Planning a Family Vacation is a detailed process. You plan where you’re going, what time you’ll get there, and where you’ll stop along the way. You plan activities while you’re there, how long you’ll be there, and when you’ll come back. You may even plan to have a lighter week on your schedule either before or after your vacation, so you’re not unduly stressed. You may plan your trip around certain obstacles like tunnel traffic, rush hour near D.C., and more.
What would happen in Christian families if we planned for parenting like we planned for family vacations? What would happen if we knew exactly where we’re going as parents? What would happen if we knew exactly how we’re going to get there? The truth is, we can (and should!) parent with this kind of purpose. God’s Word gives us everything we need to be faithful parents, and that starts with knowing where we’re going.
If you survey a dozen parents, you may find just as many goals for parenting. Let’s consider some of those wrong goals, and zoom in on the right goal for parenting.
Nassim Taleb is the professor of risk-engineering at New York University. He's an expert in the way that risk affects human beings. In his book Antifragile he suggests there are three types of things in life:
· Fragile -- teacup (breaks easily, cannot heal itself, must be handled gently)
· Resilient -- plastic cup (can withstand high levels of shock and stress)
· Antifragile -- require stress, shock, and challenges in order to learn, adapt and grow. Without this they become rigid, weak, and inefficient.
Despite our attempts to keep our kids safe, Taleb reminds us that kids are antifragile!!! If safety is your goal, you're probably harming your kids more than you realize. As the old Proverb says, "Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child." And besides, what’s the point of safe kids if they’re not eternally safe?
For many parents, the goal is to shelter our kids. To keep them safe from sinful, outside influences. The problem is, that the greatest threat to your kids is not outside of them, but inside of them.
This is not as much of a temptation for parents today, but it could be if we swing the pendulum to the other extreme. In recent generations parents focused on raising independent children. When I taught on this topic over a year ago an older member said his parents gave him a machete at age 6. That sort of gift would likely be decried as child abuse today.
Independence in children is good, but it can backfire. Think about it: if you're whole life you're taught "you can do it," how does this prepare you to receive the Gospel (something you can't do).
Basketball, baseball, football, cheerleading, gymnastics, piano, karate, etc. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but our culture has become obsessed with youth sports (among other hobbies). Two years ago Time Magazine did a cover story: How Kid Sports Turned Pro. In that article they stated, "The U.S. youth-sports economy–which includes everything from travel to private coaching to apps that organize leagues and livestream games–is now a $15.3 billion market, . . . And the pot is rapidly getting bigger. According to figures . . . provided exclusively to TIME, the nation’s youth-sports industry has grown by 55% since 2010."
Before we dive into our culture’s idolatrous obsession with youth sports, we should ask ourselves if these good pursuits are taking away form worship with God’s people. And are they taking away from quality family time?
Some parents today would boldly proclaim that "McDonald's is child abuse." For many, an idolatrous obsession with health has swept our nation.
There’s two problems with this goal:
· Problem #1 -- The spiritual health of your kids is infinitely more important than their physical health.
· Problem #2 -- What if God blesses you with a sick or disabled child? What happens to your goal of healthy children when one of your children has special needs?
Parents with this goal never want to tell their children "no," never want to leave them alone, never want them to cry, etc. etc.
Sadly, this parental goal has backfired tremendously in American homes. The past few decades have seen a drastic increase of antidepressant medication in children. I’m not saying there may never be a time for something like that. But when (according to the CDC) five times as many kids are on antidepressants today as there were in the 1980s and 1990s we should at least be asking ourselves why. Could it be that we've bought the lie that life is supposed to be happy all the time?
Your kids are going to be unhappy. Perhaps we need to teach them how to deal with unhappiness! Besides, God cares more about your child's holiness than his/her happiness.
Just look to the most recent college admissions scandals and you’ll see how this has become a goal for many parents. The problem is not just that these parents took their kid's education too far, but that they had the wrong goal. We're probably more tempted here than we care to admit. Most parents will make their young kids do their homework. How many times did you make your young kids read their Bibles?
Well-behaved kids are a healthy result of faithful parent, but they're not the goal of faithful parenting. Remember, hell is full of well-behaved people. Besides, if you make this your goal you’ll teach your kids to behave. . . when you’re around.
Paul David Tripp says it’s like having an apple tree in your yard that only produces blighted, gnarled apples; and so you “fix” the tree by buying new apples and hanging them on it with fishing line. You’re not changing the nature of the tree; you’re putting on a show!
While every Christian parent wants his or her kids to trust Jesus and be saved, this is not the right goal for a few reasons. First, because we can't know for sure when our kids are saved. Second, if we’re not careful we can push our kids to make a profession of faith too soon, before they fully understand and have counted the cost. Finally, this is an insufficient goal because even when God saves our kids, they still need to be faithfully parented!
As a church, our goal is not merely to shepherd people from lost to saved, but from lost to leader. The same should apply as parents. The work isn't done if/when they trust Christ!
The Right Goal: Shepherding the Heart
The right goal for Christian parenting is to shepherd the hearts of our kids. But what do we mean by the heart? We’re not talking about the blood-pumping organ in your chest. The Bible divides you into two pieces—your outer self and your inner self. Your outer self is your body, your “earth suit.” The Bible uses many terms for your inner self—words like mind, emotion, soul, spirit, and will—but these terms are summarized in the word heart.
Your heart is who you are on the inside. Or in the words of Paul David Tripp: “This term is used in almost a thousand passages of Scripture. It’s one of the most well-developed themes in all of the Bible. When the Bible uses the term heart, it means the causal core of your personhood. The heart is your directional system. The heart is your steering wheel. Your behavior isn’t caused by the situations and relationships outside of you.... Your behavior is shaped and caused by how your heart reacts to and interacts with the situations and relationships that are outside of you.”[i]
Why, then, is shepherding the heart the right goal for Christian parenting? Because the Bible is clear that the heart is the control center of life. Consider just three passages (out of many others):
· Proverbs 4:23—Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
· Mark 7:14-23—And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: (15) There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” (17) And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. (18) And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, (19) since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) (20) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. (21) For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, (22) coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. (23) All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
· Luke 6:43-45—“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, (44) for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. (45) The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks."
[i] Paul David Tripp, War of Words: Getting to the Heart for God’s Sake (Desiring God 2008 National Conference, 2008), https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/war-of-words-getting-to-the-heart-for-gods-sake.