In that setting, the kids usually choose to conform, but sometimes if they remain stubbornly set on their own way, a grownup will gently but firmly help them to do what they are supposed to do. I think this model has beautiful Biblical parallels.

My youngest has tapped into his strong will and started insisting on his own way very adamantly. Last week, the issue was just putting his dishes away. I can’t believe how adamant he was to not obey me. And it didn’t matter what consequences I offered, he refused to do what I asked. It got to the point that, short of child abuse, I was out of options to force him to do my bidding on his own. Then it occurred to me–“Ok. I will help you obey,” and I carried him and his plate to put it in the sink.

“Help me obey.” How many times have I cried out to God for this? And other times, I have had no desire to obey–I’ve just wanted to follow my own path. I find God is very gracious to turn me back to Himself and His way. He HELPS me obey. He removes stumblingblocks to my obedience. When I am tempted to sin, He makes a way for me to bear it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

When I carried my son to put his dish in the sink, I almost cried thinking of all the times God has carried me to accomplish His will when I was too weak or stubborn or rebellious to do it on my own. He has poured His full wrath for my sins on Christ on the cross, and now He proactively trains me in righteousness by His gracious good hand helping me transform into something I could never accomplish on my own. In this model, disciplining my children stops being a struggle of justice and punishment but becomes a meditation on the mercy, grace, and goodness of God that conforms me to His image. I believe the greatest model for any of us on what godly parenting looks like is God Himself. I would challenge all of us to look at our parenting skills and then ask what it reflects on how we view God our Father and how we think he parents us. You might be amazed at some very wrong views of God that trickle down in how you parent as well.

The Rod

I have been a bit schizophrenic concerning this post—putting it up, taking it down, and putting it back up. I hesitated to post it because I hate conflict, and I fear being labeled and misunderstood. I have found this particular topic oddly polarizing. But the issue has been on my heart for a while, and I think I need to post it. I hope it leads to thoughtful conversation not polarizing accusation. So here goes (again).

I’ve been reading an author that I will not name (because he’s not the point of this post) who has written a GREAT book on Christian parenting. I love the book and have underlined many things in it. But after much encouraging, helpful instruction, I got to a chapter about The Rod. The author quotes Scripture like Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Then he defines “rod” as restrained physical punishment and uses this verse to say those who do not spank their children (with restraint—he is careful to set up safeguards against angry retribution) are in sin.

I’m not sure if it is a weakness or strength, but I am a bit obsessive compulsive about correcting misuses of Scripture. After various experiences in my youth in which I blindly trusted whatever a spiritual leader said only later to find out that the Bible actually taught something entirely different, I am now a bit militant about sizing up what I hear from whatever religious leader today against Scripture itself. People say some crazy things and claim it is Bible, but I will NOT give up my belief that Scripture from start to finish, when accurately handled, is exactly what God meant to say and infinitely useful for equipping us in everything we face today.

All that to say, I cannot figure out Biblically why this author assumes the use of the term rod in Proverbs means physical punishment. I keep thinking of Psalms 23: 4, “Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.” No one assumes the use of the term rod in Psalms 23 means physical punishment, right? The Shepherd isn’t spanking the sheep. If Psalms 23 said the Good Shepherd does not spare the rod, would we assume that He is hitting the sheep? I wouldn’t. And it’s the same Hebrew word as Prov. 13:24. The Psalmist is comforted by God as his shepherd, symbolized by the shepherding rod and staff. He is comforted that there is someone walking with him in authority over him protecting him, guiding him, and leading him. If the Shepherd spared the rod, it would mean He has removed His hand of protection and instruction from the sheep. While I definitely see Scripture in which the term rod is used in conjunction with the idea of physical punishment (the verses always use a clear indicator of the intent), there is nothing inherent in the Hebrew definition that implies physical punishment. And there are many ways the term rod is used in Scripture that have nothing to do with physical punishment.

My study so far shows me that the Bible doesn’t forbid spanking children …

Proverbs 23:13 Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.

… but I don’t see where it prescribes spanking either. Let’s take the example of Proverbs 22:15, another verse often used to say the Bible prescribes spanking.

15Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

The Hebrew words are the shebet of muwcar, meaning the rod/staff/scepter of discipline/instruction/correction. I fully agree with this verse and seek to conform my parenting strategies to it. God says I have a shepherding staff to guide my little sheep who will veer off in their own ignorance and folly if I ignore my responsibility. He has tasked me with guiding them and my figurative staff is discipline. We defined discipline in a previous post as proactive training in righteousness. (If you haven’t read that post, please read it and the comments that follow before finishing this one as this post builds on those foundational thoughts.) I discipline my children, instruct them, and correct them to teach them wisdom in the place of folly. God wants me to be like Him—to use the same shepherding rod and staff that comfort me in Psalms 23 to train my children in righteousness. I am not dogmatically opposed to spanking, but I think it is a gross leap in logic to use this verse in Proverbs to justify or command spanking. The term rod implies shepherding authority and accountability. God says that I have an obligation to engage my boys with my God-given shepherding authority over them. I cannot cop out and disengage. My sister and I just had a discussion about her temptation to be a lazy single parent, but though it would be much easier to cop out and let her boys do whatever they want all day, she knew she had a God-given obligation to shepherd them—to engage them, instruct them, reprove them, support them, redirect them, and so forth.

I was raised in the South and understand well the concept of spanking. I now live in the Pacific Northwest and understand well the views against spanking. My point actually is not to lobby for or against it—people can get really militant on both sides. I just want us to accurately understand what Scripture says on the topic and what it means by the use of the term rod. Do not read the “rod of discipline” and translate it as spanking. When you read “rod of discipline”, think shepherding staff that trains in righteousness. If spanking is your primary tool for doing that, I encourage you to expand your toolbox.

For me, this means thinking long and hard every time I discipline my boys about what God instructs me to do in that moment. My tendency is to be a hands off parent, but God has called me to proactively engage them. My lazy parenting is a sin according to Proverbs 13:24. Just this week, I have looked at my boys in the midst of a conflict and thought, how does God discipline His children? How do I reflect the image of Christ in my responses to these boys? How do I train them in righteousness in gospel-centered ways using my God-given authority as their parent? I am not there yet, but just meditating on what this should look like in my home has been a beautiful time of reflection on how my Father in heaven parents me. I encourage you that if you want to understand God’s instructions to you and I as parents concerning the rod in Proverbs, first meditate on His own example to us in Psalms 23 for a bit.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

Discipline v. Punishment or Parenting Our Children the Way God Parents His

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Proverbs 3:11-12

Years ago, I read an article online (that I can’t find now) by John Piper on how Christ took the full punishment for our sins and now everything God does toward us is out of His grace. That thought prompted me to study the difference in punishment and discipline and changed how I thought about discipleship in general. One of the great benefits of being adopted into God’s family is that we receive His discipline. Most likely, you do not think of that as a benefit, but that’s because many of us have warped views of discipline and its purpose. What is discipline? According to The American Heritage Dictionary discipline is “training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.” The problem is that the vast majority of us have experienced a warped form of discipline from those in authority over us. Many times, authority figures said they were disciplining us, but what they really were doing was reactively punishing us—not to train us in right responses but taking their anger out on us for our wrong ones. In light of these practical experiences, we tend to confuse discipline and punishment theologically as well as practically.

God has worked in my heart first to understand the difference theologically. According to Romans 8:1, Christ bore the full weight of our punishment for sin on the cross, and we are no longer condemned for our sin. This is the very good news of the gospel! Then in verse 29, we learn that God’s plan before time began is to transform us into the likeness of His Son. This is why we need discipline (i.e.- training in righteousness).

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death….

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son….

Instead of punishing us for our sins, God the Father poured out His full wrath for our sins on Jesus at the cross. Now, God disciplines us to mold us into the image of His Son, purifying us by rooting out the sin in our lives and replacing it with behavior and attitudes that reflect Christ. I love that the English words discipline and disciple are so similar. That’s because they reflect very similar concepts.

Now I am a parent. And I realize as I pour through Scripture and Christian books on disciplining my children that I really need to go no further than Jesus’ own example. I believe God’s calling is for me to parent my children the way God parents His. But I’ve wrestled long and hard over what this looks like practically for me with a 2 and 4 year old. I do not want to reactively punish them. “Oh you hit him? Then I hit you (or put you in time out or take away your candy or whatever). End of story.” By the way, please don’t get distracted by the ideas of spanking and timeout. This post isn’t about that per se. It’s about quick retribution, guilt, and shame. It’s about punishing in reprisal instead of discipling in righteousness—all things we easily choose but are the exact opposite of how God parents us.

I want to train my children in righteousness using the grace, love, and kindness that God shows us. But it has been hard to figure out what that looks like in practical terms. I am thankful for what may seem an unusual resource on this Christian journey—my secular community preschool. They have a strong philosophy of discipline instead of punishment, and it has been fascinating to watch it in action. My son has been one of the more physical children there. I have learned much watching the working adults intercept him as he’s acting out, show him the harm he’s causing, and work with him to repair it with the other child. He doesn’t have to go sit in a corner—he has to make it right! He has to deal with the consequences. And the working grownups are trained to not take no for an answer. And you know what? It is DRAINING. Sticking with a situation until it has been correctly resolved can be a long process. Punishing a kid reactively is a lot easier than staying in a conflict until it has been reconciled correctly and until the kids have learned the lesson. Training in righteousness is work. Maybe that’s why so many of us default to mere punishment so easily. “I don’t care what’s going on in your heart. I just want you to STOP this behavior right now.”

I am by no means an expert on this. I have only just begun the journey of parenting my boys. I have made many mistakes and expect to make many more. But what I am excited about is how walking this journey with my boys is correcting weaknesses in my understanding of the gospel and my suspicions with the concept of grace. I love that disciplining them has forced me to take a hard look at my views of God (and vice versa). And I am hopeful for the future as I rest in the simple idea that my calling is no greater and no less than to be like Christ—to parent my children the way God parents His. He is both the way I am empowered to do this and the example to which I look for guidance. He is the means and the end. By His grace.

Herding Cats

My husband had the boys by himself last weekend so I could attend a wedding. He told me afterwards that trying to get them from the house to the car and back to take them to the mall was like herding cats. And that really is a very apt description of my highly energetic, curious, unflappable two and four year old. Simple things like going to the car that used to take 1 minute before I had kids now take 15 minutes with them. Nothing is simple anymore. Everything takes more energy, more time, more patience.

Oh, children. I wanted mine so badly–experiencing deep depression when I struggled briefly with miscarriage and infertility and then great excitement when I finally got pregnant again. But pretty much since the moment I gave birth to my second son, I have experienced intense emotional and spiritual battles. The pressure has not let up. As each boy gets older, the types of pressure change with their stage, but the general sense of pressure remains. My boys have been God’s instrument of sanctification in me, exposing much of my sin day after day. Mainly, it exposes that, when put under the right amount of pressure, I am not much different than those I would like to compare myself to make myself feel better. “Well, at least I don’t parent like them!” But with enough pressure, the same (pardon the vernacular) bitch voice can come out of my mouth that comes out of the most sorry, angry worthless parent you know.

When I use that voice, that’s when I know I am defeated. I usually want to sit down in a corner and cry. I have failed. I have become the very thing I detest and vowed never to be. Instead of persevering patiently with my boys in their sin, I have sinned against them. Instead of modeling for them right responses, I have become the very thing that I have been trying to teach them not to be. What hopelessness I feel. The problem isn’t that I’m herding cats. I could handle herding cats all day long if it didn’t bring out in me the things I hate the most.

But God does not leave me in that moment. I have been working long and hard on a manuscript on the book of Ephesians. And while it may or may not get published one day, God has certainly used the study in my heart to radically change how I respond in that moment. I know what to do now in that pit of despair over my failure. I don’t have to hide until I can get myself back together. I don’t have to justify myself. Instead, I turn to the gospel. I look to God and pray, “God, open my eyes to the power at work on my behalf, the same power that rose Christ from the dead. What is my spiritual inheritance in You? Show me how to live in light of all you have declared me to be in heaven. Show me how to deal with this sin in me right now in light of all You have done for me on the cross.” Then, I can be honest with the boys about what I did wrong and how Jesus helps me in it.

I love the gospel. It matters. It meets me in the midst of the things that weigh me down the most and gives me hope that God is calling me to a better way and making a way for it to happen. The gospel teaches me that I don’t have to figure it out on my own. That I can cast myself upon His mercy and He will do the heavy work of transforming me into His image. And that, my friends, give me great peace and hope. The gospel meets me in every need.