Parenting in the Present

arrowsWe all enjoy certain stages and aspects of parenting more than others.  Some parents love the baby years. Therefore as their kids get older they keep looking back with fondness to when they were cute, cuddly, and contained. Other parents are not so fond of diapers and constant noises that are indecipherable. They look forward to the years when their kids will be able to drive, do big chores, and talk in complete sentences.

Therefore one of the temptations in parenting is to be constantly looking back or forward. Maybe your child is very young and requires constant attention. You spend your days waiting until they can do chores and read. Or maybe you have an awkward, acne-faced teenager who tends to be independent. You look back to the days when he was on your hip and always around. But as parents our goal is to focus on the present. What do my children need from me right? What delight and joys can I find right now? Remember God has you at this phase of parenting.  You can’t go back and you can’t speed up time. The Lord wants you right where you are. When you live in the present with your children a couple of good things happen.

First, we meet our child’s current needs, whether those are physical, emotional, or spiritual. One problem with constantly look back or forward is that the child in front of us is often ignored. We are a waiting on the fifteen year old to show up and ignoring the ten year old in front of us. Instead of meeting the child’s needs we get irritated. Parenting the child in front of you will give you greater sensitivity to their needs.

Second, it is easier to be grateful. All stages of parenting are hard, but the one you are  in is the only one that feels hard. The game you won five years ago or the game you think you will win in five years is always seen in  more a rosy light than the game you are trying to win right now. Often our longing for the past we had or the future we want is a not so subtle complaint about the present God has given. When we accept the present stage we are in as God’s gift to us, no matter how difficult, then we learn to be thankful.  How would you feel if your employer was always looking for a better version of you? “Well you know one day you will be the type of employee I really want?” Or if your husband was always looking back to the early years of marriage? “Well maybe honey one day you will be the wife you were when we first got married.” Too often our children feel that way. We are not harsh or mean normally. But our actions and attitudes say to our children I wish you were different. Until we learn to focus on the present we will not love our children as we ought. We must learn to be grateful for our children as they are, not as they were or as they will be.

Finally, a focus on the present creates dependence on the Lord. It is impossible to depend upon the Lord for the past. And, while there is a sense in which we do, it is also difficult to depend  on the Lord of the future. But in the present, when we are dealing with the child right in front of our eyes, we learn to lean on the Lord. How do we deal with a sullen teenager? Not how will we, though that isn’t a terrible question. But how do we deal with a sullen sixteen year old.  When we parent in the present it is easier and more natural to pray, look to the Word, and rely upon our brothers and sisters in Christ. In my experience a constant longing for the future leads only to anxiety and complaining.

Parents be all there in your parenting. There are stages you will like better than others. That is natural. But, if your kids are older, don’t spend your time looking back to how it was. If your kids are young don’t sit there longing for the day when they will finally be able to talk in a way you understand and there won’t be poop on everything. Be grateful, even (especially?) when it is hard. Perhaps most importantly make sure the children you have right now are your delight. Don’t let them grow up always sensing that they come up short.

Don’t Be the Stupid Cat

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One of the more difficult things in life is honestly looking in the mirror. We all want a mirror that distorts our true self, that makes us thinner and better looking. Yet seeing ourselves as we are, not as we wish we were might be the single biggest key to growth, maturity, productivity, and wisdom.   If we are to grow we must know who we are, not who we think we are. To be productive, we must understand our skills and not think too highly of them or too lowly of them.

But most of us are like the cat in the picture above. We look in the mirror and what looks back is not reality, but our pride telling us we are better than we are. This is dangerous. Take our feline friend, since he thinks he is a lion he is going to out and attack the rottweiler next door and get torn into pieces. Most Americans think how they feel dictates how things really are. It is hard to imagine a more foolish way of living. Here is  why you have a bunch of fools running around thinking they are wise, middle aged men believing they are sixteen, a twenty-two year old believing she has the wisdom of a sixty year old, fifty year old women thinking they are 25, and internet readers believing they know better than trained doctors. Just like that cat in the picture, when you are all by yourself it seems right. But then reality sets in. You are not a lion. You are small domesticated tabby cat. You are not that hip. You are really a slightly overweight middle aged man whose life is half over. You are not a sexy 25 year old. You are forty with wrinkles and sagging body parts. You are not that wonderful mature person who everyone should listen to. You are really a fool with little wisdom to offer.

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A Different Kind of Hard

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One of the lies we tell ourselves is that the stage of parenting we are at is the hardest stage.  If our kids are little we think that is the hardest stage. If we have middle-schoolers stuck somewhere between 6 and 16 that is the hardest stage. No one has it as hard as parents of high-schoolers say parents of high-schoolers. Even parents whose children have left home claim they have it harder than anyone else.

The truth is that no stage of parenting is harder or easier than any other stage. Each stage brings its own difficulties. Changing diapers is hard. But so is teaching your teenager to drive, teaching your six year old to read, marrying off your 23 year old daughter, and teaching your 13 year old how to manage his computer time.   Continue reading

Calvin on Children’s Obedience to Wicked Fathers

Here is a quote from a sermon John Calvin preached on Acts 7:51. Note that this is a sermon preached before all the people on a Sunday morning.

If fathers want to constrain their children to do evil, the children must bear in mind that they have on Father in heaven, whom they are to obey because, as Paul says, he is the Father of bodies and souls (I Thess. 5:23). Therefore, children must obey their fathers, but according to God’s will. For from the moment fathers encroach upon God’s honor, the children must not in this instance obey them any more than they would the devil.

S&S Podcast 2016.31~Parents Be All There

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Parents all have the temptation to either look to the past when their kids were little and cuddly or look to the future when the kids will be bigger and can help out more. We have a hard time enjoying the present, the place where God has them. In this podcast I encourage parents to be all there and not spend time, energy, or worry on where they were or where they wish they were.

 

S&S Podcast 2016.30~Family Worship

man-leading-family-worshipHere I address the why and how of family worship. Why: so children learn God’s Word. How: It varies quite a bit, but should include Bible reading, prayer, and singing.

 

Here are  a couple of blog posts I wrote on family worship.

A primer on family worship.

Questions about family worship.

 

Questions About Family Worship

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Here are some common questions that come up when family worship is discussed.

Will family worship make my children super-spiritual?
Okay, no one actually says this, but it is often an unspoken assumption. We believe that family worship is some great key to unlocking our children’s potential holiness. It is not. It is one of the many things that we can do to help our children grow. But it is not magic. Many families have practiced family worship and yet not brought their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Do family worship, but don’t expect it to do too much. There are many other tools we must use alongside family worship to raise godly children.

What if I am not capable of teaching my family God’s Word? 
All men who lead their family in worship feel inadequate.  However, if you are the father, then God expects you to lead your family in learning God’s Word. The usual problem here is that we think we need to be John Piper or R.C. Sproul every time we have family worship. But you don’t need to be an amazing speaker to lead your family in worship. You don’t need to be profound. In fact, when we try to sound profound often we lose our children’s attention. All you need to do is give your family a clear truth or two from Scripture each time.

How do I practice family worship with young children?
Family worship can be difficult with young children. My encouragement would be to keep it simple and short. If you have a three or four year old read them a little Scripture, sing a short song, and pray with them. After you read them the Bible explain what it is saying in short, clear sentences. Young children understand a lot more than we think they do. You can read them stories from the Bible. But you can also read them books like Ephesians. For example, you could read Ephesians 1:7-10. If I was talking to little children I would explain that Jesus died for us and that we can run to him to have our sins taken away. That is about all I would say. Illustrations are very helpful with young children. Sin is like mud and Jesus makes us clean. It may not be Charles Spurgeon, but it is true and clear. And that is all that is necessary.

How do I practice family worship with a broad age range?
This follows naturally from the above question. What if I have numerous age ranges? A good shepherd understands how to minister to various kinds of sheep. This is easy to do one on one, but in a group it is more difficult.  The key is to try balance the increasing inquisitiveness of the older children with the short attention spans of the younger ones. Here are my two suggestions. First, talk directly to the little ones as you do worship. Look them in the eye and ask them questions on their level. For example, “Elijah (my three year old) what does Jesus have coming out of his mouth?”  Second, let the older ones ask questions, but don’t allow them to go on and on. With older children, you will want to set aside time to discuss spiritual issues with them outside of family worship. Sometimes I will tell one of my older children to wait until after family worship and then answer their question privately.

Can I use a story Bible instead of the real Bible?
Using a story Bible can be a helpful way to supplement reading the Bible. But I would not encourage using it in place of reading Scripture. Even with young children I would read at least a little bit of the “real” Bible.

Can the wife lead family worship in the husband’s absence? 
A wife can lead in family worship in her husband’s absence as long as she does it in a way that supports her husband and does not undermine him. The woman in  Proverbs 31 has wisdom on her tongue and the law of kindness in her mouth (Proverbs 31:26). It might also be worthwhile to have older sons lead family worship occasionally to get practice.

What if a woman is married to a non-Christian husband? 
This is a difficult question. The wife is stuck here between two competing obligations. First, she wants to give her children God’s Word. Second, she wants to respect her husband’s wishes. Ideally, she would graciously approach her husband and ask to have a short Bible time with the children. I think most non-Christian husbands will be fine with this. She should ask what time he would like her to do it so it does not cause him unnecessary interference.  If he says no, I would encourage her to not implement family worship without her husband’s consent. If there is no family worship, she should make sure she is giving her children God’s Word all day (Deut. 6:7). If the husband will not allow family worship then she needs to make sure her children are getting the Bible other ways. Family worship is not explicitly commanded in Scripture so her husband is not forcing her to disobey God’s Word. But teaching our children God’s Word is. She must find ways to get them God’s Word. Obviously, a key would be getting them to church. In order of priority for a Christian woman married to a non-Christian would be 1) church, 2) Christian education, 3) daily interaction about God’s Word, and 4) family worship.

Note: Several of these answers were influenced by Jason Helopoulos’ book A Neglected Grace.