The Essence of Christian Parenting
- Monday, October 23, 2006
During a recent business flight, I (Marc) went through the usual pre-flight exercise, in which the flight attendant explains to the passengers what to do in case of an emergency. At one point, we were shown how to use the oxygen mask in the event that the cabin depressurized. As part of the drill, we were instructed to provide oxygen for ourselves, and then to assist other passengers, including our children. This is because if parents fail to attend to their own safety, they will be unable to aid their children.
We can see how the premise behind this instruction intuitively applies to parenting as well. Until we, as parents, understand and actualize God's precepts in our own hearts, we will not be able to successfully encourage spiritual health and growth in our children. Yet it seems that, by default, we fall into the habit of being child-focused in our approach to parenthood. This social expectation is as common in Christian families as it is in more secular circles. Even in the best-of-breed Biblical parenting resources we've explored, this child-centered perspective quickly becomes evident. It matters little what aspect of parental duties are emphasized. Whether it is training, teaching, love and encouragement, sheltering, or discipline, the obvious focus is the children. Though this has come to be expected, it can be problematic.
Granted, there are, indeed, parenting resources that point out the need for us, as parents, to focus on our own behavior. The deficiency we've seen with such resources is that the formulas and suggestions revolve around performance. This should not come as a surprise, given that even in Christian circles we are inundated with things like WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?), and the best-selling The Purpose Driven Life, which focuses on what we can do to fulfill the five purposes of the church. Concepts and teachings such as these are widely accepted by the mainstream Christian community because we live in a performance-based society in general. As such, we are innately drawn to measurable standards of achievement. Shooting for a goal gives us a sense of purpose and security. This thinking, however, begs the question: does performance please God?
Certainly, God wants us to live according to His precepts; however, we can do the right things and still fail because we lack a proper heart attitude. As the apostle Paul said, "though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:3). Selling all of our possessions--even sacrificing our own selves to the flames!--has no value to God if we are not right in heart. We see here that it is not the doing that pleases God, but rather the being. God cares more about who we are than what we do. This is as true for parenting as it is for any other aspect of our lives.
When we consider the demands of life that compete for our attention--especially those associated with the homeschooling family--we see that performance does matter. It's a fact of life that we can't simply ignore. Let's face it: we all have our "to-do" lists for house work and chores, lesson plans to keep up with, meals and shopping to coordinate, bills to pay, and countless other duties which cannot reasonably be ignored. Then there are our parenting responsibilities--the things that are the focus of all those books we read. We train, we teach, we create bonds of fellowship, and we discipline--all of which can simply become yet another list of things to do. We run ourselves ragged doing, doing, doing--slaves to the parenting performance trap. Meanwhile, our hearts grow distant from the Lord, our attitudes sour, and our intimacy with God diminishes. But isn't homeschooling supposed to improve our walk with the Lord and help us to pass this heritage of faith to our children? We're sure that this scenario is more common than most of us would care to admit.
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