Friday, December 13, 2013

Those Who Sow in Tears Shall Reap with Shouts of Joy

Do you worry over your child's anger and behavioral failures, fearing he will be ruined by them, or that you are failing him as a parent?  What would it be like instead to rejoice in his failings as tools in God's hands to pave the way toward an infinitely brighter future?

Our 23-month-old son Ephraim has developed a recent fascination with blankets.  This evening he tried picking up the blanket my on which my wife was sitting.  When he was unable to do it, he protested vociferously.  Then he tried jumping off the coffee table onto the couch, but he couldn't bridge the gap, which sent him spiraling downward even further.  Exhausted and hungry, he proceeded into a bleary-eyed, wailing tantrum that would last about twenty minutes.

After I took him upstairs for "time out" in his crib, I prayed with him.  At first I asked God to be near to him and give him the ability to calm down because, as John Piper points out, anger "devours almost all other good emotions" and "numbs the heart to joy and gratitude and hope and tenderness and compassion and kindness."*

But then I thought, maybe I shouldn't pray for that.  So instead I began to pray, "God, in times like this when Ephraim can't control his own anger and emotions and tantrums, let him see his own desperate condition.  Let him see that he cannot restrain his feelings and the chaos that floods over him.  Let him see both your forgiveness for him in the cross and also how much he needs the power of the Holy Spirit inside him to give him peace and the ability to calm down."

This was really freeing.  As I thought about it over the evening, I gained a small bit of parenting freedom.  I've been reading through the book of Proverbs recently, which is mostly a book of how fathers should train their children in wise living in fear of the Lord.  Proverbs says that children who grow up to be unruly, disobedient, and unwise are "fools."  And of course I never want my son to be foolish or to be ruled by his desires (which is what anger reveals; see James 4:1-3).  But more than I want him to be "good," I want him to know and receive the goodness of Jesus Christ.  I want him to see how needy and sinful and evil his heart is, and that his outbursts reveal both how selfish his desires are and how he is mastered by his own desires--and that through this his only hope, and his sure hope, is the grace of God in Jesus.

I pray that God will keep this in my mind as the years go by.  Instead of fretting over every tantrum and display of self-will, I want them to become signposts confirming to him his need for Christ and the grace God offers to the humble.  I want to know that the more Ephraim sins--as atrocious as this is--the more cause there will be for him to crave the unfailing love of God.  "With weeping they shall come, and with pleas of mercy I will lead them back, ... for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn" (Jeremiah 31:9).
*John Piper, This Momentary Marriage (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2009) p. 150.