Raising kids demands self-sacrifice, brutal consistency and a delicate balance between grace and truth. It's an intentional process to "train up a child in the way he should go," and it requires and intentional heart. Conversations about a parent's heart often center around conviction and conscience, but there's another characteristic that also needs to be firmly embraced: Courage.
An easy definition of courage is "strength in the face of opposition or grief." In parenting, it refers to the conviction to point our children toward truth, with wisdom, no matter the apparent consequences for them or for us. C.S. Lewis spoke of courage, saying, "Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality." When we're pushed - really pushed as a parent - what is our response? The mettle of our courage is going to be tested.
TWO TYPES OF COURAGE
Let's focus on two aspects of parenting that demand real courage at the testing point: the courage to tell the truth about the world, and the courage to continually point our children toward the source of truth - God's Word.
First, we need to teach our children to walk the difficult line of grace and truth. Perhaps that's simple to do in theory, but at Lewis' testing point, neither truth nor grace are easy to teach as a parent, much less live out. That's when we need courage.
We can teach our kids grace - that they need to love the unloveable - but when they come home from school saying, "One of the girls today got in trouble for swearing at a teacher and nobody wants to be her friend because she's so mean," how will we teach our children to love her? Will we shy away from "love the unloveable?" Or will we lean into a hard tension? Likewise, we can talk about and model grace, but when our daughter confides that two of the boys at school called her fat, how will we respond? Can we help her see herself through the eyes of Christ - but also help her see those boys through the eyes of Christ? In fact, as parents, will we have the courage to see those boys through the eyes of Christ?
And teaching truth is just as hard. When our children start talking about lifestyle choices their peers are making at school - even close friends whom they adore - we need the courage to say, "Yes, we love them - but that doesn't mean their choices are right." In an 'ever-graying' world, one where absolute truth and moral righteousness are increasingly being labeled as intolerant and unloving, how will we continue to proclaim Christ's exclusive truth and call our children to it? What if our children choose to walk paths that Scripture clearly prohibits? How will we respond? How much courage will we have?
Depending on our stage of parenting, some of these examples might seem disconnected or abstract. But there will always be tensions between grace and truth that we must navigate, no matter our parenting stages. And there's also another need for courage: the courage to return again and again to the same core truths and the same source of that truth - God's Word.
Parenting if often a battle of attrition - our kids seem to think that if they just ask one more time (and one more time again), the answer might change. Or, if they just poke or prod or hit or lie or try just one more time, the results might be different. After a while, the temptation for parents is to give in. It seems easier to throw up our hands in frustration or just walk away, but the parent's heart must be filled with the courage to continue to speak the truth - situation in and situation out - and to allow that truth to be seasoned with Scripture.
No matter the circumstance - whether it's time number 1 or time number 1,000 - we need to repeatedly point our children to Scriptural truths. And that takes courage.
Paul modeled both of these aspects of courage in II Timothy 3. While not his biological father, Paul twice refers to Timothy as his "spiritual son," (I Timothy 1:2, I Cor 4:17), and speaks to him in a truly parental way throughout his two letters. Near the end of II Timothy, starting in verse 10, Paul challenges Timothy by saying:
You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
What a powerful commendation from a man who viewed Timothy as his very son. Consider the courage it took Paul to share both prongs of truth: persecution is coming for the righteous, yes, but continue to cling to the tried and true reality of Scripture and God's authority.
It's easy in Western Christianity to feel insulated from what Paul needed to tell Timothy, but imagine sitting down with your 15 year-old son and looking him in the eyes, saying, "Son, following Christ is going to lead to your imprisonment, your beating... you're going to be ostracized and you're going to suffer. And what's more, you're going to look around and see people who are doing things I've told you are wrong - and they're going to be prospering. But that doesn't change the fact that Jesus is worth it."
And you go on, too: "And son, I know I've said this a million times. I know you've heard this and it seems old-hat - but listen again. There is no source of truth like Scripture. The Bible is entirely unique in its ability to make you like Christ and you absolutely need it. Never leave Scripture."
Both of those commendations might seem foreign or even weird. And in the abstract, neither might seem all that hard. But there will come a time in our parenting journey when our convictions as parents are pushed to the testing point, and in those moments it will take a cultivated courage to parent well.
Father, my heart wants nothing more than to raise my kids in the way you desire. But if I'm honest... I'm exhausted. It's been one long day after another, and I don't know how many more times I can correct my child's bad behavior or give her the same answer.
As I think about my tiredness, God, I'm reminded that you are the ever-courageous Father, who never stops seeking to love me or call me to your grace and truth. Your patience with me knows no bounds, and I don't come close to deserving your consistency and your faithfulness.
Help me to fix my eyes on you and your example of parenting. Give me the strength, as I consider your example, to parent courageously. Help me to not tire of following you or giving you my everything. As I read your Word and seek to follow you, cultivate a courage in me that will stand up to the fiercest of trials.
God, let me never compromise my children because of exhaustion or ease. Always fill me with the courage to proclaim your truth.
- Where do you need more courage: proclaiming grace and truth to your kids, or when it comes to pointing them consistently to Scripture?
- How has courageous parenting positively impacted you? How has a lack of courageous parenting negatively impacted you? Where have you wished your parents would have been more courageous?
- What's the most courageous conversation that you're going to need to have with your children over the next year?
- If you were honest, where is your "line of courage?" Where do you need to ask God to stretch you because, "If God asked me to do that or allow that or say that... I don't know if I would be able to?"
- In 5 years, when your kids are that much older, where do you feel you're going to need courage as a parent?
- Did you choose not to respond to something that your son or daughter said this past month because you were afraid of how it might come across to the modern culture? Said another way: Have you been tempted to shy away from conversations because you were afraid of being accused as being intolerant or unloving?
- What rebuke or correction have you given so many times over the past two weeks that you're in danger of letting the next offense slide because of sheer exhaustion?
- Hebrews 11: The Hall of Faith is filled with examples of courageous Christians. As verse 12:1 commends us, their example should spur us on to greater faith and greater courage.
- Nehemiah 1-2: Nehemiah was a man of unique courage who needed to make difficult decisions. Consider his example.
- Genesis 22: Reading Abraham's story with his beloved son Issac should cause every parent to stop and wrestle with the implications.