We were in a Christian bookstore where my husband had just started working. It was our oldest daughter Rachelle’s birthday—she was two that day. We had been running errands, and she. was. done.—seriously done. One more stop, I had told her. We were going to see Daddy.
When we stopped at yet one more store (of course, she didn’t know Daddy worked there), she lost it. She threw a world-class temper tantrum complete with turning into a noodle in the middle of the store (you know, where they go limp and slide through your hands). For a rookie temper tantrum-er, she was impressive.
I was embarrassed.
My husband Dave introduced us to his boss (I don’t think I would have even claimed to know us at that moment). One “helpful” customer informed me of what I should be doing as a mom to discipline my wayward daughter at that moment. Don’t you love helpful strangers like that who offer advice in the midst of your stressful moment. Yeah, me too. God bless ‘em!
All the way home, I calmly talked to my daughter as though she understood me. “I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. Why would you do that in front of everyone and your dad’s new boss. I just can’t believe it. And who told you that you were two!” I had to laugh, and I realized what had happened. I had taken her too far. She was tired and needed a nap, obviously. And somehow she had understood that we were going to see Daddy, and when she saw, in her eyes, that I’d lied to her, she had a complete melt down. Or she had just had enough of stores that day and lost it. Whatever was going through her young mind, I still had to laugh at the whole thing by the time we got home. And I had to place the real blame on myself. I also laughed at my lecturing a two-year-old all the way home. I knew she didn’t understand what I was saying, and I had used a calm voice. It just helped me to vent. But she never threw another temper tantrum—seriously, never again. Maybe this little munchkin understood more than I realized!
But that’s not why I’m embarrassed today. Today, my embarrassment comes from a different source—the realization of my own hypocrisy and ignorance.
I was reading my Bible, enjoying the richness of the verses I was reading in Ephesians when I felt like a lightbulb really did appear over my head because the realization was such a tangible moment. I read, “Therefore, I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make very effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3, NLT)
Wow! As a pastor’s wife and long-time Christian, I read verses like these and think of the church and the people we encounter and do life with there. But today, God hit me, as we often say, “up aside the head” and whispered, “What about your kids?” Boom! Conviction! Revelation! Life-change!
How silly of me not to recognize this earlier, but my first calling is not as a pastor’s wife. My first calling is to be Christlike as a follower of Christ. My second calling is to be a wife and mom in my family, living out my faith in those relationships first and foremost before even thinking of my church relationships. If I fail here, I will fail there.
So, I started again through those verses.
“…beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.”
In applying this to the calling to be a parent, it is so obvious that God has called each of us to be a parent if we have children. For us, infertility made us wonder if we’d ever be parents. The fact that we have four children is a complete miracle. We were not supposed to even be able to conceive a child, much less carry four to term. So, God obviously had other plans that went against medical diagnoses. I firmly believe if a person is raising children, she or he has been called to disciple those children.
So, how? How do I live a life worthy of this particular calling? So many ideas come to mind about loving my kids, being real and vulnerable with them so they see authentic faith lived out in front of them, and asking God for wisdom each and every day. I know I’m going to fail, but I also know that God can use my weakness, and He will be strong in it. After all, I’m not wanting my children to follow me. I want with all my heart for them to follow Christ with all their hearts. So, I live my life with the focus of honoring God and making His name known through my choices, actions, and attitudes. Help me, Lord!
“Always be humble and gentle.”
Ouch! As a parent, especially when someone is getting on my last nerve, humble and gentle are definitely not the first attitudes I think of. Far, far from it. Key to these is understanding the terms. I too often think of humble as defeated rather than a sane estimate of my strengths and weaknesses and a putting down of pride or self-righteousness. I think these are much closer to understanding what humble means. Humble is not humiliating oneself. Humble is not really focusing on myself, but focusing on and putting the needs of others before my own. As moms we should be pros at this, until our feelings are hurt. Then, sometimes the tables turn. I start feeling indignant and self-righteous or gain a martyr complex. Then, if I am really adept at this attitude, I know how to pour on the guilt trip for my family.
Am I stepping on some toes. Mine a hurting a bit at the moment, for sure.
And, of course, when those feelings are stirred up, gentleness has left the building! “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” Right? Lord, help us all.
“Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
Well, as if being humble and gentle with our kids wasn’t hard enough, we need to be patient with them. Why is it so hard to be patient with our children when we can have the patience of Job with anyone else? I think, for me, it’s because their bad behavior or their failings are, in my mind, a reflection on my parenting—thus I am a bad parent if they do something wrong or don’t have the ability to do something I think they should. Expectations! They really are a tool of the enemy, aren’t they?
I can see the wisdom in mastering the humble/gentle part first because then the patient/allowance part will come more easily and much more readily.
Thankfully, this is probably one we’ve always attempted to apply to our parenting. We’ve tried to be patient rather than losing our tempers with our kids. Discipline, we all know, should be done when we’re not angry—although I know I’ve failed more than once in that. And we try to raise each child according to their needs and abilities. We have different expectations for each child according to age, maturity, and abilities. But, with the attitude of humility and gentleness added with that, I know there are many times in my life it would have changed how I tried to be patient and how I dealt with discipline issues. It could have altered the whole mood and culture of our home.
“Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
Isn’t that what we all desire for our families? Unity and peace—our relationships bound together forever. It’s what I hope for. It’s always been my goal. I never thought there would be a time when I even felt concern about these things, but now that my children are older and making adult decisions, there are times I’ve wondered if they’d walk away from us and maybe even from God. Once they start preferring their friends over family, these concerns arise. Learning how to hold them loosely is harder than holding tight to little hands when they’re younger. Letting them grow and make their own decisions can be terrifying at times. But if we don’t let them go and grow, there will never be unity and peace. We will create the very things we’re fearing: rebellion, division, and tumultuous relationships.
I’m embarrassed that I never thought about applying verses like these to my parenting. I never thought of them as parenting advice, but if we did consider all scriptural wisdom as not only how to live with others and follow Christ but also how to parent while following Christ, maybe our children would see consistency at home and with others. Maybe they’d see our faith more and our carnal ways less. And, honestly, if we’re living out the scriptures at home in the hard times and challenges of raising a family, our faith truly is going to be genuine and real. No playing church. No trying to do right so others won’t think less of us. No putting on our Sunday best. No warning our kids not to embarrass us at church. That would all be gone and hopefully would not even be a temptation.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I haven’t tried to live my faith in front of my kids or that I haven’t planned to be gentle and kind with them. It’s not that I’ve worried about what people thought of my kids—well, I’ve tried not to, anyway. I knew that being a pastor’s family meant we’d live in the proverbial fishbowl, and I knew my kids would have expectations put on them that they didn’t deserve, but I tried very hard to not be the one putting those on them. I don’t know if I succeeded or not. But all four love Jesus and don’t hate the church, so somewhere God got through and maybe we did something right. But I never consciously thought to watch my attitude toward my kids according to scripture. Love them, yes. But be humble toward them, no.
We all know to what degree these scriptures convict us as we look at our parenting and our walk with God. I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on any of us as parents. But I do think we can consistently ask God to help us. And when He reveals something we need to do that we haven’t been doing, we can answer with obedience.
So, all I can say is, Lord, help us follow You and Your word. Help us parent better and walk better with others. Help us start here today with what we know of Your word to follow it more closely and consistently in every area of our lives. And in our weakness, be strong. Amen.