Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4
Paul instructs Christian fathers to bring their children up in the training and instruction in the Lord. The word for “bring them up” is the idea of nurturing, and it has a holistic connotation. Paul actually uses the same word in the previous chapter when he says, “no one ever hates his own body, but he feeds and cares for it.”
It’s the concept (which we should all understand as parents) of making sure that you care for the development of your child, not just feeding them and caring for their physical development, but caring for their mental, emotional and spiritual development as well. And then he mentions “training and instruction.” Those are two sides of the same coin. Training is disciplining and correcting them with action, and instruction is disciplining and correcting them with words.
Here’s an illustration that I thought of from Ephesians 6:4, and perhaps it will help you look at parenting from a new perspective: Think of parenting like being a personal trainer.
If you go to the gym and there’s a goal you have in mind: you want to get in shape, tone up, lose weight, whatever. You can figure a few things out on your own, but you have such a better shot of succeeding if you have a personal trainer. A personal trainer is there to help create a custom program for you that is crafted to your goals and they succeed when you meet your health and fitness goals.
They have the knowledge, they have the know-how, they’re right there with you, they know when to push you and when to back off. They are training and instructing you, through action and through word, so that you can meet your goal. Not that different than parenting.
So, if the goal is that when kids launch out into the world as adults, that they are walking in Christ and they are ready to make a difference for Jesus, then as a parent you are their personal trainer. Try thinking about it that way and see if it gives you a different perspective. Here are three ways Christian parenting is like being a personal trainer:
1. Don’t make your kids an idol.
I get this from the word “training.” In Hebrews 12 this word is used four times when talking about how a father disciplines the son he loves, and even though discipline isn’t any fun, it’s for their good. That’s the idea behind training. When you train your child, that means there has to be ground rules and discipline. You can’t properly discipline someone when they’re your idol.
Years ago the term many people used about parenting was “helicopter” parents, the ones who hovered around and never let the kids do anything on their own. The term I used today is “lawnmower” parents, those who mow down anything difficult so that their kid never has to struggle. As loving as that might seem, it’s not setting them up for success later on in life if they never learn how to overcome adversity because they’ve never faced adversity.
Go back to the personal trainer illustration. It would be like you walking into the gym, and the personal trainer saying, “I don’t want you to have to sweat, so I’m actually going to lift all the weights for you.” That’s useless! We have to allow our kids to struggle, we have to teach our kids how to fail well, so that they’re ready for the real world. Many people in culture are bemoaning this next generation, calling them snowflakes because they’re so fragile they can’t deal with the real world. It’s our fault. When we make our kids idols we don’t allow them to learn how to develop courage, strength, perseverance. There has to be discipline.
2. Show them how to successfully navigate this world.
I also get this from the word “training” in Ephesians 6:4. When you have a personal trainer, their job is to help you learn more about your body, to teach you how to get fit and stay fit, so that when they’re gone you can still do it on your own. A good personal trainer knows how much weight to put on the dumbbells to push you. It’s a fine art, and this is where parents (including me struggle). If you put on too much weight, they’ll tear a muscle. If you don’t put on any weights, they’ll never get stronger.
If you protect your kids in bubble wrap, they’ll never gain the strength needed to successfully navigate this world. But if there are no limits, especially when they’re younger, this world will eat them up and spit them out. This is where as parents you need to be on your knees and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. It’s not enough to protect them from the world, because sooner or later they have to fly out of the nest. The key is to allow them to engage the world in bite-size chunks. That means that you have to have lots of conversations, with God and with your kids.
It’s like ike when my dad taught me to drive. He didn’t completely protect me until the day I got my license then set me loose on the world. Neither did he give me the car keys when I was 8 and let me practice on my own. When I was 15, we started spending evenings on a big parking lot, lots of wide open spaces, so I could gradually learn how to drive.
You’ve got to develop that same finesse when you teach your kids how to navigate this world. If you’re too protective or not protective enough, they won’t thrive outside of the nest. It’s got to be just the right amount, and that’s getting on your knees every single day and asking for God’s wisdom.
3. Shape their world with your words.
This comes from the word “instruction.” If you want to allow the world to shape their values, then just leave them alone and the world will take care of it for you. You won’t have to do a thing. But if you want to raise your child in Christ, it means that your voice needs to be the strongest voice in their ear. Pastors can help, the church can help, a youth pastor can help, but you still need to be the primary influence.
What you speak into them from a young age shapes their world. Personally, I am not a night owl. After 9 pm I turn into a pumpkin. But even though I want to sit on the couch and relax at night, I’m intentional to tuck each of my four kids in individually, we read a story, we talk about something from the Bible, and we pray together.
Tell them the stories of Scripture. Read it with them. Stories help shape their perspective of the world. Be intentional to discuss Scripture often and speak words of life with them. A good personal trainer is right there next to you, encouraging you when you’re starting to get tired. Your personal trainer’s words will push you to go farther than you could go yourself. A personal trainer is absolutely useless if he’s over in the corner on his phone while you’re on the benchpress about to collapse. So, parents, get off your phones and shape your kids’ world with words of life.