Monday, June 30, 2014

Parenting with Love

A friend shared this article recently, The important thing about yelling, and it was the next thing in a long line of conversations about yelling I've had recently. I'm not exactly sure why it keeps coming up, but I can't help but pay attention to those things that do, those issues life offers up again and again for your attention. Today gave me a little glimpse as to why.

My two-year-old straight out smacked me in the face earlier today. Yes, smacked me. Yes, right in the face. And yes, if you know him, my sweet little boy. In the split second before I reacted, I saw about ten different scenarios play out in my mind, several of them involving retaliation. What would your reaction be if someone smacked you in the face? Yeah, that. This is not the first time it has happened, and I doubt it will be the last, and I am thankful for the many conversations about parenting I've had recently and the few minutes I spent in prayer this morning because I know they shaped my response.

I felt my blood pressure spike, and I took a deep breath. As I picked up my son, I caught my husband's eye and his wide-open mouth, his face saying exactly what I was thinking. Did that just happen? And now what? I carried my son upstairs to his room, and as I sat down with him in the rocking chair where I spent many a night nursing him as a baby, I almost started to cry. Why? Because this was sin. His anger, the frustration that pent up and shot out of him before he could even think, it was sin, and in that moment, I knew we were both getting a very early glimpse at the burden that he would (that all of us do) carry for life.

I could have yelled at him. I could have smacked him across the face. Instead, I explained to him what was happening in his heart. "You were mad at mommy, and instead of acting in love, you acted in anger. You hit mommy because you were angry." As I said those words, I could hear the words of my prayer from just a few hours earlier: "Lord, help me, equip me to forgive those who sin against me, remembering the great debt of mine that you have already forgiven." Straight out of the Lord's prayer and here I was, needing to heed it. I could have responded in turn, dumped my anger at what he did right back on him, but instead, Jesus called me to show love to my son, to turn and let him smack my other cheek.

"This is called sin, son. We all have this in our hearts. We all sin, every day." I'm crying just to write this. It is so hard. He is only two and he doesn't know. He doesn't know that he will fight this battle every day, and it really never gets easier to choose the narrow path, to choose the way of love, to hear Jesus's words ringing loud, drowning out our own shouts. "God sent Jesus to us for this very thing. He sent Jesus to us because in our sin, we are separate from God. He sent Jesus to us to become sin for us so that we could become righteous and be with God." I know he's only two and he doesn't understand, but I don't ever want him to remember a time when I didn't tell him this truth.

"God requires love. He tells us to act in love and that love is patient and kind. And son, that is so hard. It is so hard for us because we are broken. But you know what? Jesus heals us. He heals even our most wicked hearts." By this point, my son had rested his head on my chest, doing that pitiful little residual sob that kids do to make you melt. I rubbed his back and told him how much I loved him, how much God loves him, how much love hung on that cross.

I don't share this to shame my child. I'm sure many of you could tell far "worse" stories, and that's not what I'm after. I don't share this to have you praise my superb parenting skills or grace under pressure. I've conveniently neglected to share all the times I've totally failed as a parent. (Or, well, I did share about my anger in this post...). I share this for two reasons.

Reason 1: Think about your goals. What is the point of your parenting? What do you want for your kids? Do you want them to be wickedly smart? Do you want them to obey you at the glare of an eye? Do you want them to fear you? The Word pushes us as parents to teach our children the way of the Lord. That's what the Bible says is our job. It tells kids to listen to their parents, to glean from their wisdom. The assumption behind this is that the parent is doling out wisdom, is pointing to Jesus, is clearing the path for their children to walk that narrow road. And every parenting decision you ever make requires that focus. It's not about you. It's not about righting some perceived wrong against you. It's not about establishing your tiny kingdom. It's about teaching your kids the love of Christ. And if we don't keep that narrow focus, if we don't keep our eyes fixed on the cross, we will parent in all sorts of crazy ways, ways that do not honor God or bless our children.

Reason 2: You can always be a better parent. Maybe every single day for the last year, you have yelled at your kid. You have yelled and screamed, not as a form of discipline (because, as my husband says, yelling isn't a punishment), but just to vent your anger or frustration or disappointment or whatever else. Maybe it's the single, solitary way you know how to communicate to your children. Well, guess what? Tomorrow is a new day. Tomorrow is a new day and if you place your faith in Jesus, the Word tells us that He gives us new hearts. You catch that? Maybe your old heart is an angry, yelling heart, but in Christ, you already have a new one. You don't have to wait for it. You don't have to ask God for it. It's already there. You just have to use it.

It may seem impossible, but I'll tell you, if God can fix me, He sure can fix you. If God can change my heart -- from one that would desire to retaliate or punish or "teach that kid a lesson" -- to one that truly desires to see my child come to know Christ, to one that knows that is the only way my child's actions will ever please God, He surely can change your heart. Maybe yelling isn't your thing. Maybe it's the silent treatment or verbal belittling or shaming. I'm sure there are any number of ways we can reduce our children to their behaviors instead of seeing their souls, but whatever they are, the love of Christ can overpower. The love of God can overflow out of you and wash your children in the water of forgiveness.

Your child, your children, they are sinners. And you should expect them to act accordingly. It shouldn't surprise you (though it will). It shouldn't shock you (though it might). Most of all, it shouldn't cause you to lose hope. Jesus is "the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 John 2:2) Your kid falls into the "no one is righteous, no, not one" but he falls into the "whole world" too, the "whole world" that Jesus came to save. And guess what? So do you.

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