The most wonderful and awful parts of life can be the relationships we have.
Real, mutually authentic relationships are really hard. It seems like everyone wants to be loved and to love, but no one seems to know how to make it happen.
The history of our dysfunctional family
The root problem, according to the Bible, starts with our family. Not just the family members we know, but way back in history to our first family members Adam and Eve, and their sons Cain and Abel. The first family started with perfect people in a perfect environment, and before long even they had a family that rivaled any craziness you will see on reality television. The first family, tragically, sinned against God and brought death where there was life, conflict where there was love, and brokenness where there was relationship. In fact, the first husband and wife walked away from each other, and the first two siblings’ relationship ended when one killed the other.
Since this first family, every family has been a dysfunctional family. Every family has its faults, flaws, and failures. Every family has its sins, sufferings, and strife. We need help. We need to admit that we need help.
This is why Jesus came. Looking down at our loveless world, our loving God decided that Jesus would come to forgive our sin, heal our hurts, and reconcile our relationships. Jesus’ best friend whom Jesus loved like a little brother says it this way in 1 John 4:10 “…this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Love in God’s family
According to the Bible, love is what you do. It may or not be what you feel, but it is ultimately what you do. Jesus’ love did something – it went to the cross and died in our place paying the penalty for our sins so that we could be restored to a loving relationship with God and one another. Jesus is the most loving person the world has ever seen. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the most loving act the world has ever seen. This is what Romans 5:8 means saying, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
For those who belong to Jesus, the Bible says that we are “adopted” into God’s family where Jesus is like our Big Brother, God is our Father, and fellow Christians are “brothers” and “sisters”. In this way, the church is kind of like a big extended family made up of lots of families. Like all families, the church family has its problems but tries to stick together out of love.
Every little family needs to be part of God’s bigger family, the church. This is perhaps more important than ever, as our birth family is often fractured by divorce, separated by distance, or strained by conflict which leaves families without much of a support network to help them love one another. In the church family, we learn about living life according to God’s design. We build relationships where people help us to walk in God’s will. We see positive and negative examples from other people and families, which helps us to grow into godlier and happier individuals and families.
Grace and I learned this when we were dating in college. A family in our church invited us into relationship with them. They had us over to dinner, and we got to see them instruct, correct, and enjoy one another. This family of eventually 14 people (mon, dad, 2 sons, and 10 daughters – no that is not a typo!) prayed together, read the Bible together, and had fun together. There was a lot that we learned by witnessing loving relationships that we would have never understood from just reading a book. Jesus came down in flesh and blood so people could see and hear him, just as we need to do life together. Parenting is an impossible task for one person, which is why God and the family of God (church) are there to help.
Parenting is like gardening
On one particular day, we were shopping at the grocery store together. As we walked down an aisle, we saw a parent walk up and swat a young child on the behind then walk away. Bewildered, the child stood there with a confused look on their face. The parent had said nothing in the entire encounter, and the child was obviously totally unaware of what they had done wrong.
Admittedly, there are times that even the most loving and long-suffering parent is simply worn out by their child. Raising a child can feel like a marathon with no finish line. Comedian Jim Gaffigan once said, “You know what it’s like having a fourth kid? Imagine you’re drowning, then someone hands you a baby.”
Every parent knows exactly what this feels like. In those exhausted moments, we can so want the child to just obey us and not drain us that we fail to take the time to make the most of those teachable moments. These moments are windows of opportunity to parent on point.
The wisdom for Christian parenting is scattered throughout Scripture and concentrated most particularly in Proverbs. The parenting pattern of Proverbs is taking these open windows of opportunity to stop, instruct, then correct a child.
In Proverbs 3:11–12 the parent says, “my son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” Did you notice that disciplining a child is one way of loving a child? Also, before any parent disciplines their children, they are commanded to delight in them.
Practically, this means that most of a parent’s time and energy is to be spent enjoying their child, encouraging their child, laughing with their child, being affectionate with their child, and making memories with their child, resulting in a deep bond of love and joy between the child and their parent. Once the relationship of love is established, discipline can happen. This is God’s way of helping the parent to enjoy their child, and discipline their child in love without anger or vengeance, so that the parent and child can return to enjoying one another and making memories.
Good parenting is much like gardening. Growing weeds requires no attention or effort at all. Growing a beautiful garden takes constant attention and effort. Disciplining is like pruning – patiently and lovingly cutting away dead branches of sin, and pulling weeds of folly from the life of a child so they can blossom.
Just as a garden needs a gardener, so a child needs a parent. For starters, the parents need to respect and honor authority over them (e.g. legal authority in society, vocational authority in the workplace, and spiritual authority in the church) so that they too are being pruned and also setting an example of respect for authority. In this way, seeing authority as a good thing that brings life, rather than a bad thing that brings death, will be easier for the child to understand. In contrast, a foolish parent says, “do as I say, not as I do.” What is meant by that statement is in effect, “I am a hypocrite who is not open to correction or obedience, so ignore my behavior and obey what I say”.
The pattern for parenting is instruction, then correction. Our children are not mind readers, and they were not born into this world with wisdom engrained on the brain. They need instruction. They need us to get down on their level, lovingly look them in the eye, kindly explain to them what we expect from them and why, and explain what the consequences will be if they disobey. If they obey, we then encourage them for doing what is right. If they disobey, we must follow through with the consequences so that we correct their behavior from folly to wisdom. This will teach them safety and how not to run (often literally) into harms way.
How open are you to instruction and correction from God and other authorities in your life? How can you improve your instruction and then correction of your child?
This blog series is based upon a five-part sermon series called Parenting on Point that you can listen to for free at markdriscoll.org