My youngest is three years old and boy is she a bundle of fun…in a very Jekyll and Hyde way. She can be snuggling up to you, rosy cheeks full of smiles and in 2 seconds flat be on the floor wailing at the injustices of her world.
So, the other day, we were playing with our friends and the kids discovered dog vomit fungus. It is this nasty looking fungus that grows randomly in forests and mulched beds and looks like…well…dog vomit. So all the kids are oohing and ahhing over it, and, of course, my cherub of a toddler thinks she needs to touch it, because that will obviously be impressive to her older siblings and playmates and being the youngest she needs all the street cred she can get.
I immediately say, “No! Don’t touch!” and she backs away. Then, after careful consideration, she heads straight back to touch it so I reach down and give a gentle, but firm smack on her behind surprising both myself and my daughter as I typically don’t spank in public in order to protect the dignity of my kids.
She starts crying in the most devastating way possible, and my friend backs away quickly from the scene as I suddenly realize I have created an uncomfortable situation. My friend doesn’t advocate spankings, so now we are in this awkward moment where I reacted automatically to my daughter’s disobedience according to how I have chosen to discipline and my friend doesn’t know how to respond.
I fought the urge to justify myself, knowing that this was not the time for me to save face, because I was not finished disciplining my daughter. There was still work to be done in order to dig past the behavior and get to the heart of her disobedience. Even at three years old, I knew I needed to have a conversation with her about the sin in her heart that would lead her to continue to disobey and would cause tremendous pain and sorrow if she continued to refuse to listen to Mommy and Daddy’s instruction.
We all have goals for our children. We have dreams of who they will be and what they will do. We imagine their future, then work backward from that imagined time to the present to help us figure out what we need to be doing now in order to make those dreams reality.
For the Christian parent, there is one goal that is overarching all the good things we desire for our kids. This one goal is what I invite you to consider today, and it is why I dared to bring up the very contentious topic of discipline.
It is the goal that our entire family walks faithfully with Jesus and honors God with their life.
My husband and I decided long ago that this goal had to be the main focus and all the other goals we had for our children (even education and successful careers) would be secondary.
What this means for us, is that when we are stuck in a decision, we ask different questions than we would if our main goal was, say that our child become an Olympic gymnast. Instead of asking, “How does this help our child advance towards the gold medal?” we ask, “How does this goal help our child grow in their relationship with Christ and their understanding of the gospel?” Then we make our decision based on the answer.
As Christians, we must keep our eyes on what is eternal and not allow the opinion and goals of the culture we are in to distract us from the one thing that truly matters.
This is the tension I wrestled with in the situation described above. If my goal was that I be well thought of by my friend, I would have backed down and not continued to press in to dealing with my daughter’s heart. But because the goal for our family is to walk faithfully with Christ, I was able to make the right decision and steer my little one away from the sin that wants to overtake her (as well as the nasty dog vomit fungus that threatened her chubby hands).
When we lose focus on the goal of eternity, we cheat our child out of what their heart longs for by offering them less satisfying goals to chase.
Understanding this has changed the way my husband and I see our relationship with our children. We are not just their caregivers, we are their pastors, counselors, and friends. As they follow and worship Christ, we also become their brother and sister in the family of God. We are now not only physically a family, we are also spiritually a family.
We are able to disciple them to do the work of the ministry. We work to help them understand that life is not all about them and their happiness, but is actually about Christ and what he has done to save his Church. It answers their questions of who they are and why they are here. The gospel carries the heavy load of parenting to the cross and allows the work of Jesus to answer the deepest questions in our children’s souls.
Too often, we stunt our children’s spiritual growth by putting all of our focus on physical, psychological, and educational growth. In a skewed attempt to grow our child’s self-worth, we often fail to nourish the one aspect of their soul that gives them the understanding of their identity and value as image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:26).
The writer of Hebrews saw this same struggle for believers when he wrote, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food…for everyone who lives on milk…is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (Ch. 5:12-14)
I want to train my children to mature in discernment so that they are able to distinguish good from evil, not just in a moral capacity, but also through the lens of the gospel - the work of God’s grace that saves us from our sin and from ourselves. This is a tremendously weighty but worthy work. It can’t be accomplished through behavioral modification, but rather through daily reminding them (and myself) of the gospel. The good news that Jesus has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves will mature my children’s hearts in a way that activities and educational endeavors alone cannot - though those things can be helpful tools that the Holy Spirit uses to teach them, as long as the primary goal of the gospel is central in our parenting.
Tedd Tripp wrote excellently on examining your goals as a parent in the book “Shepherding a Child’s Heart.”
“Parents want children to be successful so they can ‘do well’ and live happy, comfortable lives…There are scores of ways parents try to produce this success…Teaching your children to live for the glory of God must be your overarching objective. You must teach your children that for them, as for all mankind, life is found in knowing and serving the true and living God. The only worthy goal for life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”
Some questions I invite you to ask yourself are these:
What is the overarching goal for your child/children? How are your daily decisions in parenting determined by this goal? Is there space in your life to intentionally set goals for your family so that you and your spouse can work together toward the same goal?
My prayer for you today, is that every goal and decision of your family’s life will be centered on the gospel. I pray you are able to surrender the hopes you have for your children to the precious work of Jesus. I pray that you will trust that God is a good Father who has good things for your kids, even better than the plans you have for them. I pray that your arms will be strengthened as you do the laborious work of cultivating the souls of your children towards God.
You are doing a good work today, Mama! Be strong and courageous! (Joshua 1:9)
“And one of the scribes…asked him, ‘Which commandment is the most important of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The most important is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’” Mark 12:28-30 ESV