One day after church, one of my daughters approached me requesting a popsicle. I was mid-conversation and tried to quietly tell her no. (I mean seriously though, where am I supposed to get a popsicle on a Sunday morning standing in front of the church!?). Sundays are hard, especially for ministry families who are down a parent for most of the day. She chose to let all of her pent-up frustration from our frenzied morning fly. Kicking me in the shins, she huffed her way straight to her daddy’s office. . . and I let him take it from there.
In these moments, I throw up my hands and think, “What is wrong with this kid?” I find myself surprised by selfishness, mean spirited sibling fights, and disrespect.
I want to be the mother with the kind voice and the endless wisdom. I want to be the mom who has charts that organize, and energy that engages. I want to grow into a woman who speaks kindly to her teenagers and not down to them. I want to finish this race and think, yes, worth it. I want my life to matter and I want my children to prove it.
When I base my discipline methods on these goals, this whole parenting thing becomes about me and my desire to look put-together. I want people to look at my kids and be fully impressed with my sweet, sweet parenting skills.
But man, that’s a LOT of hard work for some pretty surface and fickle rewards.
This realization begs a question : if not for me, if not even for them to be functioning citizens one day, then WHY do the hard work of disciplining my children? I would much rather be a friend, give them what they want, and be loved and adored by them.
Sinners in Need of Grace
Children do not grow into a sin nature, they are born sinners. And when I argue with this tiny person and my voice whines and my blood blood boils, I remember what I am fighting in her is the same thing driving me to the feet of grace.
When my child (any of them) acts out, I want to be fully aware of her sin nature that so mirrors my own. She needs of the mystery of surprising grace too. To say a child is not born with sin runs contrary to what every toddler mom knows deep in her belly. When that little cherub looks up at you with perfect, blue eyes and slaps you squarely in the face with a handful of mashed potatoes, or kicks and screams at bedtime as if auditioning for a part in the Exorcist- you’ll know my theology is on point.
My goals have to change. I need to aim higher. I cannot look into my threenager’s white-hot anger and be shocked at her emotional response. Paul tells us plainly that the sin of people who do not know Jesus should never surprise us. [1 Corinthians 5:12-13 CSB] I myself cannot act outside of my sin nature on my own strength. It is only the Holy Spirit living in me that produces even the desire to honor God, let alone the ability to obey him.
So what does this mean for my children? Should I stop disciplining them until they become believers because it’s useless anyway? Ha! “In God’s economy, what we love we will discipline.” [Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert]
OBEDIENCE AND THE ECONOMY OF GOD
The fifth commandment requires that children honor their parents. For years now, when I talked to my children about obedience, I pictured the “Christian” families on reality TV with their spanking strap hanging by the door–their children too afraid to not obey. I cringed as I tried to explain why my discipline was somehow connected to their relationship with God. I knew they needed it, but never really understood why outside of my own selfish needs or social constructs.
Paul reiterates this command, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because 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 have a long life in the land.” [Ephesians 6:1-3 CSB] In Romans 1, he groups disobedience with a multitude of other, really horrible sins (like murder!). In each of these sins, the sinner has “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man . . . They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.” [Romans 1: 23, 25 CSB]
Children who disobey their parents are rejecting God’s authority over their lives [paraphrased from JR Vassar]. Essentially, they are saying their authority lies within their own selves–they are lord and master.
So now, what do I really want for my children?
I want for them to be free in salvation to love him more than themselves, more than what people think, more than any social construct that vies for their identity. I want it to go well with them. . . so I teach them to obey, because in obedience they will learn to trust the one they are obeying. Patterns of obedience can ripple from the boot camp of toddler years to their eternal relationship with God.
I want them to have a long, full life—to understand that grace is offered because a Holy God requires holiness. I want to protect my children, I can choose to helicopter parent, or I can choose to teach them that in obedience they can safely grow up into the protection of God, rescued from his judgement.
All of the things I long for them find their yes and amen in Jesus alone–and in obedience to his authority.