Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Christian Parenting 'Mantra'

Psalm 127:3a - "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord..."

Do you know what a mantra is? It’s a form of prayer associated with Hinduism. These prayers are spoken repetitiously in the hopes that the power of repetition will mystically bring about the granting of the person’s prayers. One popular example of a mantra, though it’s not exactly a Hindu prayer, is at the end of The Wizard of Oz. The good witch tells Dorothy that if she wants to go home, all she needs to do is click her heels three times and repeat, “There’s no place like home.” It works, and the movie ends.

If one ever spoke of a “Christian parenting mantra,” it might be something like, “Children are a blessing from the Lord…children are a blessing from the Lord.” I have spoken with parents who have repeated this phrase to themselves to try and induce a calmed state when facing a frustrating parenting situation. Whether it’s feeling helpless with a two-year-old pushing your buttons or feeling hopeless with a teenager pushing his curfew, we have all faced frustrating situations…those times when we feel that we were far passed the “end of our rope.” At those times, we may be tempted to feel that a mantra-like repetition of Psalm 127:3 will bring us back to our senses. We want to replace the exaggerated “I could kill him!” with “Children are a blessing from the Lord,” hoping we can calm down and think clearly.

What I want to ask in this month’s newsletter is this: Is this what is means for children to be a blessing from the Lord? A gift from the Lord? A heritage from the Lord? If Psalm 127:3 is not meant to be a “Christian parenting mantra,” then how are we to think about it? Well, Solomon is the author of this psalm, and he writes about the vanity of living life, building a city, and protecting a city apart from God…it’s almost like a two-verse summary of the book of Ecclesiastes.

Then, in the middle of the psalm, he shifts from what is hopeless without God to what is a blessing from God. Children are a blessing from God…children are a heritage from God. They are created by God, they are given to particular families by God, and the way in which they must be raised is commanded by God. He brought them about in our families…whether through biology or adoption, and the Scripture tells us that this is a gift.

So, what are we to think in those frustrating moments when our “blessings” feel more like “curses”? What are we to do when it doesn’t feel like our children are a blessing? How do we battle feeling as if they are just a burden? Well, the first thing we should be reminded of is that our feelings are not always trustworthy…they are affected by just about every environmental factor (how much we sleep, eat, exercise, our stress level, etc.), and they can shift faster than the weather in central Indiana. Feelings are not to be trusted…when it comes to our security in relationship to God and when it comes to the place of our children in our lives.

Secondly, we need to remember that having children is more than a physical blessing, though it is that. It is a wonderful blessing to know that our families will continue on, that our sons will carry our names, that our daughters will bear grandchildren, etc. Yet, there is a greater blessing that God is concerned to give His children through their having children. It is a spiritual blessing. It is the blessing we find in Romans 8:28-29: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” (emphasis added).

God’s great purpose for us is to be conformed to the image of His Son, and He has designed our lives such that “all things” will work to accomplish His purposes. This process of becoming like Jesus is called progressive sanctification...or, in simpler terms, spiritual growth. Spiritual growth happens as my sin is exposed, I confess it, and then I seek to kill it by the power of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual growth happens as I am stretched through Bible study and prayer. Spiritual growth happens as I learn to trust God through great difficulties in life. And, as a Christian, I want to grow…it is a blessing to grow spiritually.

Christians typically pull out Romans 8:28-29 when a friend is grieving the loss of a loved one or when someone loses their job. However, this is not “all things.” One of those “things” is having children. Think about this…God places children in our families and in our lives in order to make us more like Jesus. Parenting children is an activity that exposes our sin in ways that no other activity can. Being selfish, impatient, quick to anger, etc., are all exposed in the day-to-day routine of parenting.

Also, raising children is a constant reminder of our need for the Word of God and for prayer in our lives. It is in the battle of parenting that we see the superficiality of the world’s approaches and we find the depths of the riches of God’s wisdom. We find ourselves on our knees…not just when the parental floodwaters rise…but also in the daily bustle of childrearing.

Finally, parenting children, especially when they rebel against us, presents us with opportunities to trust God. Raising children will break your heart…over and over again. There will be plenty of dark days in seeking to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. However, it is when we are in the parental valley of the shadow of death, we can know that God is with us and His rod and staff comfort us. We can trust our heavenly Father for He has entrusted these children to our care, and He wants to grow us through the difficulties of parenting.

Children are a heritage from the Lord. It’s not a mantra to keep us sane in the midst of chaos. It’s a promise…a promise that parenting is not an activity that we must merely endure until we get our children out of the house. It’s a promise that God is so committed to your spiritual growth…to your sanctification…to your being like Jesus…that He gave you children. You will laugh, cry, rejoice, mourn, experience victory, suffer defeat, and have your heart broken as you raise them, but it is all part of God’s amazing plan to conform you to the image of His dear Son. Don’t chant Psalm 127:3…memorize it, meditate on it, and rejoice in it as you raise your children.