Over the past month, we've looked at five different characteristics of the heart of a parent. Placing them side by side highlights an important truth: if we pursue God's vision for parenting, it will likely result in an increasing tension in our hearts. We're often faced with opposite-seeming commands, and to balance them creates pressure.
We considered the Wonder we're to have as parents - an amazement at the calling God has given us and the joy of seeing our children grow and mature. But our hearts are also supposed to rest in Anticipation, knowing that God has far greater plans for our children than we could even imagine.
These two characteristics can war in our hearts, playing a massive game of tug-o-war as we seek to rest in the blessing we have but also run towards God's faithfulness and call. Should we look back and out at who are kids are, or should look we look forward and ahead to who God will make our kids?
Likewise, the call on our lives is to be parents of Courage, but also filled with Peace. These are characteristics that can also go to battle in our hearts, even taking root as guilt. It's natural to see the only result of courage as constant fighting - constant work - but also to see the only path to peace as being a laying down of arms and surrender - the opposite of courage.
It's easy to imaging a parent who's filled with peace wondering if she is adequately standing up for her child in courage. Doesn't peace mean that everything is going well - that there aren't worries? But this is a very worrisome world! Might the only path to peace be the one ignoring the troubles and struggles?
In the same vein, a parent who's always rushing into battle for his child doesn't seem at all to be someone described as "peaceful." If we are to zealously guard grace and truth for our kids - if their hearts require our vigilance - rest seems a rather large order.
In both cases, if we take a step back and consider the call of God on our hearts, it's easy to see the pitfalls Satan has for us. Lean too far towards one healthy characteristic? We might be starting to move away from a different, also healthy reality. This pull can create a taughtness in our hearts like a stretched rubber-band, leaving us close to snapping or flying off at a moments notice. Certainly, it can produce guilt and frustration!
But that's why the first core characteristic is so important: our overriding Love of God. More than anything, our hearts need to be constantly defined by a passionate pursuit and love of God, personally. We are children of God first and parents of our children second.
As we find ourselves increasingly obsessed with God and overwhelmed with love for God, we'll find these tensions easier to navigate. The more we see these characteristics as good encouragements from a loving Father, rather than as strict rules from an authoritarian, the more we'll be freed to enjoy pursuing courage and wonder, anticipation and peace.
We need to prioritize the time we spend falling in love with God.
This produces its own pitfalls, though. Parenting - especially in the early years - is not a stage of life conducive to long devotional times or studies. It's a season of little sleep, many frustrations and constant noise and stimulation. Parenting can be like Elijah's storm (I Kings 19): God isn't in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire. God is in the whisper - the quiet, still sound of his voice. When, as parents, do we get to experience this small voice?
If we're to navigate the tensions of parenting - the pitfalls of our heart - we need to be first and fore-mostly overwhelmed with our role as children of the King. And to do that, we need time with our Father. Time at his feet, sitting and learning and growing. When is that time for you? There is nothing more valuable - not the TV show you use to unwind at night, not your weekly date nights, not even your Facebook news feed (I know - it's a close second). All of these are good and appropriate in their place; all of these need to be placed after time with God.
How have you prioritized your love of God and time with God even in the messiness of parenting? What have you found that works well or that helps you navigate these tensions? Share them for others in the comments below!