Based on my wife’s blog posts (see here, here, here, and here,) you might conclude that she has the corner market on the topic of parenting. Today I’d like to prove that I too think about this issue every now and then:-). Like Liz, I want to be a godly parent. But with a goal like that, is it any wonder that I spend a good deal of time wondering about all of my blind-spots? (It is a forgone conclusion that we all have them.) Am I going to wake up 30 years from now wishing I’d done more of this, less of that and none of that other thing? And let me tell you, the first part of Hebrews 12:10 does not fill me with a lot of hope (“seems best” does not equal “good”). So in my wondering, I realize that I need someone to “have my back.” That is, who’s going to lovingly point out all of these blind-spots? Who’s going to keep me from making all those mistakes or at least help me correct them in time to minimize the damage? Who’s parenting the parent?
The first obvious answer is “God.” And I am grateful that he parents me perfectly. I know that I will receive timely discipline from the Lord (Heb 12:10) for my (and derivatively, for my children’s) good. So that is one good answer. God parents me and will work good in me for my children’s sake. When I’m tempted to swing to far to one side or the other of the parenting pendulum I can count on God to work in my heart and center me in the truths of scripture.
One not-so-obvious answer is “you.” Yes, you my church body, family and friends. God uses people as instruments of his training, and I can’t be a good parent without your help. Now, before you get all weirded out, let me explain. I don’t mean that you will have to exact discipline when I stray as a parent. Thankfully, that’s God’s job. I do mean that I need you to have my back when it comes to parenting. I need you to point out my error(s). Sin is deceitful (Heb 3:13) and Satan is crafty (Eph 6:11), and I need another set of eyes. If I’m negligent in teaching my sons to live the gospel, who will tell me? Who will give me insight into my sons’ lives that I might miss? Who will point out the anthill sized problem so that it doesn’t turn into a mountain sized problem later on? It would be vain of me to think that I will be able to notice and attend to all of my sons’ pitfalls without some outside guidance. Also, I realize that I’m weak in so many areas and I don’t want my sons to be weak in the same ways. I need someone to come alongside me and rebuke me, exhort me, correct me and instruct me so that I can better instruct my sons.
Why isn’t their more of this type of interaction going on within the body of believers? Other than my parents and Liz’s parents (to each of whom we are grateful for their godly influence), I don’t think I’ve ever had someone talk to me specifically about my parenting without me asking for their advice first. And the flip side is true too. Why don’t I do it to other people? I think there are four main reasons.
First, we don’t have enough courage or faith.
Talking to other people about sensitive issues is daunting. Admittedly there are some of us who are irascible, unapproachable and/or defensive. I believe that the confronters tend to, in the worst, neglect exhortation or, at the best, refuse to “cast their pearls” (Matt 7:6). I fervently hope that this is not true in my case, but if it were, I would hope someone would say “you’re irascible, unapproachable and/or defensive” in order to give me a chance to change. Let us not fear others, but instead let us embrace the words of our God, knowing that their value far outweighs the judgments of men.
Second, we don’t have enough love.
In this case, I mean your love for me and for my boys. If we are told to avoid any action which causes a brother to stumble (Rom 14:21), certainly any inaction which allows your brother to keep on stumbling is just as offensive to God. And if refusing to assist after seeing a physical need constitutes “no earthly good” (Jam 2:15–16), then how much greater an infraction is committed if we see a spiritual need and refuse to offer aid? Shouldn’t you who are spiritual (i.e. pursuing God) seek to restore such a person (Gal 6:1)? Let our love be great enough to say hard things. Let’s love the body of Christ like Christ loves it.
Third, you and I will never know what is going on in our brothers’ lives (physical or spiritual) if we don’t do that most uncomfortable thing—get into their (my) messy lives.
It is from the “inside view” that we have our most effective platform to lovingly speak the truth into someone’s life. They must know that we speak from love due to our past relationship. Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of having someone confront me for one of my worship choices. Yet there was no grace or love or desire to help conveyed during that confrontation. There was only a baldly stated “your bad.” It left me wondering, “Where were the congratulations when I graduated seminary or started working at my first church? Where were you when my first ministry fell to pieces and I was left (it seemed) with too few friends in the world?” If someone had done those things (or a thousand smaller things) it would be easier to objectively respond to their admonitions (which I tried to do anyway—my dad taught me that one’s enemies are sometimes more truthful than ones friends in leveling criticism— though it’s usually hyperbole). [Edit: I do not mean to imply that this person was my enemy, but only to point out the wisdom of checking to see if the criticism is true before responding.]
Fourth, we need gentle humility (Gal 6:1)
Those of us who want to give exhortation should invite it from others and respond well to it when it is given. If you speak as one who knows the deceitfulness of sin and someone who knows the shame of defeat (and that you too might be tempted by that same sin[Gal 6:1–see a pattern here:-)]), then it might be easier for your listener to accept your admonition. You will be able to more effectively come alongside them and offer loving support in the midst of their spiritual need. You can give them the bad news of their sin but quickly follow with the good news of the gospel and the hope of God’s grace.
So who will raise the parent? Well, God will. But he will do it partially through you, if you choose to accept this mission. And even if you come to me, point out error and I don’t agree with you, I will nonetheless thank you from the bottom of my heart, knowing that you acted as a true friend.
we are told to avoid any action which causes a brother to stumble (Rom 14:21), certainly any