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What Parenting and Cathedral Building Have in Common

What Parenting and Cathedral Building Have in Common

The Long, Slow Work of Parenting

I never wanted children until I met my husband. It is not that I despised younger ones. In fact, I was a camp counselor for many years. I loved little ones, but I did see them as an encumbrance of a more unrestrained way of living. Once Clint and I got married, a family was inevitable in years to come.

I think it felt more like the next natural progression of life. We had our own house, and we wanted to fill it with fat babies. Never, ever, ever did I imagine or think through the amount of work that would ensue. That is slightly laughable but positively true. I would like to think that if I were forced to redo the newborn years of our oldest, I would be more patient and understanding, but that is highly unlikely.

And now that we have three from the ages of five, eight, and ten, they are much more physically independent than newborns, but even more work spiritually, mentally, and especially emotionally. We have eight years until our oldest daughter graduates high school, and I feel the crunch of all that needs to happen with her before then. Some days are the “two steps forward and three steps back” feeling. Some days I get caught on the comparison crazy train, looking sideways at other ten-year-old kids.

A Meticulous Design

But this hit me in the best way:

“Consider the Cologne Cathedral. Begun in 1248, the Gothic jewel was to be the main place of worship for the Holy Roman emperors. Frederick II knew he would not see its completion. Consistent building continued until 1472. Halted during the sixteenth century, the construction was completed in 1880 according to the original plan—632 years after the turn of the first shovel. Towering above the city skyline to this day, the building owes its overwhelming grandeur to its meticulous design and execution over centuries. Even with modern engineering and materials, it would be impossible to duplicate the Cologne Cathedral...Yet its completion depended on the patient skill of countless individuals who knew that they would probably never see the ribbon-cutting ceremony.” Michael Horton, Ordinary, page 32.

Horton goes on to relate this to child-rearing. We want to see results immediately in our children, but that will surely yield behaviorism and then legalism, offering us as parents something easily quantifiable but not exactly a legitimate measure of their heart’s motivations. We live in such a “check off the box” type of world that we can apply this mindset to our parenting as well, trying to maximize our efficiency. But is this what our God has for us? The only way cathedrals can have a meticulous design is if their designers and creators are that much grander and complex.

It Takes Two—or More

This analogy of our children as cathedrals has two implications.

First of all, it will certainly take more than two people to shape a child’s heart to be oriented in the things of Christ. And I am not using this to champion to send your children off to school somewhere—if they go down the hall to your dining room table or down the street to the local public school or across your town to the privately-funded religious institution, they will undoubtedly look for insight from others. Part of this is to test the validity of what their parents have been teaching for their whole life. Part is sheer curiosity of other messages taught by interesting-sounding individuals.

My daughters have all challenged my husband and me with the information they received from kids at school on a consistent basis. Some things are benign, easily laughable, and overturned: like it is a fact that any time someone does yoga they are trying to talk to Satan. Or that the moon is made of cheese. And ice. And a dangerous man is hiding up there. But some things could be really dangerous if left unchecked: Jesus was either sleeping or not paying attention the day the terrorists bombed the twin towers in New York. Or that you have to have a boy as a Valentine in the third grade, or you will be weird. Or that if you do not get good grades, that means you are dumb and will not grow up to get a good job.

In all of these, we were able to intercept these thought patterns to speak the truth about science, God’s sovereignty, friendships, and who we are because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We welcome those misinformed children to start these conversations with our daughters so that we can seize them, replacing them with truth instead. We are likewise grateful for their friends, family members, teachers, friends’ parents, elders from our church, and good books that present truth to them that grips them instantly or reinforces something we’ve spoken to them their whole life. We were meant to do life together, and the masons had different jobs than the painters on the Cologne Cathedral.

Structural Heart Changes

Secondly, major structural changes to a building do not happen overnight. Similarly, significant changes to a child’s heart do not either. We can easily get caught up in the dangerous hypothetical question game and cry with bewilderment; how many times do I have to tell you?!

Conviction can happen in a moment—a child realizes his need for a Savior from himself. I truly believe what Scripture shares in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that at that moment, he is a new creation, for the old flesh is gone, replaced with Christ’s redemption. However—every new creation needs practice with its new legs, wings, or fins. They may know how to use them, but using them efficiently takes time.

The same is true with growing our children into spiritual maturity. My daughters have experienced sanctification in many things, some of which seem to be a natural progression of aging. They no longer try to bite or hit out of anger. They do not try to put sharp objects into light sockets. And two of the three no longer scream to get what they want—the baby of our family still needs to exercise her wings with this area.

But it took time, intentionality, prayer, and consistency on our part. One of ours is very good at restraining her words. Another one can quickly bring tears of shock and dejection to your eyes with her foolish and careless speech. Some have a naturally developed work ethic, while other kids are prone to laziness. We know all of this to be true because the same is true for us as parents—we are still a work in progress. But the kicker is the work. We cannot say that our child is “struggling with so and so sin” if they are not genuinely struggling with it. Are we ushering them into a posture of training their minds and hearts on God’s Word to combat Satan’s lies here? What about modeling confession and repentance for them? This surely is slow work.

We certainly do believe Philippians 1:6, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (ESV). And it is at the glorification of Christ that our cathedrals will be fully finished.

Photo credit: © Unsplash/Xuan Nguyen

Kate Stevens is a worshiper, wife, and mom, and with the help of the Lord, that is her hierarchy of work. Beyond this, she works with the youth and children at her church and edits as a freelancer. She enjoys reading, writing, running, cooking, and practicing thinking pure and lovely things. 

After being unsure if they ever wanted children, the Lord eventually blessed Kate and her husband Clint after nearly three years of waiting. They welcomed their first daughter in 2011, another daughter in 2013, and yet another daughter in 2016. Kate considers this her most time-consuming, emotion-full, sanctifying, not always pretty but trusting in the Lord’s plan, and blessed work. Stuck in a house with four females, her husband Clint consistently reminds Kate of her identity and union in Christ. 

You can read more of Kate's work here.