Estimated reading time: 7 minute(s)
In the course of many converging events this week, my mind has been directed to the many facets of life as a parent. On the one hand, there are the joys of your children’s successes – doing what they are supposed to, and even surprising you by doing the unexpected. Then there are the pull-out-your-hair moments when it seems as though nothing you have attempted to build into their lives for the past 7 years has had any sort of effect whatsoever.
There have been a few of those moments this week.
And through those moments, I believe God continues to teach me about the wildly, incomprehensibly great nature of his love, and especially his grace.
Our son Ian is 6. He will turn seven on Christmas Day this year… if he makes it that far. 🙂 There are moments when I am so frustrated by his actions, but even more so by his attitude when perpetrating those actions, that I have to think of ways to restrain my anger. Even typing that makes me sad, but it’s true. He can certainly get under my skin. I expect a lot from him, because I know the greatness he is capable of.
This past Wednesday night, we came back from delivering a meal to friends in order to prepare a meal of our own. It seems Ian decided to talk back to Mom, and to complain again about something she had just asked him to do (which had happened several times that day) and so Mom, in her wisdom, sent the boy to his room, where he would stay until it was time for bed.
We carried on with dinner, missing the presence of a member of our family, and afterward, I headed upstairs to check on something in the office. Only about 10 minutes later, I came down from the office to hear sobbing coming from the bedroom. My first reaction was furious anger. Ian has learned to sometimes use crying as a way to voice his displeasure for our guidance in his life. But, as I approached his door, I had compassion on him. I should say, compassion for him came upon me. (I am not known for my “compassion”) 🙂 And in that moment, I felt like I should ask him how he’s feeling, or, why he’s crying, instead of just laying into him and stopping this unacceptable behavior.
“Ian,” I made sure to keep my tone as gentle as possible, “Why are you crying?”
“Mmmrrr, mmahhh muuu maaa aaaaa”
“Ian, I can’t understand you when you’re crying.” 🙂
I came closer. He tried again. With heartfelt, sincere, humble repentance, he said through tears, “Because I don’t want to do bad things anymore. I just want to be with my family.” It was all I could do to hold back the tears. I laid my head down on his chest and tried to think of something to say in that moment. How could a six-year-old comprehend the depth of sin and repentance and broken relationships and restoration? How could he? But it seemed that he did.
All I wanted to do was pick him up (because I still can for a few more years) and tell him all was well and he should come join us for the rest of the night. But something in me understood that his “wisdom” was a result of the consequences we had assigned to his actions and choices. When he faced the prospect of not only no dinner, but an entire evening in “solitary confinement”… he realized the stupidity of his choices. Had I not followed through on that, the lesson may have been less impactful.
“Ian, I think it’s working. I think you are understanding the cost of your choices. That’s what consequences are for. They help us understand the value of our actions and choices.”
He seemed to understand. I was still fighting back the tears. So was Ian. But perhaps, we both knew it was the right thing to do.
At only six years old, Ian was struggling with the same thing I do. I have cried saying, “I don’t want to do bad things…” and longing for the restoration of my relationship with Father. I have understood the depths of my own depravity. But how can he? Amazing. It was a moment that, while painful, was so deep and meaningful, was perhaps a highlight of a rather unpleasant week.
You see, to my kids, I am authority. They don’t really answer to the law yet. Policemen are just cool, not representative of a standard that must be kept. There is no real authority in their lives besides parents (and maybe teachers, if they have those). I am the guy who tells them what they can and can not do. The buck stops here, as they say.
Unfortunately, that’s going to make them not like me. At least a little. And there’s nothing I can do about it, because I love them.
I could do nothing. I could set no boundaries, allowing all things… working hard to ensure my children’s happiness as they grow up. I could cater to their every whim, making sure that what they perceive as their needs are met, and in a timely fashion. I could. But I won’t. To do that would present a reality in which they exist at the center. Life is about them. It’s not, and eventually they would learn that… but I guess I am choosing to build deeper truths into them. The idea that there is more to life than self. More than looking out for their own interests, Jesus taught us to love and live in God, and then to share that life with everyone around us. “It’s not about me” is a phrase I have repeated to them quite often, even at their young ages.
I hope I have backed it up with my actions.
You see, there’s the other thing. This week I have noticed that a lot of the stuff that so frustrates me, that requires my action in assigning consequences or other measures of correction, is stuff that they have picked up from me. And from Jen. I can see and hear us in our kids. And that saddens me more than words can describe.
The same battles that we have waged and lost continue in our children. Our failures become their struggles, and perhaps their lifelong weaknesses. What an unfortunate reality.
But what a window to grace.
In seeing the very things for which I have been forgiven, I have such an opportunity to teach them about the love God has for them, and the life he offers beyond and even through our weaknesses. God does not require complete an infallible obedience from us (he knows we can’t… that’s what Jesus’ whole purpose was) he only requires that we trust him. That we get to know him, and his kingdom. Despite our weaknesses, we are loved and accepted.
With that awareness, a conflict began in my heart. How do I act as the authority for my children that they need at this point in their lives to understand boundaries and moral principles… and still convey the depth and wonder of grace to them? How can I maintain a standard, and show them the greatness of life lived the way Jesus showed us to… and still allow them the complete freedom to fail, and be restored?
Unfortunately for me… I think at this stage of their lives, I must lean toward the authority. God has given me the temporary assignment of training my children in the way they should go. And with that must come authority. I am the one who says what is right and what is wrong. Of course, I answer to God (and other human authorities he has appointed) but I am pretty much all the authority they need. So, when they are in their sin nature rebelling against authority and the boundaries God has set in his law… they will despise the law but they will first despise me.
But as I have come to so cherish the reality of God’s grace through the fullness of the law – how the law reveals my own depravity, just as Ian briefly understood this week – I will be able to pass that along to my kids as they mature. As they continue to understand their weakness, and inability to adhere to any sort of morality… then I can with God’s help unleash the lavish grace he offers to us. Then, with them, I can stand in the joy and wonderment of the love of a Father far beyond what I could ever offer. What a privilege to be able to not only pass along that understanding, but to bask in its greatness with them – as children of a common Father.
We’re not there yet. I have a long way to go of much training and discipling. We have years of conflicts and corrections to go through. We will hand out consequences to the best of our ability, and beyond with the help of Holy Spirit. But I am looking forward to the days when I hand over the reigns to my children, and with any luck, they will be prepared to take them and to live rich, full lives in the freedom of God’s love and grace.
Perhaps that’s the joy of parenting.