Friday, July 14, 2006

Another Voice - Parenting 3

Samuel Taylor Coleridge once fell into conversation with a gentleman who believed that children should receive no formal religious instruction: they should, rather, be free to choose their own religious faith upon reaching a suitable age.

Coleridge did not disagree, but later invited the man into his rather unkempt garden. "You call this a garden?" the visitor exclaimed. "There are nothing but weeds here!"

"Well, you see," Coleridge replied, "I did not wish to infringe upon the liberty of the garden in any way. I was just giving the garden a chance to express itself and to choose its own way."

No matter what well meaning sociologists claim, a child is not born morally and religiously neutral, as if all they need is to be left to its own devices to grow up untainted and noble and wise. If you just let a child go with its natural tendencies they will become destructive and self-destructive. All you have to do is to see a tantrum thrown by a 3-month-old child – they’re mad enough to kill you, but they only weigh 10 pounds and not 210!

The Bible teaches that children are born with an inherent inclination towards doing wrong. And so that’s why Paul writes in Ephesians 6:4 “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’

It is not enough to “not exasperate” them, we are to have a positive input into their spiritual and moral upbringing. We are to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord”.

What does that mean? It means that, since we have brought people into the world who have an eternal soul that will go to either Heaven or Hell, God holds parents responsible for teaching their kids about him, and about what he requires, and about what Jesus has done for us. It means letting them see that wrong is wrong and will be punished. It means letting them see that God is not just Holy, but loving and has provided Jesus to pay the price for our sin.

This is part of what the “training and instruction of the Lord means”.

Practically it means that we should be reading the Bible to our children, teaching them to pray, taking them to a church where God’s word is taught and explained. But of course we’ll not want to do that unless we have a right relationship with God ourselves. For even if we do it, we’d be hypocrites telling our children to be interested in something we weren’t interested in – and that would exasperate them, which we are commanded not to do.

The answer is found not in simply following God’s instructions for parenting, but in following the God who gives them. God has commissioned parents with a challenging but eternally significant role. How will you respond?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Another Voice - Parenting 2

(Column from Letterkenny Post)

Parenting – part 2
‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ – Ephesians 6:4.

Exasperate means to frustrate or annoy greatly. And although he directs his command to fathers, mothers are included – because it’s not alright for them to exasperate their kids! What do we as parents do that exasperates our kids? Let me suggest 6 areas:

Hypocrisy – “Don’t ****** use that sort of language with me,” I once heard a mum say to her daughter! That’s hypocrisy. When we tolerate and justify faults in ourselves, but not in our kids, that exasperates them. Often when we see our own faults in our kids we can be more severe on them because we hate the reminder that that is what we are like.

Inconsistency – One day we correct them for doing something, later we ignore them doing the same thing. One day something is ok, the next day the same thing is a major crime. Or maybe we don’t like to set too many boundaries. That’s harmful; children need to know where the limits are. Otherwise we are messing with their sense of right and wrong, and frustrating the life out of them in the process.

Too high expectations – Do we expect a 5 year old to behave as a 10 year old? Or a 13 year old to think/behave like a man? Are we seeking to live our dreams through them? Maybe she doesn’t want to do the gymnastics that we always wished we had done.

Same expectations – Each child is an individual, with different tastes and interests. To treat them as if they were identical can lead to frustration on their part. Do we take time to get to know our kids and what makes them tick?

No encouragement – Are we always faultfinding, but never seeking things to praise? Or perhaps we aren’t faultfinding, but we aren’t encouraging either. If a child puts effort into some idea and comes looking for our praise and gets none, they go away crushed and disheartened.

Neglect – Not just the ‘no food, no care’ type of neglect, but the neglect that goes on in well-to-do homes where mummy and daddy are so busy working, or relaxing that young children become frustrated because they don’t get to see mum and dad as much as they would like to.

God commands us as parents not to exasperate our kids. What should we do if we have been guilty of this? Thankfully we can come to God and seek forgiveness for it, and ask him to help us as we try to bring our children up and show them how to live.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Another Voice - Parenting 1

I'm back from holidays - sorry for the long delay. Over the next few days I'll be posting several of the columns I had written for the local newspaper while I was away.

Parenting – part 1

On Sunday mornings we’ve been looking at a book of the Bible called Ephesians. Last week we looked at a couple of verses that were directed at parents and children. So I thought I’d take the few weeks to share with you some of the things we found.

Paul writes,

‘Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.’ – Ephesians 6:4.

The verse specifically singles out fathers because he expects them to take the lead in the home, and not abdicate responsibility as they often do. Yet Paul’s instructions include mothers too.

Why is parenting important in God’s sight? It is important because parents have a massive responsibility – not just the physical care of their children, but because they are setting the spiritual compass of their children’s lives. Your beliefs and values will be the first that they adopt as their own. What a sobering thought it is to think of our children standing on the Day of Judgment and saying, “Dad, Mum, why didn’t you tell me any of this stuff?”

Why does God care what sort of fathers we are? Because dads in particular have an extremely high calling – we are called to be a picture of what God is like. When I read in the Bible that God is like a fathermy mind fills with images of a loving, protecting, disciplining, passionate father like my own. Unfortunately I know that there are those who have a very different image of a father – absent or abusive, unloving or angry, inconsistent or volatile. How will God the Father treat those who have blackened his portrait to their children? Your children’s idea of God as father is shaped hugely by their own father. How much do you fathers try to reflect godly qualities to your children? Did you realise that this was your job?

So fathers, you and I are to take our lead, not from society, nor even our own fathers, but we are to care for our families as God cares for his. To do so we need to know personally how he deals with his children – that can only come about when we ask him to bring us into his family through Jesus. Then not only will we experience the perfect father’s love and care first hand, but we will find him giving us the strength to demonstrate his fatherliness to our own children.