Parenting is hard. Being responsible for shaping future generations is a huge responsibility and oftentimes feels like an overwhelming task. So many things in our culture pull at our children, and as parents, we find ourselves simply trying to keep our heads above water and do our best.
Through the years I have had many conversations with other parents in regard to raising children, and it seems that we all struggle with the same basic questions: How do we get our children to be good kids when they are growing up in a godless society? How do we keep them in church? How do we get them to read their Bibles and pray? How do we get them to make right choices when they are faced with the pull of this world? How do we get them to walk with God?
The answer is, we don’t.
Now some of you may start preaching the biblical standards for training up a child and quoting the “spare the rod, spoil the child” scripture, but before you do, let me tell you where I’m coming from. I absolutely believe that the discipline and correction of our children is biblical and necessary. When they are young, it is imperative that they learn right from wrong, boundaries, and good manners and receive all the behavioral training that little ones need. I believe we should start teaching these principles early and be consistent with them. I’ve raised four little ones, so I know how it goes. However, once our children get to a certain age, and are able to make moral judgments for themselves, we need to start focusing less on their behavior and more on their hearts. If the hearts of our children are set toward the Lord, then their behavior will follow.
As a mom of teens, at times I find myself trying to control my kids’ decisions, actions, and responses rather than focusing on shaping their hearts. In doing this I encounter resistance and frustration from my children. This is not necessarily because they want to be rebellious, which is what we may naturally think, but because they are learning to walk out their lives independently with the Lord, and I am getting in the way! If our children are going to live in true and lasting relationships with Jesus, we have to step back and let the Holy Spirit convict and teach them—just as He convicts and teaches us. Our kids should not live to please us, their parents; instead they should live to please God. Out of love for Him should flow their obedience, respect, and honor for us.
Now I’m not suggesting that parenting will always be a bed of roses and we will somehow grow perfect children! Will our kids make mistakes? Yes. Will they cop an attitude now and again? Absolutely! Will they get discouraged? Yes. Will they make unwise choices that get them into trouble? Of course. Might they walk away from the Lord for a time? Maybe. But doesn’t this also describe us? There comes a point in time when our role is to disciple our children’s hearts and choices, not dictate their behavior. Our children’s relationship with the Lord is theirs, not ours, and it may look different than what we expected. Their lives may be led in a different way than we desired, and this is where we have to be reminded once again that we are raising arrows in order to release them. The key word is release! An arrow kept in the quiver has no use and will never be effective.
If our children are going to develop solid, real, and lasting relationships with Christ, we have to get out of the way. Our responsibility is to be quiet and allow God to speak so our kids can hear Him. If our children don’t learn to recognize the voice of God when they are young, then they will always be looking to others for direction and will likely be misled.
So instead of telling our children how to live, we need to show them by example. I recently read a quote by author and preacher Charles Spurgeon that says, “Train up a child in the way he should go—but be sure you go that way yourself.” How can we pass on something we don’t possess? Our children will look to us when they are young and become like us as they grow. We can’t expect them to become spiritual giants if we live lives contrary to the one we are telling them they should live.
We should pray with our kids! When they have a question, or when an issue arises in our homes, our responsibility is not to preach at them; we should go with them to the Word; go before the Lord together. We need to let God’s truth speak to their hearts and allow the Holy Spirit to bring change. He is on His own timetable, not ours!
Lord, help us shape our children into that which You have called them to be by getting out of Your way and trusting that You will guide, direct, and speak to them. May we find joy in the relationships our children develop with You. Give us Your grace to walk alongside them day by day! Amen.