Ephesians 6:4 (the message)
Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.
Exasperate: to irritate or provoke to a high degree (dictionary.com)
SIGH. If you are a parent, this verse can really challenge you. It seems like we can easily swing too far to one side or the other of the parenting pendulum. Some of us coming down on our children all the time for even the smallest infractions. Others of us hardly ever coming down on them at all, letting them have their way and call the shots continuously. It’s tough.
Would I dare to write about parenting on my blog? Well, not in any kind of “here’s how you do it” kind of way! Goodness, parenting holds the highest stakes of anything I have ever or will ever attempt to do. My girls were a major catalyst in propelling me deeper into my relationship and pursuit of God. Parenting continues to bring me to my knees in prayer. I want to do it right. I want to do it well. Tears well up in my eyes thinking about it because I certainly don’t always do it right or well. What would I do without the mercy and grace of God? He has brought me quite a ways and still I see the road I have yet to travel. In the mean time, there are plenty of hugs and lots of forgiveness to go around. That’s me asking. Yes, most certainly. See, when your heart is to raise your children to know Jesus and the love of God in their lives, they know when you are doing it wrong! They know that when you yell at them and speak unkindly that it’s wrong. They may not question you outright (or they might!), but they know it and you know it. Oh, the confusion and eventual rift this can create in time between them and God when they hear one thing and see another. The truth is, however, they are going to see discrepancies in what we teach and live sometimes because we are not perfect. For me, this is as much a “teachable moment” as any Bible story ever will be. My girls know that I’m not perfect and they aren’t either. The important part, I believe, is they hear me admit when I’m wrong and ask them to forgive me. It’s okay to ask forgiveness from your children. It’s good and a must if they are going to learn the importance of humbling themselves when they are wrong.
What tagged my heart about this verse today was the second part: Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master. I could see the contrast between the first and second sentences. The apostle Paul is telling parents don’t exasperate your children by coming down on them, instead lead them. As the definition above describes, we as parents can try to provoke our children into the right behavior and a life of Jesus-following or we can lead them into it. What really speaks to me is that if you are going to lead someone someplace the assumption is made you are headed there yourself. This can apply not only to our parenting, but to any role in which we are attempting to lead, manage or influence others. Are we simply telling them which way to go or are we locking arms and taking their hands as we journey that direction ourselves?
Have you ever heard that old saying about parenting “Do as I say, not as I do?” This is kind of the crux of what I believe Paul is saying. Simply telling our children what is right or even demanding they be kind, share, show gratitude, have a good attitude, be patient or stop whining and complaining will eventually provoke them. Why? Because demanding and telling does not equal leading and can foster resentment. Leading means yes we talk about these things and we talk about why they matter, but most importantly our children need front row seats to watch us live this out. We take their hands and they come along with us as we ourselves live out the crucifying of our flesh and filling of His Spirit. Does it always look pretty? Certainly not! But part of being renewed and transformed by Jesus is humbling ourselves before Him and if need be, our own children. It’s okay if they find out, while we are teaching them patience, that we are not always patient! The significant moment is when we say, you know I was not patient with that person (or you!), and that is something I am working on. Imagine the freedom we give to our children, imagine the experience of grace they could have, in discovering what we know to be true. Life is a journey. It’s messy. And God is merciful and kind and forgiving! Yet, if we ourselves do not purpose and determine to know God ourselves, to let Him dig and delve into the most inner recesses of our character, how can we hope for our children to know Him this way?
Being real, I tend to swing towards the coming down too hard side of the pendulum. I’m not swinging quite as wide and hard as I used to, but it will always be my tendency. My heart is for my children to be well-adjusted and self-sufficient adults one day. Confident and brave. But most of all, that their hearts would be filled to overflowing with the love of God for people. And that when they miss the mark, they just make it right and keep going. I want them to know who they are in Christ. I want them convinced they were created to make a difference and determined to do it! I want them unafraid and unashamed to reach out to people different from them. I want them to experience the extravagant grace of their Creator. I want them to impact the world God puts around them. I want them to influence and lead others, invite them, to come along on their journey of discovering Jesus. I want them to know that people aren’t perfect and they aren’t either. I want them to know that is okay…it’s the very reason Jesus came. I want my girls to live with a humility that provokes them not to resentment, but to ask for and offer forgiveness. I want them to live in freedom with hearts wide open to the God who created them.
It sounds beautiful and I can want it all day long, but I must first want it for myself. I must first take the hand of my Savior and determine I will not demand of my children a lifestyle I myself am not living. I must realize that all of my hopes and dreams for them begin with my own willingness to change and grow. I must take them by the hand and lead them to the place I’m headed…