(Missionary to Thailand Brandon Lingle has written a parenting book in Thai, and he has graciously agreed to share it in English.)
In 1891 James Naismith used an old soccer ball and two peach baskets to create an indoor game that would keep students in shape and out of the harsh North American winter. Some wanted to call the new game “Naismith ball”, but he refused and choose the name instead to name the new sport “basketball”. Mr. Naismith was a Christian chaplain and physical education coach with a degree in theology.
He was also a man who desired to serve, and he served his students by creating a new game to play. Could you imagine if one of his students had approached him as he was posting the original thirteen rules and said, “That’s not how you play, Sir.” How silly and crazy would that be? How can you tell the creator how to play the game he created?
Marriage, family, and parenting was God’s idea, his idea from the beginning. And many are saying, “Nope, that’s not how you do it.” It’s not only foolish, but it’s causing a lot of disfunction in families around the world.
You and I probably came from different family backgrounds. Some grew up in warm, stable homes, while others barely made it in broken homes. Or some of you may have grown up in homes that looked warm and stable on the outside, but were really cold and broken in the inside. Some would say their parents did a good job parenting, or at least the best they could, while others would say they are trying not to repeat the same mistakes as they get their chance at parenting now.
All those years we lived growing up under our parents’ rules have in many ways shaped our ideas and views on parenting and affected how we parent our children today. But what should alarm us is many parents are content with this standard and idea of parenting they naturally learned, and that’s why new parents will just copy what they liked and disregard what they didn’t like when they get their turn.
I want us to take a step back and really evaluate what we know, believe, and do related to parenting. What is the heart of parenting? What does the Creator of parenting have to say? Let’s examine what is underneath all our parenting and make sure the foundation is solid and biblical.
What is the Goal of Christian Parenting?
The Bible says our children are like arrows (Psalm 127:3-4), so it’s important for us to know what the target is and which direction to shoot them. So what is God’s purpose in placing these “arrows” in our hands? What is the main purpose of Christian parenting? Before we answer this question we must briefly answer this: What is the purpose of our existence?
God’s Word says, “all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). God created the world to declare his glory (Psalm 19:1), he created humans for his glory (Isaiah 43:7), and that is why “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
God isn’t just interested in spreading his glory throughout the world but also throughout time. For example, look how both space (“whole earth be filled”) and time (“forever”) are used in Psalm 72:19, “Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory!” What does the word forever mean in the here and now and mean in history?
The Psalmist gives his definition in Psalm 79:13, “But we your people… will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.” So how does God spread his glory throughout history? He does so through the passing on of faith from generation to generation. He uses parents as a means for this because they are given the most influential position to teach the coming generation (i.e. children). God’s purpose in our parenting is for us to lead our children to know and love him (Deut. 6:4-9). Why? So that our children will pass on the truth of God’s glory and goodness to the next generation (Psalm 78:4).
Our goal in parenting is to spread God’s “forever glory”. So don’t think your day-to-day tedious task as a parent has no purpose, but rather consider it a tremendous honor and joy to spread God’s infinite and wondrous glory throughout time, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36)
Parenting is a Calling
God has called every generation of Christians to make his “mighty acts” known to their children and grandchildren (Deuteronomy 4:9). The Bible says we should do so through praise, “One generation shall praise your works to another” (Psalm 145:4). God has called this generation of worshipers to teach the worshipers to come. God doesn’t give new truth from heaven for each generation to teach to the next, but rather it’s the same message just with different messengers.
Can you remember that exciting moment when your child called you “momma” or “dada” for the first time? I still love to hear my kids call me their dad. When they call on us we are reminded who we are. What a wonderful calling and privilege we have been given.
I like how Paul Tripp says it, “Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God’s tools to form a human soul.” God entrusted them to us for a period of time, and parenting them is our important and great task.
We all treasure and value things, but here is a treasure that maybe we forget the value of: parenting. Is it of highest value to you? How valuable is it? When people come visit you in your home can they tell you love to be a parent?
One day I recorded a video using the built-in camera on my laptop, but when I was finished I forgot to turn it off so it kept recording me and my family in the living room for several hours. After I noticed I didn’t turn it off, I went back to watch some of it. It’s strange how we act so different when we know we are being recorded, or when we know someone is watching. That time in my life might have been the first time I ever saw myself for how I really act and talk.
Let’s say this happened in your home. You were recorded in your home for the last week. What would that video say about what you treasure? Would you see a lot of laughter and communication as a family? Or would you see a lot of time spent in front of devices? Would you see a family that is warm and safe to open your feelings up to? Or a house that everyone looks like they are on the edge of exploding? If we could go back and watch that recording what would it tell us that your family treasures?
I hope as a family we can treasure our families. Sadly, things can easily get in the way of that. We can lose our focus and forget that we are called to cherish our family, not our stuff. It has been said that, “God created us to love people and use things. It is proof of our sinfulness that we often love things and use people.”
Children are described as a “heritage” and “reward” (Psalm 127:3). We are parenting a precious soul that is a blessing no matter how they are acting that day.
Parenting is Difficult
I want to encourage you as a parent, because I know how extremely difficult parenting is and how draining it can be. I remember so clearly one stormy night holding our screaming baby. She had been screaming literally all night long. I remember thinking and probably even saying out loud, “I can’t do this.” I know the exhaustion, frustration, and desperation that come in moments of parenting.
One thing you and I must do is confess that parenting is hard and we are imperfect at it. It’s OK to say it out-loud. It’s OK to admit it in front of others. We can stop pretending like we don’t struggle with it. We can be real with our kids and stop acting like we are always right and never make mistakes. We have made mistakes, and we will make more.
Accepting and understanding our inability to be perfect parents is essential to good parenting. It’s essential to gospel-centered parenting. Why? Because when you or I think we don’t need help and can do it on our own we will be parenting with just our own limited wisdom and limited strength. If we never hit the bottom and become desperate in our parenting we will never look up for help. We need help and that’s OK. You and I are much more needy than we realize. It’s like we need to be cared for ourselves.
Parents are Being Parented
One of the greatest encouragements for us imperfect and struggling parents is a truth that runs throughout the Bible. The Bible describes God not only as a Creator that takes care of his creation, but as a Father who takes care of his children. Not only does He give us what we need to parent, but he parents us in the process! He doesn’t just tell us how to be good parents, but perfectly models it in how he parents us. He matures us so we can mature our kids. He protects and guides us so we can protect and guide our kids.
God calls us to be like him (1 Peter 1:16). The title “Christian” literally means to be “Christ-like”. Throughout the Bible God models for us love, mercy, patience, grace, holiness, and much more. He is those things to us and calls us to be those things to others, especially our children. “I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:18). “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26).
Don’t miss this: Parenting is for you, not just your kids. Don’t miss the fact that God has designed to use the process of parenting in your life as much as your children’s. God grows and matures us through parenting. Some of us thought we were pretty patient people until we had kids, right? He showed us that we needed some work in that area and is giving us that opportunity. What about anger? Or maybe even selfishness? Ever catch yourself saying or thinking, “I just need some me-time?” We learn so much about ourselves when we become parents. Parenting challenges and pushes us to maturity by showing us the weak spots we still need working on.
God will use and bless parents who parent the way He does. God is patient, wise, loving, gentle, and He also disciplines. We are called to point our children to someone infinitely wiser, stronger, more reliable, and more loving than ourselves. We are not our children’s rock or hero, but we can and should point them to ours. Let that take the pressure off of your parenting! You don’t have to be the perfect example, just a faithful one.
Our Identity as Parents
I remember the first year or so I was married I would love to introduce my new bride to others as my wife. I loved the new title and I loved being her husband. Two became one. It was a part of my new identity. Something similar happens when we have kids, we take on the new title “Mom” and “Dad”. But before we know it, if we are not careful, all our life and identity can be centered on our kids. We want to be Christ-centered parents, not children-centered parents.
Our parenting is affected by where we find our identity much more than we realize. When we find our identity in our children they now have more control of our reactions and emotions than they should. For instance, if they misbehave in public and embarrass us we get angry because our identity is “good mom” or “good dad”. If they make bad grades at school or don’t place first in a swim meet we are sad because when they fail we fail. This should not be so. How are we to encourage them if we are sad and frail also? No matter how they perform or behave that day we love them and stick by their sides.
The love a mother and father have (or at least should have) for their child is great, but finding our identity in them is not so great. Our kids are not our lives, but we love spending our lives with them. Some marriages are built on the “our kids are our lives” motto. These marriages usually begin to fall apart after the kids leave the home.
There is a point and time in our life that we begin to ask ourselves identity questions like “Who am I?” and “What is my purpose on this earth?” The way you answer these questions will affect the way you parent your children. It will affect the way you discipline them, talk to them, spend time with them, and how you help them answer that same question for themselves. Knowing your true identity as a parent is important.
You can either find your identity vertically or horizontally. If you don’t find it in the Creator (vertically), you will search creation (horizontally) for something to give you meaning and purpose. The problem is created things were not designed to give you identity and purpose. Only he who made all things (including you) is capable to hold that position in your life. Find your purpose, identity, and satisfaction anywhere else and you and I will be in trouble, left unfulfilled, and leading others in that direction.
Why is finding identity in our kids so bad? Let’s ask the question like this: When we find our identity in our children what are we doing to them? Is it showing them how much we love them? No, it’s giving them a burden they are unable to carry and were never meant to carry.
Think about the extra stress they will have and feel if your life and emotions hang on their performance. They are just kids. Kids have to deal with their own feelings and failures. They should not have to carry the burden of ours also.
So how do we know if we are finding our identity in our children? One sign is too much focus on success. Of course we want our children to succeed and not fail, but that is different than being too focused and obsessed with their achievements. Unwanted and burdensome expectations are usually not for the kid’s sake, but for parents, who want “trophy” kids so they look successful as parents. God didn’t give us kids so we could try to make ourselves look good, he gave us kids to show that he is good.
Another sign that we may be finding our identity in our children is we have too great a desire for control. If you rely on the reputation your child gives you, and they must succeed, then you will want to control the environment they live in; meaning the friends they hang out with, choices they make, how they spend every minute, every place they go, everything they buy, and everything they do.
If we do these things out of concern for our reputation we are finding identity in our children. Our children won’t be able to learn how to make good choices, learn from their mistakes, make and keep a schedule, handle money, and learn to build and keep relationships.
Here is the last sign of misplaced identity: Pushing our kids to be who we want them to be can be a sure sign we have found our identity in them. I once heard a comedian share how proud of his young son he was. One day his son said, “Dad, when I grow up I want to be a doctor.” The dad responded proudly, “Really?” The son said, “Yep . . . and a dinosaur!”
They are kids. Kids should be kids. As they mature and age their gifts and natural abilities will start to surface. Are we busy trying to notice and learn what they are good at and enjoy doing, or are we busy with making them learn and be good at enjoying what we like them to do?
What is our identity as Christian parents? The title Christian declares that our identity is in Christ. May God help us lead our children to find their identity in Christ and nowhere else (1 John 3:1, Colossians 3:1-3, Galatians 2:20, 3:27-28).
Your Child is Not Your Own
Let’s talk about one more topic that is at the heart of good gospel-centered parenting, and if this foundation is not laid, it will affect the whole structure of your parenting. Children are a blessing from God. Not only are they from him, they belong to him. We are called to be good stewards of what God has given us: life, money, time, etc. Our children are no different.
I know that will sound strange to some. This is because we are looking only through an earthly perspective; meaning, I gave birth to them, they have my last name, and they live with me. This is certainly true; your kids don’t belong to your neighbors, and they certainly shouldn’t be dumped on your parents to raise. But we know and believe this truth: “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).
There are two ways you can believe and, thus, act in your parenting. The first is “ownership” parenting (you think you own your kids), and the second is “ambassador” parenting (you believe God owns your kids). The Bible says, “We are ambassadors for Christ” (2 Cor. 5:20), meaning we represent God and God’s character, we bring a message from him, our loyalty is to him, and our work is to do his will and plan. Let me explain how ownership-parenting and ambassador-parenting differ in everyday life.
Where do you look to find your sense of who you are? Ownership-parents find their identity and purpose in their children. Ambassador parenting doesn’t find their identity in their children because they have already found it in the one who they represent (i.e. God). This frees them from expecting their family to satisfy their every longing because God has already done so.
Ownership-parents think they are responsible for turning their children into what they want them to be. They will use everything they have — money, power, time, and authority — to shape their child. Ambassador-parents understand that they represent someone far greater, wiser, and more powerful than themselves. They understand nothing they do can change the heart of the child, but that God loves their child even more than they do, and God will, by his grace, work in their hearts.
If you believe that you own your children you will, sometimes without knowing, turn your children into trophies that you will want to show off to others. But when (not if) they misbehave, you will be embarrassed because you put your reputation into the hands and behavior of your child. Ambassador-parents understand that they are parenting little ones who will do wrong and mess up. It’s in their nature. These parents also know that if their children start to change and model the God we are representing, then those children are his trophies because it was all by his grace.
God has called parents to an important task. The heart of parenting is for our kids to know and love God. In the process we must be careful not to find our identity in our kids but in God alone. Parenting is difficult, but God is with us. More than that, God is parenting us while we parent our kids.
We took a brief look at some biblical principles behind the heart of parenting. Now let’s take a closer look at the human heart so we can better understand who we are parenting.
Copyright © 2020 by Brandon Lingle @ https://lookaside.fbsbx.com/file/Intro%20-%20Chapter%201.pdf?token=AWweAHzYHnnqtG2JEAISzHe3UhxcHs-NuTUU4ezmjnOlaskyUYxtwmTJTQmnzd9PB1B4dxu1AkBlaA6niTImhDiBNoDcyjBKL4wqWplEPWnPC0zaKv89YZoCVxEdNYkXFzsn_13oGGWZPyJGqX_W7Z8W3LAZk32Rd8AxCCrO0vHuCg . Used with permission. No part of this article may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from Lifeword.org.