Earnest words from my daughter Shannon:
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Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise — “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers (or Parents), do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)
Recently, at a family dinner, Connie and I overheard a brief conversation about parenting. This conversation continued in three emails I’d like to share with you.
Our daughter Shannon wrote, “I feel like parenting is the most important–and undoubtedly the hardest– job I’ve ever had. It is the only job at which I also feel like I fail often. Teaching– I know I do it well AND people tell me I do it well. Writing– I know I do it well AND people tell me I do it well. Parenting– I doubt myself all the time… So weirdly, though the idea of being a single parent and having another full-time job sounds overwhelming, it is actually often easier for me than staying home with two kids. Because at least I feel like I’m “succeeding” at something every day… [This is] straight up truth from an exhausted mama who loves her babies more than anything else in the world. Except, you know, Jesus.”
Our son-in-law Josiah wrote, “With parenting, you get very little positive reinforcement. In school, you get a report card. In the corporate world, you get promotions, raises, etc. You can count the profits if you own a business. Raising kids, day-in, day-out… not so much. Each day looks pretty much like the rest. You teach the same lesson of growth every day, and it takes YEARS for the kid to ‘get it’. The positive reinforcement comes mostly upon reflection after months/years of work. Right NOW we can look at [our son] Caleb and see some fruits of the labor that we’ve poured into him, but tomorrow’s challenges won’t be solved for a long time. It’s easy to ‘grow weary of doing good’. I feel this to some degree, but it’s a much bigger challenge for [my wife] Aleen, since I get kudos a lot in my career. It’s been very helpful for her to have success with [her part-time business] Photography for a Greater Good.”
Our daughter Aleen wrote, “I am so grateful for God’s grace that fills in the gaps where I fall short in parenting. He also sends timely reminders that my kids are decent people and that His character is indeed manifest in their lives on days when their sin nature (and my own) rears its ugly head. Just this morning I was feeling a bit discouraged by some of their sibling rivalry and as I was fixing Abby’s hair this tackle box of hair things fell off the sink and nine million clips and bows were all over the floor. Without my asking all three came over and helped me re-organize the mess… Not a huge deal, but a little glimpse that they “get it” – being a family means helping out. Serving my littles is exhausting and there are few accolades for showing up and doing your best every day. Being a stay at home mom (and a home school teacher) I must remember that God sees what is done behind the scenes day in and day out, even when there is little recognition from others. Working as unto Him, building His Kingdom through my discipleship of my kids is by far the most difficult and awesome thing I’ve ever done.”
In spite of the high cost of good parenting, I see most parents with reasonably high expectations for their kids. This is why I’ve titled this message “Meet the (Faith-Filled) Parents.” Because most parents are filled with faith that their children will grow up to be men and women of good character, people of purpose who will contribute something good to society.
In the scripture that we read, the Apostle Paul has A Negative Warning for parents. He writes: “Parents, do not exasperate your children.”
Other translations put it this way: “Don’t provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.” (New Living Translation) “Don’t exasperate them by coming down hard on them.” (The Message) “Don’t keep scolding and nagging them, making them angry and resentful.” (Living Bible) “Don’t over-correct them or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment [to honor their parents].” (J.B. Phillips)
You and I have seen countless examples of parents who yell at their children, who are too harsh in their discipline, etc. If you are aware of your own weakness here, God is telling you to stop it. Now!
In this scripture Paul also gives parents A Positive Instruction: “Bring up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
Other translations put it this way: “Bring them up with the loving discipline the Lord himself approves, with… godly advice.” (Living Bible) “Bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” (New Living Translation) “Raise them properly. Teach them and instruct them about the Lord.” (Contemporary English Version) “Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.” (The Message)
It is our task as parents to raise our children with consistent love and discipline. They are God’s gift to us, and one of our greatest responsibilities is to care for them and raise them well.
So this morning I want to quickly give you Five Principles for Sound Parenting.
And then Two More Principles for Faith-Filled Parenting.
I’m not Doctor Phil. And I’m not an expert on parenting. (But I live with one.)
Here we go!
Five Principles of Sound Parenting that probably Atheists and Buddhists and Methodists can agree on.
#1. Love your Children. Be willing to sacrifice yourself for them. Invest your time in them, especially in their younger years. Cuddle them often as babies and hug them often at any age. Tell your children that you love them, and back it up with good parenting.
My father was raised in a home where his mother loved him, but he never remembers her saying, “I love you.” So I grew up as a child and a teenager, never hearing my father say, “I love you.”
Until my ordination, at age 26. On that day my father was one of a group of pastors who laid hands on me and set me apart for the work of the ministry. As they finished praying and stood up, my father hugged me and whispered in my ear: “I love you.” I don’t remember much about my ordination except those powerful words.
That was the beginning of a change for him. I call him almost every day, and many days he says, “I love you.” And occasionally, “I’m proud of you.”
#2. Be Consistent and Reasonable in Your Discipline. Don’t say you’ll punish them if they disobey, and then fail to do what you’ve said you would do. (That’s something like a lie.) Don’t punish them out of your anger, but punish them out of your best and clearest thinking. Corporal punishment may seem necessary at times, but avoid it if you can. Almost always, there’s a better alternative.
#3. Have Patience. Be patient with yourself. For my wife and myself, we’re still parenting 35 years after we started. Your patience will be tried and tested by your children, but rein in your anger. “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20)
#4. Build a Pattern of Open, Meaningful Conversations. Let your conversation be truthful, and don’t talk down to your kids. Don’t be condescending to them. Listen to them. Hear the meaning behind their words. Become THE EXPERT in hearing and understanding your child. Don’t take your frustrations out on them. Every day, at the dinner table or at bedtime, create opportunities for conversations about EVERYTHING.
Recently I saw a mother and young daughter at McDonalds. The daughter was chatting away, clearly speaking to her mother. The mother’s attention was on her smartphone, which in this case was a tool of the enemy, hindering family dialogue. Put your phone away, parents, when your kids are talking to you! They deserve that!
#5. Be a Model of Maturity. Okay, so you may not see yourself as mature. But it’s time to be an adult when it comes to your children. Grow up! As is often said, “Don’t worry so much about being a friend to your child.” They need a parent. Who is YOUR model of a mature adult? Model YOURSELF after them.
So those are Five Principles for Sound Parenting.
Ten Sundays ago I preached a sermon called Teach Your Children Well. The focus was on passing our Christian life to our children in such a way that they become fully-devoted followers of Jesus. Today I will share with you again, from that message, Two More Principles for Faith-Filled Parenting.
#1. Take every opportunity to speak with your children about what it means to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. Exodus 6:6-9 — 6-9 Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. (The Message)
So we are to internalize the values and commands of the Lord. Write them on our hearts. Get them inside ourselves and our children. Talk about them wherever we are. At home. Walking down the street. At waking-up time. At bedtime. All through the day.
We need to read about God’s ways to our children. We need to write about them. We need to paint the Gospel into our paintings. We need to sing it into your songs. We need to carve God’s Word into our doorframes and engrave it on the city gates.
Live God’s truth. Breathe it in and out. Take every opportunity to teach God’s ways to your children and grandchildren.
#2. Be the kind of Christian you want your children to become. Be the genuine article! Be the real deal! Be the worshiper! Be the servant! Be the encourager. Be the peacemaker. Be Jesus “with skin on” for your children and grandchildren!
When it comes to goodness, put all of your faith in what Jesus Christ has done for you. He is your Boss! He is your Master! He is your Lord! Be the kind of Christian you want your children to become.
If we can instill the teachings of Jesus into the minds and hearts of our children, we will have done something of eternal value. We are frail and broken, all of us. But if we can model Jesus before our children so that they GET IT, so that they see Him in us, we will have given them the very best gift!
God bless you in your role as a Faith-Filled Parent!
Last Sunday afternoon I received my father’s blessing.
I had called Mom and Dad on the phone.
We were talking about Mom’s recent diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
It was a touching conversation, and both my parents were fully engaged.
They spoke of approaching each day with the expectation of happiness, based on God’s goodness.
And on the simple delight of a shared day after 60 years of life together.
I told them that I wished I could be with them, to be more supportive in these challenging days.
Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Dad said, “I’m so proud of you.”
What was that again?
I said nothing and began to weep as Mom continued talking.
I’ve waited all my life to hear that!
Dad has told me “I love you,” but this is my first time to hear
From childhood I’ve waited.
He was the master carpenter, skilled with his hands.
I could never measure up.
I remember his expressions of frustration and disappointment.
Those words and expressions have lingered like weights all these years.
Four years ago I brought them a book of 50 old hymn texts for which I had written new tunes.
He seemed to pay no attention to it at all.
I was crushed by his indifference.
I was angry.
He didn’t understand, I think.
But now I have the “I’m proud…”
I had given up ever expecting to hear that from him.
Something has been released within me, something powerful…
Dare I say it?
I wonder if some demon has been exorcised from my life.
In their book The Blessing, John Trent and Gary Smalley offer a look at the life-changing gift which the Bible calls “the blessing.”
The unconditional love and approval that come with a parent’s blessing can be important elements in our emotional well-being.
I’ve got it now! And no one can take that away from me!