We watched some home videos last week as a family. They reminded me of the dizzying, early years of our parenting. There were lots of smiles and laughter but it looked exhausting as well. Where did we find the energy? Dangers to watch out for, behaviours to correct, attention to be given, warriors to wrestle – parenting can be an all-consuming task. It made me think back on the many years of parenting that has passed since that time. If I could pick two words that have made the most difference for me as a parent, I’d choose the words “resolve” and “heart.” Let me explain.
Before children are born, parenting seems like an easy task. Just love your children and lead them in the way they should go – how hard could it be? When the baby is born however, the game changes. The parent’s fatigue and the child’s willfulness set the stage for fireworks. Very soon, you realize that children are not so easily led! And the physical demands of parenting test the energy reserves of the parent. Internally, I often found myself asking the question, ‘How much do I really want to deal with this right now?’ Many days, the only thing that gave me the confidence to deal with issues I’d rather ignore was the belief that it was my resolve as a parent that would pass my convictions on to my children. Parents say all kinds of things to their children, but only the things they express with resolve are given weight. A parent’s resolve is tested:
when a child says “No,” and you know the answer is “Yes”
when a child will only comply as a last resort, or comply with behaviour but not a right attitude
when a child crosses a boundary that you know you’ve told them not to cross
when a parent is afraid to set a boundary for fear it’ll be challenged
when the volume of a child’s voice sets the agenda for the household
when a parent is regularly tempted to turn the iPad into a babysitter
The power of resolve seems to be behind the many biblical injunctions to discipline. Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” There’s a foolishness – an opposition to wisdom – that is bound up in a child’s heart. It’s like the foolishness is tied around the child’s heart, choking it. So lectures won’t break it free. It’s the resolve of a parent’s discipline that’s required to untangle it. Or when Proverbs 29:15 says, “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother,” it speaks to another dimension of resolve. Following through on discipline takes energy and a willingness to confront wrong behaviour, but it results in a child’s wisdom. The opposite of expressing consistent resolve in discipline however is leaving a child to himself. That is, either literally leaving a child alone, and failing to adequately engage them on a personal level, or morally leaving a child alone, and not being willing to lead a child to healthy moral and spiritual goals. Resolve is crucial in parenting, especially in the early years. But resolve has its limits. Discipline only goes so far. Eventually, a child’s motivation must come from within. That’s why the heart must be engaged.
While biblical encouragements to discipline and resolve are important, they’re like the law in that they’re only helpful if they lead to Christ. While behaviour in the younger years is necessarily shaped through a parent’s external authority, we must pray and teach and witness to the gospel for our children’s lives to be transformed. It’s not a coincidence that Ephesians 6:4 urges for children to be brought up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” It’s not an excuse to debate with your toddler to get them to put on their boots when it’s raining, but a parent needs to be diligent in explaining the reason for the rules – getting to the heart of a God who seeks their best. This is where the Bible is so helpful in explaining that it’s the heart which ultimately regulates action and so a parent ultimately needs to shepherd the child’s heart not just their behaviour. As Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Reaching the heart requires more than just resolve. In fact, as a child grows, discipline becomes less and less effective. As the child slowly grows into an adult, their heart is shaped more and more the way an adult’s is – through relationships, grace, love, patience, witness, testimony, example and teaching. Unfortunately, as a child grows and becomes less physically needy, many parents withdraw relationally and try to control the child’s behaviour on the basis of their authority and resolve – the exact opposite of what the child needs for heart transformation.
How’s your resolve? Is your child's will steering your family and their future? Are you seeking to reach your child’s heart? Or is it all about the rules? May God give all of us grace and wisdom in reaching the next generation!
In awe of Him,