Friday, March 6, 2015

Are you exasperating your children?

I'm a dad of two young children, a three-year-old boy who has been described by his "Gaga" as "butt-stubborn," and a three-month-old girl.  And as a dad of young kids, my go-to Scripture verse--the first our son memorized--is Colossians 3:20: "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord" (NKJV).  However, Paul immediately admonishes dads: "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged" (3:21).

There is, in other words, a way for parents (and the Bible especially warns dads) to demand obedience in such a way that will provoke them to anger and leave them exasperated, embittered, and discouraged.

I don't know how you as a dad (or any parent) fall into this trap.  But trust me, you do.  "We all stumble in many ways" (James 3:2).  Have you been praying that God would show you how you are demanding obedience in such a way as to discourage your kids?  Perhaps it will help to show how I do:
  1. Do you react to disobedience quickly in anger?  Rather than being "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:19 NIV), I often discipline my son in reactionary anger.  I don't wait to calmly talk with him about how he disobeyed so that he recognizes his offense and then understands the consequence accordingly.  This scares him because in the moment I am far harsher than I otherwise would be.  Fear doesn't create a place where he will listen.  As James continues, "Man's anger does not produce the righteous life God desires" (James 1:20 NIV).
  2. Do you use harsh tones of voice?  "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1).
  3. Do you assume your child is doing something wrong?  There have been many times where, knowing my son's track record, I interpret an action of his as disobedient, crafty, or mean-spirited, when the truth reveals it was something altogether different. I have often told my son to not go into the fridge by himself.  So when he opened the fridge a few days ago, I assumed he was disobeying.  It turns out that Mommy had asked him to get something for her.  I need to be "quick to listen" and fully investigate situations first, as God did at Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-21).
  4. Do you demand perfect obedience with no room for grace?  Psalm 103:9 says that God "will not always chide."  Do you nag and get on your kids for every single thing they do out of step?  Some days I'm like this for sure.  It makes even me feel tired and discouraged.
  5. Do you fail to accommodate changes in your kids' environment?  Our son's behavior degrades when he is tired, hungry, or has had a change in routine.  God does expect us to do right all the time regardless of our circumstances.  But there's a level at which we must understand and approach our children as fellow humans prone to weakness.  "As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.  For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust" (Psalm 103:13-14).  Fathers are supposed to know that their kids are weak!
  6. Do you choose words that belittle your children?  I have often used words like, "How many times do I have to tell you ...?" or "This is the third time you've done this today!"  Talking this way can make the child feel like a worthless, incapable dolt.  Jesus warned that everyone who through insults degrades another's personhood and value is liable to the fires of hell (Matthew 5:21-22).  The better way is to simply acknowledge each separate act of disobedience without piling up a burdensome tally.  After all, love "keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV).
  7. Do you speak over your children's heads?  I often orate my son with such long and complex explanations of his behavior and what is right and yadayadayada that even I get lost in my train of thought.  The kid is barely potty trained!  This doesn't leave our children with a clear understanding of what to do and what not to do.
  8. Do you discipline before a child is fully trained so as to know right from wrong?  God gave his people his written word because all Scripture is "profitable ... for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16), and fathers are to "train up a child in the way he should go" (Proverbs 22:6).  God's Torah (instruction) was laid down for centuries through the priests and prophets of the old covenant before God's patience reached its limit and he sent them into exile.
When you realize these faults in yourself as a dad, remember that this is part of God's own fatherly care (Hebrews 12:5-11).  God has compassion on those who fear him and pardons all our iniquities through the blood of his Son Jesus (Psalm 103).  One of the best ways to show the reality of this good news to your kids is to go to them, explain how you sinned against God and also against them, and ask their forgiveness.  Then pray together, asking God for his pardon, trusting and thanking him for reconciling us to himself through Jesus, not counting our trespasses against us (2 Corinthians 5:19), and asking him to restore the relationship between you and your children (Malachi 4:6)--for we parents need Jesus' salvation just as much as they do.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Christ and Our Callings, Part 4

Life makes life complicated.  As my wife once said, "Don't you hate it when life gets in the way of, you know, life?"  In case I'm being opaque, life's demands and responsibilities and limitations always seem to get in the way of the joys we want to pursue.  But what if instead of hindering us, these help us find freedom?

Back in November, Olivia gave birth to our second child, our daughter Margaret.  That means more bills, more childcare, more family needs--and of course more love and joy in our home too.  But nonetheless it has made us grapple with our priorities about time, money, and calling.

For years I've felt a growing unrest and dissatisfaction with being a public high school science teacher.  Along the way, a nagging Sehnsucht plagues me on and off.  Most recently, my desire to pursue graduate studies and a career in forest and wetland ecology has reached its zenith.  I started looking at graduate programs, such as this amazing one at Virginia Tech.  But the reality is that grad school would put us in debt and likely force us to relocate--all for a government job that would probably earn less money and give less vacation time than my current job.  As I considered my dreams of spending days outdoors, I realized that it was impractical, if not inaccessible.  I felt stuck--and glum.

Some days I still do.

But around new year's I had a revelation.  What if, instead of thinking about what job would be most enjoyable and satisfying, I rather looked at what my real priorities were in life, and chose a job that best supported those priorities?  My foremost calling is as a disciple of Christ and a member of his body, the church.  After that, I've made a lifelong pledge to become one flesh with my wife.  Third, I'm a father to my children.  Only after that am I a worker.  So what job would best enable me to fulfill the higher callings?  It makes little sense to have a fulfilling job at the expense of things that really matter more.  While teaching doesn't pay a whole lot here in Virginia, it does afford me nine weeks off in the summer--plenty of time with my family, if I'm not teaching summer school or picking up other work in the summer.  And I wouldn't need to go to grad school or relocate or place those other demands on my family.

It was suddenly freeing to think that way--like that gray raincloud over me was starting to lift. Instead of feeling stuck in a dead-end job, I began to feel more hopeful.  That this was where God really wanted me for now.  (Olivia would be quick to tell me that dead ends are only for people who are considering their lives without Christ in view.)   I still don't super love teaching.  That hasn't changed overnight.  But it gives me a little more hope that God will equip me to do a good job in it and to find days of happiness too.

Then I began also to consider my life under God's providence, his guiding hand.  Of all the people in the world who have no choice over their occupation and who've had no chance at an education, I was able not only to go to a university, but also to choose my own career path and land not one, but four jobs in my chosen profession.  That's a remarkable privilege that few in history have had.  If through all the choices I've had and doors God has opened, I have this job, then it certainly can't be a bad thing.  Maybe it's the best thing for me right now.

On top of that, having the job of your dreams certainly can't be essential to being fully alive, worshiping God and living out his image in the world.  After all, most people have to simply take whatever job they can find or learn whatever trade their family has been in for generations.  If it's not something attainable to all mankind, then it's not essential to life the way God wants us to live it.

(Sorry, no great conclusion here today!  But check out my earlier posts in this series: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)