Christmas is such a joy to children, so I often find myself thinking of them this time of year. What they like. What they desire. How I can make their Christmas enjoyable, but not so enjoyable they lose sight of baby Jesus and what His coming to earth means for them. It’s a tough balance, and if the balance isn’t attained, things can get hairy on Christmas morn. Instead of order and pure-hearted giving and receiving, there might be chaos and selfishness to the point of blood curdling screams, hair pulling, eye scratching, weeping and gnashing of teeth …
Much parental direction is typically needed on the day we celebrate Christ’s birth. We want to give our darlings good things, but when we do, our darlings sometimes evolve into devils, and we are left to wonder where we went wrong.
I’ve often pondered what causes a child to wander. By wander, I mean rebel. Why would a child become self-centered and beat his sister up on Christmas morning because … well, for any reason? There we are as eggnog-sipping parents, trying to give our child good and wholesome gifts that will point him or her to God and the gift He gave us in Bethlehem long, long ago, and all we receive in return is rivalry.
It’s horrifying, really, and not at all reminiscent of the Hallmark movies we’ve watched all month leading up to the big day.
At the age of twelve, Christ wandered, though not in a sinful way (Luke 2:41-52). His parents thought He was traveling alongside them, but He had stayed behind in Jerusalem. No warning. No verbalized reason. Just decided not to jump on the camel-train and instead be about His Father’s business, which apparently trumped Mom and Dad’s business. Mary was petrified she had lost the Son of God. Can you imagine losing the Son of God? Makes me desperate for a Xanax just thinking about it. Joseph was likely angry the Son of God had the gall to wander away from His tribe and challenge his authority. He could’ve also been angry at Mary …
You what!? You lost the Son of God!?
The most embarrassing part, of course, was that Mary and Joseph didn’t even notice He went missing. For an entire day, they never realized Jesus wasn’t in the crowd with which they traveled. They simply assumed He was where He should be.
And why not? Jesus was perfectly sinless. Of course Little Jesus was in their group of travelers. He knew the time of departure, and He was obedient, always. He would be there on time. He would climb the right camel at the right minute and never wander from the fold without first telling His parents.
Mary and Joseph trusted Jesus because He always did what was right. And maybe they even felt a bit of pride in the fact that at least one of their children was continually perfect.
Just look at our Jesus boy. What wonderful parents we are! **pat, pat, pat on the back
Do we also trust too much in the actions of our kids? It’s possible we see our kids obeying, and think we’ve got it covered. We’ve got them on the right track. I mean, they do their chores. Get good grades in school. They don’t pick their noses in public, and they give a tenth of their allowance in the offering plate. They even take notes in church and slick their hair down just the way we prefer for Sunday morning.
Then one day we wake up and Little Johnny has wandered, and not in a sinless, Jesus way, but in a sinful, cannot-seem-to-fight-it way. His hair is colored pink and spiked for church. He no longer takes notes. He did drugs last week and isn’t even sorry. He brings his iPhone to church and scrolls social media and plays video games during the sermon, because he’s heard it all before, at church and at home, and he’s bored and we are shocked. Where did our Johnny go? Did raging hormones steal him away? Did peer pressure cause him to cave? Were the arguments of public school teachers in favor of evolution more compelling than our clear, Biblical teaching about creation?
Notice all of these theories as to why Johnny has wandered have nothing to do with Johnny. They’re circumstantial. The real problem is within Johnny – deeper down and more internal than hormones or brain chemicals or self-esteem.
Johnny’s heart is hardened.
That’s where parenting becomes hardest: when our children’s hearts are hard as rocks and we can’t make them soft no matter what we say or do. We implement rules. We enforce rules. We guide and point them to Christ. We love and accept them where they are while encouraging them to be better. But until their hearts are turned from stony to fleshy, no amount of guidelines or encouragement will change them from the inside out.
Heart changes are strictly God’s doing, which, to be overly obvious, means they are not our doing. We can’t produce godly children in and of ourselves. Nor can we produce godly children through means of discipline. Those truths can make us feel helpless and hopeless, but desperation is not a bad place for parents to come to. For what other time will a parent intercede so earnestly than when their child has taken to what the Bible calls the equivalent of witchcraft? That is, rebellion.
What is impossible with man is possible with God, we finally think. And Luke 18:22 tells us we are correct.
A wandering child is akin to the lost axe head in 2 King 6:6. He or she feels impossible to retrieve, just as the axe head felt impossible to retrieve from the water. The fella felling logs thought it impossible for his dropped axe head to swim, and for good reason.
It’s too heavy! It will sink! he cried.
But to his delight and surprise, it swam. With the help of his master who cut off a stick and threw it in the water, the iron axe head floated.
Back up a tad in that story, and you’ll find that when the logger saw his axe fall into the water, his first reaction was “Alas, my master! It was borrowed!”
Likewise, our children are not ours. They’re God’s. He’s loaned them to us and has assigned us the task of bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. To think we are in more control than He’s given us is futile, not to mention prideful. The hard truth of parenthood is that we aren’t in control at all, and that fact should cause us to humble ourselves and pray. We work at instilling discipline into our children’s lives, while lavishing them with love, yes. But one of our greatest parental works is prayer, which keeps us and our children from drowning, averts trouble, and establishes footsteps – to God be the glory.
This Christmas, when the gifts we give don’t bring out the best in our children, may it remind us that our children are not saints. They may be cuter than Pooh Bear on a blustery day, but the truth is, down deep, their hearts are only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). The greatest gift we could ever give them is to point them to a Savior who can help them rid their souls of inherent evil. The second greatest gift we could ever give them is prayer. The third greatest gift we could give them, according to my oldest grandchild, is a Transformer.