Parenting, More or Less
Depending on how we look at it, parenting can either be way more or way less than we think it is. 'Way less' in the sense that our children have essentially been loaned to us and, therefore, we do not represent the highest authority over their lives. 'Way more' in the sense that the one who loaned them to us is none other than God and what authority we have was given by him.
In both situations we're dealing with the same truth – parenting is a God-given stewardship; but depending on our perspective it can affect us in different ways. Let's start with how it should inspire us.
I'm sure you probably already know this but (sometimes it's good for us to be reminded) – your child, the one that breaks things and spills things and hits things and sometimes goes into these inconsolable crying tirades; the one that's selfish and lazy; the one that fights your authority and has a penchant for arguing; the child that's at least partially responsible for the increasing amount of grey in your hair – yes, THAT child was MADE BY GOD. Why, then, are they so difficult? Why so exhausting?
As it turns out he gave them a will. No, let me put that a better way – He gifted them will. He gifted them the opportunity, not to be forced into loving him, but to choose to love him. Think about it. Would you want your child loving you because you forced them to? Because you gave them no other choice? Not only could that never be considered love, such a compulsory relationship could never be truly enjoyed.
So your children have been blessed with a will. This means they may, of their own volition, choose to follow their Heavenly Father and be rewarded accordingly; but it also means they may not. So you cook for and clean and clothe a child, but ah, so much more than a child. It's a staggering thought – one that exalts the notion of parenting. This isn't long-term babysitting; it's stewardship over an eternal soul trying to make its way back to God.
But it's one thing to say (or write) that parenting is this grand endeavor conceived of and bestowed upon us by an infinite God; it's quite another to parent like that day in and day out. We get easily distracted by the daily grind. Sometimes it feels like all we do is wipe noses, change diapers, and settle shouting matches (am I the only one that feels that way?); but we should always try to remember, in the midst of all the chaotic monotony, that our loud, messy, expensive (and oh-so precious) children were made by and are ultimately accountable to God; what's more, he has asked us to do everything in our (limited) power to direct them back to him. Parenting is far more important than we think.
But it can also be less. As I've already mentioned, your children were made by God but YOU'RE NOT HIM. For some reason some parents let the "astonishing privilege" of raising children go to their heads and they behave like some sort of dictatorial overlord with heaven-sanctioned authority to employ whatever means necessary to "break" the will of their child. Let's be clear – wherever they received such a commission, it certainly wasn't from heaven.
Men break horses and dogs. They should not break children. Ultimately, there is only one Being that deserves to be obeyed and it's not you (and it's certainly not me). As parents our most important job is directing our children to God, but as I mentioned in my last post, the pathway back to him doesn't run through us, it runs under us. This understanding helps us to avoid raising children that are merely submissive to us; because, for everything that we are, we are definitely not God.
I'm in no way suggesting that our children shouldn't obey us, but the primary reason why they should is because God told them to. And you thought it was because we're wiser and stronger and posses better instincts. Let me ask you – Are you expected to obey everyone that's wiser or stronger than you? Of course not. Children should obey their parents because God told them to. He made you wiser and stronger with a greater breadth of experience so you could shoulder the responsibility.
Let me go a step further – obedience to parents cannot possibly come before obedience to God. Why? Because anytime your children obey you they're obeying God first. He's the one that commanded them to honor and obey you. And you thought raising children was hard as it is. Imagine what it would be like if your children weren't required to submit to your authority!
With this in mind it's worth asking – are we the kind of parents worth obeying? Do we still take it as a personal slight every time a child is disobedient? Do we strive to set an example before them that's worth emulating? Are we walking in the footsteps of our Heavenly Father so that they might follow in behind us?
In the end, our children must choose. We may not always be pleased with the decisions they make, but we should at least be glad that they possess the power to make them. The fact that both we and our children have a will is an evidence of an all-loving yet all-wise creator.
He could have forced us to love him, but that simply isn't love. The will – the ability and opportunity to choose – is an incredible blessing that proves our devotion in a way that otherwise wouldn't be possible. He gave it to us, not so he (or we) could break it, but that it could be given back to him in sacrificial love.