Wednesday, November 21, 2012

First Time, With a Happy Heart


There once was a man who needed help taking care of his vineyard. And who better to get help from then his two sons? So, he ordered his first son: "Go work in the vineyard for me today." The first son, for whatever reason, defiantly told his father, "I will not!" The father proceeded to his next son, and told him, "Son, go work for me in the vineyard." The second son responded willingly and respectfully, saying, "I will sir." 

Let's pause the story here for a moment. Which son demonstrates willing obedience? Which son responds to his father immediately, with respect? Which son sounds defiant, disrespectful, and angry? Which son would be swiftly punished in most Christian homes because he needs to learn to be obedient the first time, with a happy heart?

Wait! Before you respond, let me finish the story. As the day wore on, the oldest son began to regret his refusal to help his father, and finally decided to go ahead to the vineyard and work. But the second son, though he responded willingly and respectfully to his father initially, decided not to go to the vineyard after all. 

No fair! This story has an unexpected twist! Now I am really confused. The disobedient son seems to be the obedient son, and the obedient son seems to be the disobedient son. But I thought obedience entailed an immediate, happy, willing response to every parental request! 

Hmm...maybe I should keep reading to find the conclusion to the story, for, yes, I am reading it from that wonderful, inspired, living Word of God in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 21, verses 28-31. I am reading a story told by the master storyteller himself. When the master finished telling his story, he queried his listeners, asking who the obedient son was: "Which of the two did the will of his father?” And the correct answer, given by the listeners?“The first.” The first son was truly obedient, because, you see, genuine obedience is making a reasoned decision to submit to someone else, and that decision does not always happen quickly or easily. 

I am reminded of the ultimate act of obedience demonstrated by Jesus when he went to the cross. Hebrews 5:7 tells us that Jesus, before He did His Father's will, before He obediently went to the cross, " offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death..." Jesus knew that he was about to face the deepest darkest agony ever known to any human. He struggled with it. He even begged his father, loudly, and with anguish, not to ask Him to go to the cross. Yet, in the end, Jesus, in a beautiful demonstration of genuine obedience, went to the cross. He chose to do His father's will, though he knew it would cost Him his very life. Hebrews 5:8 says that Jesus learned obedience from the things He suffered. Jesus learned what it meant to obey; He experienced the pain and agony that came with His decision. 


So where did we get the idea that obedience is demonstrated when children jump up and immediately do what we say, with a happy heart? We could teach a dog to do this. We expect soldiers in the military to do this. But labeling this carefully-trained response given by our children as obedience is a concept not found in the Bible. In fact, obedience that is an automatic, robotic-smiling response to our every command is very shallow. For, every child knows if he or she does not "obey," then he, or she, will suffer. Doing an action in order to avoid pain or suffering shows us nothing of the actual "obedience" or "disobedience" going on inside a child's heart.

How would our parenting outlook change if we realized that obedience is often about "counting the cost" OF THE ACT OF SUBMISSION, and then deciding to submit anyways? For, from a child's viewpoint, every parental request entails a giving up of his or her desires, followed by a doing of something he or she does not really feel like doing. It is hard to stop playing legos, and then set the table for supper. It is hard to give up the rights to one's toys, and then share them with someone else. It is hard to stop swimming in order to get home on time to fix daddy's dinner.

In our house, both of our children daily "count the cost" of obedience. The little lady, who is really very little, usually "counts the cost" to mamma's embrace and words of understanding. The little man sometimes counts the cost with shrieks of "I don't want to!" And we understand, obedience is hard. We give the little man all the time he needs to feel ready to willingly obey. And the outcome of little man's cries, always met with understanding, love, and compassion, mixed with some matter-of-factness? A red-eyed, smiling guy, cheerfully declaring "Ok, mom. I'll do what you say! I'm ready now!" And when the task is finished, the parental request genuinely submitted to, there is a real pride in that little guy's bearing, a knowledge that he is able to do the right thing, even when it's hard, a confidence that any river can be crossed, any mountain climbed: a true obedience learned from things suffered.

Oh, the joy of parenting that allows us to walk beside our children each step of the way; the insight gained as our children mature! Moms and dads, as I have said so many times before, parenting by grace can get so loud and messy, but it is worth more than all the treasures that money can buy.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Arguing About Spanking

When my husband and I first decided we were never going to spank, we heard many arguments on both sides of the spanking fence.

Arguments against spanking included, "It's the same as hitting; you wouldn't hit your spouse, would you?", "Jesus would never have hit a child", "Spanking causes an increase in aggressive behavior", "Spanking really does not teach a child anything except to avoid being hit". If you spend any time online, reading blogs and discussions against spanking, you will find that there are some bloggers who are angry, who accuse spankers of abusing their children and being heartless. Interestingly, these ungracious responses are generally from those who do not follow Christ. I have not come across a Christian blogger or anti-spanker who ungraciously uses his or her penned words to yell, demean, and accuse parents who spank (though certainly there may be someone like this out there). Instead, among Christian anti-spankers there is a call towards parents who spank to simply reexamine their methods, and especially to take a clear-headed look at what Scripture says.

For some reason, this puts people who spank on the defensive. Many people who spank query, "Are you calling me a bad, abusive parent? How dare you!" This defensiveness saddens me, because it prevents Christians from having a clear dialogue about the issue. This is certainly not always the case. My sister-in-law is an excellent example of a sister in Christ who disagrees with me regarding spanking, yet has never become defensive or accusatory. However, in many online forums and in the comment sections to many blogs, this defensive attitude presents itself.

And, without fail, along with the defensiveness, these Christians who feel attacked for their choices, point out the following: "We are interpreting the Bible literally", "Our parents spanked us, and we turned out great", "You are buying into modern psychology, and using it to interpret the Bible", "We know of neighbors, students, etc., who aren't spanked, and they are little hellions", "Just look at society today. Many people don't spank, and all children are brats because of it". After they present these arguments, the put a sky-high wall around themselves, and refuse to listen to the other side (because, after all, they feel they are right and therefore everyone else has to be wrong).

I would like to point out, first of all, that some of the arguments used by some of those who believe spanking is necessary are 100% experiential. If I were to use experiential examples to back up my belief that spanking children is not necessary, I am quite certain that pro-spankers would call me to task on my arguments.

If we are debating whether spanking is or is not a good tool with those who have not put their faith in Christ, then I think, by all means, we ought to use psychology, use studies, use experiences (though experiential arguments are week, in my opinion). As an aside: for Christians, after examining scripture, there is a lot to be gleaned from psychology-the study of the mind-so long as we measure all theories and conclusions against scripture.

However, when conversing with fellow believers, our "debating" should be conducted humbly, without name-calling and pointing fingers. Clearly, most Christian parents love their children more than themselves, and want what is best for them. Secondly, our conversation should begin and end with an earnest and hard look at what the Bible itself says. We should be willing to delve into the original Hebrew or Greek meanings of various terms; we should be careful to use context and genre as a guide to interpretation. Lastly, we should allow that all believers are capable of being led by the Spirit of God, and should make their own decisions. We should respect one another, and pray for one another. Perhaps if we follow these guidelines, we will be able to better engage in an honest conversation about what God has in mind for children and parents, without ridiculing, putting down, and accusing others of being wrong.

When I speak out, sharing my views about spanking, it is not to shame or put down moms who use spanking as a tool for discipline. Instead, it is my prayer, my heartfelt desire, to challenge fellow moms to parent with freedom and grace. I hope that we moms and dads, brothers and sisters in Christ, can begin to work together, instead of against each other, to look into the heart of Scripture, without preconceived notions of what is true, to find out what God really commands and urges parents to do as they disciple their little ones. It would be beautiful to unite with others in earnest prayer for our children, and to bounce ideas and knowledge and tips off of each other, to spur one another on towards love and kindness, compassion and humility, and to challenge one another when something is not right.

So, mommas, let's not shrink away in fear, or grow haughty and defensive, claiming that "our way is best". Instead, let us have speech amongst each other that is full of grace, seasoned with salt. After all, it is for the children that we speak.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bumbling Along

Tonight, the four-year-old took two hours to fall asleep. "I'm scared," he said. Husband was gracious enough to lie beside him the entire time. When he finally emerged from the darkened room, his energy and zest for life had drained considerably. When we began to converse, we bickered. It took us a while to work out how to vent our angst and frustration on something other than one another. 


It is so easy to project a perfect image as a blogger. It is easy to make it sound like the marriage is perfect, like the parenting is perfect, like the kids are perfect. It is easy to sift through all the bad and only write about the good.

After all, what mom in the trenches with her own little ones wants to hear about the four-and-a-half year old who wakes up surprisingly grouchy on some mornings? Who yells at his little sister, so in love with everything he does, "Don't look at me!!", leaving mom and dad surprised and clueless, feeling like bystanders at the scene of an ugly drama? No, uh-uh. Better to regale fellow moms with stories of success. So, I wait until the situation feels "under control" and then blog about the success.

Yet, is there such a thing as "success" in parenting? Success implies some sort of perfect, measurable outcome. And that is not what I'm striving towards. 

I'm in this parenting gig for better reasons than that. I want genuine, wholehearted, whole children who follow God and live in His love. And that means messy messes getting sorted through slowly, clumsily. It means that when the grouchy four year old manifests, I take a long, hard look at, well, at myself. Am I trying to be perfect, and so getting angry with my child for not also being perfect? Am I falsely believing that parenting is some sort of "weeding" process, where, when I pull enough weeds, a perfect little flower of a child will emerge? 

What is my job as mommy? The answer: discipler, nurturer, not model-child maker. 

So, the messes are ok. I will blog about them sometimes just to remind myself of this. The messes are opportunities to grow, to learn, to give and receive grace. They are chances to focus on the things that really matter, like matters of the heart. Contrary to public opinion, you can't get to the inward by trying to control the outward; you get to the inward by allowing messiness to seep out, to escape, to walk all over you. You take your child's hand, and you face it, together.

Mommy eyes always open with grace. Now, they see a precious little guy working through a new stage of development. Can I love him through it? Can I teach him constructive ways to handle those feelings? Is my walk with God genuine and grace-filled enough that he knows he can run to Him with His feelings, with his out-of-controlledness?

Messiness is all over our house these days. Sweet little one and a half year old girl has trouble at night. Sometimes, her sleep isn't long and restful. Mommy gets tired. Mommy growls when woken the fifteenth time in one night. Mommy faces her selfishness. Mommy lets daddy help her out when she needs a catnap, letting go of her fantasy of supermom. Always, the little girl leaves trails of destruction in her wake. Bottle of shampoo? Dump it. Cereal in a container to eat? Spit it all over the floor, then rub it around with your hands. Sometimes, I mentally scream at the never-ending cleanup multiplying before my eyes. 

Why am I sharing this? Because, just like our kids, being perfect is not the best way to learn and grow as a parent. The way to learn is by making messes, by not knowing what to do, by stepping outside of ourselves, looking in, and asking, "Why am I doing this? What really matters? What is my child going through on the inside right now? How can I show grace and compassion? How can I teach my child best?" Often, teaching looks messy, like helping that little man walk through an issue, or helping the little lady wipe up the water she dumped on the floor with a towel for the hundredth time.

So, obviously, I'm not perfect. I don't always give the best advice, and sometimes I have no idea what I'm doing. But where would be the adventurous walk with my Father through life, if I had some perfect method for raising my children? Where would be the falling into His arms at the end of the day, asking Him for wisdom and guidance? Where would be those amazing revelations of His vast wealth of love for me in my messiness if not in the loving of my kids through theirs? 

Fall into His arms, momma, and don't be afraid to be human, or, for that matter, to let your kids be.