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There are a lot of little babies bringing new life to our church these days, and the rounds of baby showers have given me reason to think back over my own years as a mother of small children. I did not have the blessing of faith as I raised my little ones, and so, like many others, I have lots of regrets. In spite of this, I was asked recently to give a devotional message at one of these showers. I agreed before realizing I had no idea what a woman with my history could have to say to these young Christian mommies.
And so I decided to share the things I most wish I had known. I share them here in hopes one or two other mommies might find encouragement.
It starts off a little bit sad, but I promise it doesn't end that way:
When I first moved away from the big city where I was raised, I was a single mom with two small children. I was on my own in a new town and terrified. I had drifted away from church several years before, but, considering my circumstances, I decided it was time to go back to church, and to start trying to live like a Christian.
Some time later, a young pastor handed me a book on how to train children the Christian way.
This book promised that if I followed its instructions, I would have perfectly happy and obedient children who would then naturally obey God, believe the Gospel, and be saved.
This book nearly ruined my life.
It filled my mind with fear and suspicion. It taught me to read the worst motives into my children's hearts – to see undesirable or disobedient behavior as rebellion: not distractability, not exhaustion, not incomprehension, not immaturity, not hunger, not frustration, not feeling overwhelmed, not fear – rebellion. It did not even permit children to be shy. (Shy behavior was rude behavior in the eyes of this author.) This book taught me to see them as wicked and devious little rebels who must be taught perfect obedience by force of will, and the frequent, systematic use of the rod.
If I had truly understood the character of God, if I had understood nature of His grace, I wouldn't have fallen for it.
If I had understood the love and kindness of God, I would have thrown the book away.
As it happened, thankfully, I couldn't bring myself to follow its harsh methods, but my heart was poisoned anyway by its adversarial view of the parent-child relationship.
Even more, I was poisoned by the thought that this is how God treats his own children - that the Christian life is one of striving for perfection under the constant threat of punishment or retribution.
A little while later, I picked up another book promoted by the same pastor. In it, the Sermon on the Mount was laid out like the Law of Moses – as the standard of perfection God expected from His children. I only got to Chapter 3 or 4 before I realized I could never live up to God's expectations. I could never please Him. The Bible became, for me, the words of a relentless God with impossible expectations.
I gave up hope. I put my Bible on a shelf, and, for nearly a decade, I hid from this exacting, terrifying God.
As I've looked back at that dark time of my life I've learned that the way we see God will affect the way we parent our children, and the way we parent our children profoundly impacts our relationship with God.
And so, I would like share a few thoughts from Psalm 103 and encourage you to see what kind of father God truly is to his children, so that you will be able to better reflect His character as you raise your own little ones:
103 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
The most important characteristic of your parenting is the condition of your own soul. And so, like King David, who shepherded a whole nation, you who shepherd a little bitty flock need to take charge of your soul and teach it to bless the Lord:
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
Whether it be hope, whether it be trust, whether it be confidence, whether it be love – you cannot give to your child what you don't have. You can only teach what you yourself understand. And so, if you want your little ones to love and trust God, you must love and trust him yourself. Like Israel, the way to do this is to recount the many blessings you have experienced in His care:
He has forgiven your every sin – even the ones you don't realize you've committed.
He has given you every ounce of strength and health you enjoy.
Just as he redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt and gave them a kingdom of their own, so He has snatched us from the cruel captivity of sin and death and placed us in the Kingdom of His own Son. In His kingdom love and mercy are the crowns he places on our heads.
6 The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
God is not a slave-driver. He is not a harsh task-master. His eye is on the weak and oppressed, ready to work justice for those whose leaders lord it over them. Israel was oppressed under the the heel of a mighty nation. From the midst of their slavery they cried out to God. He sent them a deliverer to reveal His character to them.And this is what they saw:
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
To chide means to express disapproval of, to scold or reproach. How many times a day do you think, or say, or do something sinful? Imagine how dreadful it would be if God actually chided you each and every time. This is why the apostle Paul tells Fathers, “do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
Verse 10 has been my comfort more times than I can count. God is not a tit for tat Father. He is not standing by waiting to catch us and chastise us for every wrong we commit. His love covers a multitude of sins. It is because of this that we can approach him with hope. It is because of this that we can run to him rather than from Him when we sin. It is because of this that we can offer grace to our children.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
God knows our frame. As He teaches and corrects us, He always keeps our weakness and limitations in mind. He knows His wrath would shatter us, and so, because He loves us, he shows us great compassion.
This is the heart of God toward us, his grown-up children.
This is His heart for our little ones.
I pray it will be yours as well.