The more I read the Bible, the more I see the importance of laying hold of paradox. What I mean is that there are many truths that at first seem to be pointing in different directions, but need to both be affirmed and held in balance. In the Bible, probably the most extreme paradox shows up in Proverbs 26:4-5.
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Verse 4 makes it clear that answering some people only draws us into their foolish arguments and ultimately accomplishes nothing. But verse 5 balances this with the truth that there are times when a foolish person must to be answered in order to correct or set him or her straight. Some people excel in answering fools, others are prone to ignore them, but the path of wisdom is to seek discernment and God’s leading to know how to respond in each situation.
I was reminded of this need for balance and discernment when I read David Murray’s excellent article on “Patient Parenting.” Murray claims to have started off as the second most impatient man in the world and if he really did try to teach his four- and five-year-old sons Hebrew as he writes, he may not be exaggerating. Writing from the perspective of an impatient (=zealous?) Christian, he urges the balance of patience in the parenting process. So for instance he cautions patience in many areas of parenting which I summarize here:
- Wait for intellect to develop: When we over-estimate the intellectual capacity of our children we can frustrate them by trying to teach concepts they’re clearly not ready for. Waiting can reduce stress.
- Wait for maturity to kick in: Maturity often creeps up on a child and if we’re impatient in demanding it we can short-circuit the process.
- Wait for discipline to work: Despite our efforts to discipline, children sometimes take time to respond at their own pace and, like us, are too proud to immediately change their ways.
- Wait for lessons to be learned: While warnings have their place, physical, financial, legal and social pain, are often the most effective teachers.
- Wait for purpose to clarify: Kids can meander from one interest to another and it’s easy for parents to get anxious and want them to find their niche immediately, but when we’re patient things tend to fall into place.
- Wait for the soul to be saved: Every Christian longs for their child to trust Jesus from a young age, but we can neither force this nor make it happen.
If you have ever been accused of over-doing it in your Christian zeal as a parent, I would encourage you to read Murray’s article and ask God for the spiritual fruit of patience in your parenting. I suspect however that there is a balance to each of these statements that more patient parents need to consider:
- Don’t wait for intellect to develop: You don’t need to teach Hebrew to your four-year-old, but a child isn’t helped when parents under-estimate their child’s potential to learn.
- Don’t wait for maturity to kick in: There are some areas of immaturity that parents can too easily excuse as ‘something they’ll grow out of’ and in so doing miss the opportunity to address areas of Christian growth at each stage of a child’s development.
- Don’t wait for discipline to work: We do need to let discipline take its time, but we can’t afford to wait to start disciplining or disciplining consistently. In order to see the patient fruit of discipline we need to sow seeds of discipline early and often in a child’s life.
- Don’t wait for lessons to be learned: If children ignore the lessons they hear from us, it’s true that the pain of natural consequences may teach them. On the other hand, there are many painful consequences that we can save them from by communicating those lessons and helping them to listen.
- Don’t wait for purpose to clarify: It’s common for kids to move from one interest to another but the sooner we can help our children discover who God made them to be, the better prepared they’ll be to pursue that calling.
- Don’t wait for the soul to be saved: Don’t focus on your child’s education and sports and friendships and family time with the hopes that their faith will somehow take care of itself later when they’re grown up. A child’s salvation needs to be a parent’s priority from day one.
Wisdom doesn’t just sit on the side of the fence that feels most natural. It maintains a Biblical balance especially where it confronts our blind spots. Probably the key line tying both of these lists together in proper balance comes at the end of Murray’s article:
Patient waiting doesn’t excuse us from teaching, correction, discipline, exhortation, etc., but it does save us from exasperation, exhaustion, and expiration.
May God help us with the former and deliver us from the latter!
In awe of HIm,