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Category: The Heart of the Parent

A Parent’s Heart Leans on Marriage

A Parent’s Heart Leans on Marriage

Par­ent­ing and mar­riage were designed togeth­er. God’s gen­tle com­mand to the first mar­ried cou­ple was sim­ply, “Be fruit­ful and mul­ti­ply.” “Don’t mere­ly have chil­dren,” God says, “but have chil­dren that grow and pros­per and have chil­dren of their own — fill the earth with your fam­i­ly. Your mar­riage is a gift — so par­ent well!” God envi­sions par­ent­ing as a nat­u­ral bi-pro­duct of mar­riage, an exten­sion of that rela­tion­ship.

But far too often we blur the lines between our roles as hus­band and father, moth­er and wife — we focus on par­ent­ing first and then ask our mar­riage to fill in the gaps: “We’ll find time for a date night when we find time!” But the parent’s heart leans on the mar­riage for sup­port, encour­age­ment and strength, and so here are some sug­ges­tions to con­tin­ue ele­vat­ing our mar­riage despite the involved task of par­ent­ing.

Complement One Another

There is no such thing as the per­fect par­ent. You and your spouse are each gift­ed dif­fer­ent­ly, and are bet­ter at some aspects of par­ent­ing than oth­ers. Look for the­se dif­fer­ences, and rejoice in them — don’t be dis­cour­aged by them, and don’t fall into the false notion that, “He (or she) is a bet­ter par­ent than I am!”

If your hus­band is bet­ter at deal­ing with a tem­per tantrum, don’t allow your­self to feel like a crum­my mom — instead, praise God that you’re a blessed wife. In the same way, if your wife can coax your son to talk about his day bet­ter than you can, it doesn’t mark a fail­ure on your part. It just means you just mar­ried well.

Look for the Other

Par­ent­ing is by nature cre­at­ing in our own like­ness: Gen­e­sis 5:3 records that Adam had a son, “is his own like­ness, in his own image.” Your chil­dren are minia­ture pic­tures of your­self. This is obvi­ous in phys­i­cal fea­tures, but also man­ner­isms, turns of phrase, think­ing pat­terns and per­son­al­i­ty styles.

Nat­u­ral­ly, dif­fer­ent chil­dren will reflect dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics of their par­ents. As a cou­ple, iden­ti­fy­ing the­se reflec­tions, acknowl­edg­ing them and find­ing joy in them can strength­en and empow­er your rela­tion­ship. “When she laughs, she looks just like you!” seems like a sim­ple and nat­u­ral phrase, but it’s pow­er­ful too — it’s valu­ing your mar­riage and strength­en­ing your rela­tion­ship.

See Through Each Other’s Eyes

The beau­ti­ful real­i­ty of mar­riage is that you and your spouse are dif­fer­ent — some­times very dif­fer­ent. Sure, you like some of the same food and the same show here or there, but your pref­er­ences vary wild­ly. And as a result, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of your chil­dren that you delight and find joy in are dif­fer­ent. Instead of allow­ing this to be a point of annoy­ance, embrace the­se dif­fer­ences as a chance to bet­ter appre­ci­ate your chil­dren and your spouse.

Does your wife’s face light up when your son draws a cre­ative pic­ture? Per­haps you don’t care at all, but embrac­ing that delight will only help fur­ther your delight in your kids, and in your wife. Does you hus­band love to wrestle with the kids while you would much rather read to them? Rejoice in that dif­fer­ence and allow it to lead you to love your spouse more deeply.

We often think of the par­ent­ing years as a sea­son to get through — pro­duc­ing good, healthy chil­dren — and then end­ing for us to focus again on our mar­riage and spouse. But if we wait for the end of the at home par­ent­ing sea­son to focus on mar­riage, we’ll miss some of the clear­est mar­riage bless­ings God has for us. He calls us first into mar­riage, and then into par­ent­ing — don’t switch the impor­tance of those call­ings.

A Note for Single Parents

For those walk­ing through the dif­fi­cult jour­ney of sin­gle par­ent­ing, I pray you don’t feel alone. God designed par­ent­ing to flow from mar­riage, but we know real­i­ty doesn’t always match. With­out a spouse, the need for a healthy church fam­i­ly is only eas­ier to see. But the won­der­ful news is that much of what has been said above about a spouse can be true for your church fam­i­ly as well.  You can see your chil­dren through the eyes of friends and vol­un­teers who pour into your chil­dren; you can rejoice in the influ­ence of the bride of Christ in your child when she comes home act­ing like her hand­book lead­er or teacher. You’re not alone.

Flint Knives, Strange Passages, and the Judicious Parent’s Heart

Flint Knives, Strange Passages, and the Judicious Parent’s Heart

One of the strangest pas­sages in the Bible is Exo­dus 4:24–26. A quick sum­ma­ry: Moses was just com­mis­sioned by God to save the Israelites, so nat­u­ral­ly, God meets Moses at an inn and “seeks to kill him.” Upon see­ing her husband’s plight, Moses’ wife Zip­po­rah does what we would all do: grabs a flint knife, cir­cum­cis­es their son and touch­es Moses feet with the bloody fore­skin. Duh. Prob­lem solved, and the sto­ry moves on.

… ?

Despite being absurd­ly straight­for­ward, this pas­sage has baf­fled read­ers for mil­len­ni­um. Of course I’m kid­ding — this is a very strange pas­sage! But tucked in this bizarre exchange is a vital par­ent­ing real­i­ty that needs to gov­ern our mis­sion dai­ly: we can­not faith­ful­ly live out God’s com­mands in our life if we haven’t embraced our iden­ti­ty with God’s peo­ple — and extend­ed that to our chil­dren. We can’t skirt the fences of Christ-like liv­ing in our home if we’re to raise men and wom­en faith­ful­ly fol­low­ing God.

The heart of Exo­dus 4 is God’s desire that Moses claim who he is: an Israelite, called to live under covenant with God. That covenant, given to Abra­ham in Gen­e­sis 17, required the cir­cum­ci­sion of the males. But Moses hadn’t cir­cum­cised his son, prob­a­bly because his wife Zip­po­rah was a Mid­i­an­ite and was dis­gust­ed by the prac­tice. Instead, Moses had allowed his wife’s pref­er­ences to over­whelm his faith­ful­ness to God’s com­mands. After being com­mis­sioned, God forced him to choose.

We can’t skirt the fences of Christ-like liv­ing in our home if we’re to raise men and wom­en faith­ful­ly fol­low­ing God.

If God had wished Moses dead at the inn, Moses would have died. Instead, it says God, “sought to kill Moses.” The read­ing brings to mind Jacob’s wrestling with God in Gen­e­sis 32 — find­ing one’s iden­ti­ty by grap­pling with the Almighty. At long last, Zip­po­rah gives in and com­mits the act, all while shar­ing her pal­pa­ble dis­gust: “A bloody hus­band thou art, because of the cir­cum­ci­sion,” she says. We hear very lit­tle about Zip­po­rah in the rest of Moses’ life.

But the point stands: God would not allow Moses into full-time min­istry with­out com­mit­ting his fam­i­ly to faith­ful­ness. God wouldn’t allow Moses to tip­toe the edges of faith­ful­ness.

This expec­ta­tion of rad­i­cal famil­ial com­mit­ment can be a wake-up-call for the mod­ern par­ent — there are far too many avenues for com­pro­mise to slip into our homes. This isn’t a call to legal­ism or author­i­tar­i­an­ism, but the very real neces­si­ty of help­ing our chil­dren faith­ful­ly fol­low a jeal­ous and holy God. We must eval­u­ate what we tol­er­ate based on faith­ful­ness, not ‘keep­ing the peace.’

The heart of the par­ent must be judi­cious — right­ful­ly judg­ing between right and wrong. But our chil­dren (and our spouse and our own heart) will try to force our hand. Should we watch this movie? Allow this music? What about this out­fit, or dance, or friend, or video game, or turn of phrase, or con­cep­tu­al under­stand­ing?

Scrip­ture teach­es that in many gray areas of dis­cern­ment, dif­fer­ent Chris­tians might land in dif­fer­ent places (Romans 15). But an over­rid­ing the­me remains: “If you do any­thing you believe is not right, you are sin­ning” (Romans 14:23). Allow­ing any­thing into our fam­i­ly life that we believe is wrong isn’t going to keep the peace or avoid con­flict, but rather move us toward dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion in ser­vice to God.

As par­ents, we must judi­cious­ly choose faith­ful­ness over allowance, even if it means dif­fi­cul­ty.

The Heart of the Parent Takes Responsibility

The Heart of the Parent Takes Responsibility

The sto­ry of Noah is one of the most dis­heart­en­ing and cul­tur­al­ly rel­e­vant exam­ples of par­ent­ing in the Bible. In Gene­ses 6–8, Noah and his fam­i­ly are divine­ly cho­sen and spared while God wipes out every sem­blance of cul­ture from the face of the earth. When his fam­i­ly final­ly lands on Mt. Ararat, the only liv­ing things set­ting foot on the earth were those pre­served over the pre­vi­ous half a year in the ark.

Imag­ine, as a par­ent, walk­ing into a cul­tur­al­ly clut­ter free envi­ron­ment as Noah and his sons did as they left the ark! There are no exter­nal influ­ences to ruin your chil­dren. No enter­tain­ing TV shows that also teach your kids to annoy their sib­lings — no peer group to pick on your teenage daugh­ter — no vio­lent video games that “every­one else is play­ing!” No par­ties, no school dances, no movies, no “That kid should be insti­tu­tion­al­ized” — noth­ing! Just you and your fam­i­ly.

What’s more, God gives Noah the same com­men­da­tion he gave Adam — “Be fruit­ful and mul­ti­ply and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1). God says, “Par­ent! Raise kids! Bring up the next gen­er­a­tion — and the next and the next and the next — in utopia and fol­low­ing me.”

What an oppor­tu­ni­ty! Hasn’t the thought flick­ered through your mind: “If only I didn’t have to deal with HER, then my kids would be more god­ly — health­ier!” “If only we didn’t have to deal with THAT, we wouldn’t have the­se issues!” Noah was able to live that out.

But instead, Noah goes off, plants a vine­yard, fer­ments wine, gets drunk and pass­es out, is dis­hon­ored by his son and so in turn curs­es his grand­son and frac­tures his fam­i­ly.

Like clock­work.

How many gen­er­a­tions, com­plete­ly removed from the out­side influ­ences of cul­ture and bro­ken­ness did it take for there to be a mas­sive par­ent­ing fail­ure?

Zero.

What a wake up call for us, as par­ents, rais­ing kids in a world and a cul­ture that des­per­ate­ly wants them to walk away from Christ. Could it be that what chal­lenges them the most isn’t a bro­ken world but rather our own bro­ken hearts?

The most dif­fi­cult thing for us to over­come as par­ents is our sin nature and theirs.

It’s easy as a par­ent to point to every­thing ‘out there’ as the ene­my of our children’s inno­cence and safe­ty. And it might be. But we also need to turn the point­ing back and take respon­si­bil­i­ty for our own sin natures — our own fail­ures and strug­gles. We need to par­ent from a posi­tion of humil­i­ty and repen­tance.

This isn’t to say that we are our children’s great­est ene­mies — quite the oppo­site in fact. Our pride, arro­gance or excus­es can be an ene­my to our chil­dren, but our humil­i­ty, admit­tance and repen­tance can be a great strength. Our chil­dren, see­ing us active­ly liv­ing out a real, trans­for­ma­tive faith, will be encour­aged, strength­ened and given a firm foun­da­tion for life.

We must take respon­si­bil­i­ty for our own bro­ken­ness in order to help our chil­dren do the same.

Diligent Patience — The Heart of the Parent

Diligent Patience — The Heart of the Parent

Par­ent­ing and ‘answer­ing ques­tions’ should almost be con­sid­ered syn­ony­mous. Whether they’re sim­ple ques­tions like ‘What are we hav­ing for lunch?’ or more com­pli­cat­ed issues relat­ing to dra­ma or life deci­sions, the ques­tions come fast and furi­ous and don’t seem to let up. As par­ents, we won’t always answer those ques­tion cor­rect­ly. But like the bumpers on a bowl­ing lane, we can set up guards so that we answer even the tough­est ques­tions wise­ly. Those two guards are dili­gence and patience.

The temp­ta­tion, espe­cial­ly after the hun­dredth ques­tion of the day, is to give quick, sim­ple or dis­mis­sive answers: “You’ll find out lat­er,” “No, you can’t watch TV!” “I don’t care what Justin’s mom said, you’re not going,” and “Let me think about it and get back to you… nev­er.”

But the­se types of quick respons­es — lack­ing both dili­gence and patience — often force us to rene­go­ti­ate or change our answers lat­er. They teach our chil­dren not to trust us, to keep ask­ing or nag­ging, and that our answers might change if they’re asked enough times.

There are few wise deci­sions that ever come about through quick, hasty or rash deci­sion mak­ing. Augustine said, “Patience is the com­pan­ion of wis­dom,” and if we want to make the best deci­sions for our chil­dren, our answers need to be long in devel­op­ment. The larg­er the ques­tion, the more patience we need in mak­ing a deci­sion. It’s far bet­ter to tell our chil­dren, “You know, that’s a tough ques­tion. Can I think about it and we can talk tomor­row?” than to make a hasty deci­sion. We can show our chil­dren that big ques­tions take a long while to answer — and that wis­dom comes some­times after days of look­ing for the solu­tion, not just min­utes.

We must also be dili­gent in answer­ing ques­tions. Dili­gence refers to care­ful and per­sis­tent work, and is the dif­fer­ence between patience and lazi­ness. An unwill­ing­ness to care­ful­ly con­sid­er the nuances of a deci­sion — eter­nal­ly punt­ing the answer to “I’ll tell you in a bit,” is fool­ish and unfair. Our chil­dren need our answers and wis­dom, and we need to do the care­ful work to find answers.

Dili­gence requires seek­ing wise coun­sel — from our spouse, friends and Scrip­ture — doing care­ful research and con­sid­er­ing alter­na­tives and poten­tial pit­falls. Dili­gence involves quite a bit of work and it doesn’t come eas­i­ly.

If we’re to make wise deci­sions con­sis­tent­ly, our hearts as par­ents need to be guard­ed by both patience and dili­gence. We need to care­ful­ly and slow­ly con­sid­er our answers and stand by them, no mat­ter how many ques­tions we receive.

In the Ser­mon on the Mount, Jesus encour­aged his dis­ci­ples to “Let your yes be yes and your no by no” — to stand by your word and let your resolve speak for itself.  Jesus isn’t ask­ing us to stand by poor deci­sions! Instead, he’s chal­leng­ing us to not make poor deci­sions. He’s chal­leng­ing us that when­ev­er we open our mouths our answers must be ones we can stand by and defend. But in order to make the­se sorts of answers con­sis­tent­ly, we must be patient and dili­gent.

There is Sacrifice in the Heart of the Parent

There is Sacrifice in the Heart of the Parent

The birth sto­ry of Jesus is filled with sac­ri­fi­cial obe­di­ence. Mary and Joseph’s will­ing­ness to give up their social stand­ing, com­mu­ni­ty and even their lives for their son speak to an incred­i­ble faith and sub­mis­sion to God, but also to the gen­uine love and sac­ri­fice to which every par­ent is called.

Being a par­ent is not a ‘zero sum game’ — what we gain doesn’t equal what we give up. The reward is greater than the sac­ri­fice, but the sac­ri­fice is real and pro­found. If we haven’t count­ed the cost to par­ent­ing, it might be time to sit down and faith­ful­ly ask, “Have I given up what I must in order to par­ent the best I can?” God rewards this type of faith­ful­ness in the high task of par­ent­ing! Mary and Jospeh gave up much to par­ent Jesus. While the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing their sac­ri­fice are prob­a­bly dif­fer­ent than our own, their faith­ful­ness teach­es impor­tant lessons about what we might be called to sur­ren­der in our par­ent­ing.

For Mary, hav­ing a child out­side of mar­riage was social sui­cide in the first cen­tu­ry, and for Joseph, mar­ry­ing a wom­an who had so obvi­ous­ly vio­lat­ed their engage­ment was worse. The full extent of their social fall is seen in the actu­al birth moment — Mary and Joseph are alone — in a sta­ble — giv­ing birth to their first­born… while Beth­le­hem fills with Joseph’s fam­i­ly for the cen­sus. From every cor­ner of the coun­try Joseph’s fam­i­ly poured in, and every one of them shunned and aban­doned Joseph and his bride on the night of Christ’s birth.

With social sta­tus dev­as­tat­ed, Jospeh received addi­tion­al over­whelm­ing news: Herod want­ed Jesus dead, and the young fam­i­ly need­ed to flee. Any rela­tion­ships, sense of home or com­mu­ni­ty that had been devel­oped over those first two years were abrupt­ly ripped away as the fam­i­ly of three fled to anoth­er coun­try in the mid­dle of the night.

Hav­ing chil­dren today might not be the social or com­mu­ni­ty-destroy­ing grenade it was for Mary and Joseph, but it can still be dev­as­tat­ing. The strong temp­ta­tion will be to leave our fam­i­ly on the altar of social stand­ing. Being able to go out at night, spend­ing extend­ed time with friends or groups, work­ing to main­tain the same or sim­i­lar rhythms and pat­terns as we did before chil­dren — all of the­se things can pull us away from our pri­ma­ry call­ing as par­ents.

Par­ent­ing does not put our social life on pause until the incon­ve­nience of chil­dren goes away. Par­ent­ing over­takes and over­whelms the impor­tance of our social life. This isn’t to say we don’t need breaks, get­aways and com­mu­ni­ty. But we need those things to fuel the health of our par­ent­ing, not to avoid or ignore our role.

In order to faith­ful­ly par­ent, we must be will­ing to sac­ri­fice. Some­times those are phys­i­cal, some­times rela­tion­al — some­times more. The call­ing on par­ents is high, and the sac­ri­fice that’s demand­ed might be much. But the reward is great, and Mary and Jospeh’s sac­ri­fice trans­formed the world.