10 September 2008

Pondering Parenting

Parenting is one of those things I want to do well... and I think I can finally, honestly say that this is not primarily true because I want to look good in the eyes of others, but because I want my children to be a sweet smelling offering to the Lord. This is a change God has brought about. As a younger mom, on the road from church to church as we sought financial and prayer support to come to the mission field, I often based parenting decisions on what I thought those around me expected. I'm slowly learning to base my decisions on what the Holy Spirit has shown me to be right for that particular child in that particular instance - though this certainly isn't something I've mastered. I don't tend to pick up the standard "parenting manuals" often recomended in evangelical circles any more. My two favorites are actually Proverbs and James. But I just finished reading a book that has appealed to and intrigued me, primarily as a confirmation of how God has been changing my parenting perspectives. This has been a very up and down journey for me, one that began as we left for language school, with my first "trial" being the day I took my 4 year old boy to a French maternelle class. I could only speak enough of the language myself to just barely get along. That was not my plan. I wanted to homeschool and keep my children in an environment where I had the control over what influenced and came into their lives... God was not in agreement then, just as now He clearly has us sending our children to school in what many might consider "less than ideal" circumstances.

Our first school experience turned out to be a fabulous one. If I could have "designed" the perfect teacher for my son that year, I don't think I would have been able to come up with the compassionate, gentle and godly woman who spoke almost no English that the Lord provided for Brendan. And that experience grew my trust in the Lord, that even when His will wasn't matching with my plan - His will would be the best.

As we have lived in Niger, I've been so blessed to observe a dear friend here who is one of the most authentic parents I know - not perfect, but so very real. This different parenting style scared me at first, but intrigues me now... and I find myself wanting to imitate it. It goes contrary to my nature - because it is so God-dependant and takes me out of the driver's seat. When I was handed the book Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture by Mary E. DeMuth, and I read the back, I couldn't wait to dive into it, because she discusses some of those same things I've been observing. I just finished the book tonight, while waiting for Tim to get home from a late night of studio work.

My ideas about parenting are being challenged by the thought provoking and I believe biblical ideas presented in the book. God had already been directing our parenting much more in this way. The book discusses things like (from the back of the book):

  • engagning your kids in conversations instead of issuing ultimatums;
  • seeing your children's behaviors as windows into your won spiritual life;
  • coaching your children instead of lecturing them;
  • modeling the transparent, authentic lifestyle you want for your kids;
  • demonstrating a life of thankfulness, creativity and service."

One of my favorite sections, titled "The Beauty of Wrestling," was, I felt, particularly true. DeMuth writes:
"We often approach the Bible with our children - and ourselves - trying to solve all its mysteries. when our children ask about God's Old testament wrath upon entire nations, we pull out slick theological arguments to that God won't appear mean to them. Or we'll share, 'That was the Old Testament. We are in a New Covenant relationship with Jesus now,' as if God has changed magically between the Testaments. We don't welcome the wrestling. It makes us uncomfortable. We'd rather have it all figured out and if we teach our children our own pet theologies, we think we have adequately completed the task of bringing them up in the Lord...

We've lost the beauty of wrestling. We've forgotten how to welcome it into our homes....It's not an easy task. It's much easier to choose a set of beliefs and then defend them to the death, making sure our children mimic the proper tenets. We have a harder time saying, 'You know what? I don't know why God took out entire generations of people. I could give you some theological explanations if you're interested, but to be honest, it rubs me the wrong way. I don't understand how a loving God could do that. I know he's just and righteous and can see everything, but it's hard for me to reconcile all that killing with Jesus.' By saying that, we invite our children into our own wrestling, our own questions.

Unfortunately, we have reduced God and His Word to that which is manageable, nice and agreeable. We've sanitized the Bible so that we don't have to grapple with its ambiguity. We don't want to be Jacob, wrestling hour upon hour with the living, breathing, wild God, only to walk the rest of our lives with a limp. It's messy. It doesn't perpetuate formulaic biblical interpretation...

If we were really honest with ourselves, we'd admit that we do wrestle with the sticky issues of the Bible, but we don't often give ourselves permission to show that struggle. Instead of hiding what is inside or adopting everyone else's airtight explanations for the difficulties of the Bible, why not dialogue? Why not bring our concerns to the family table? Why not show our disappointment when God doesn't answer a prayer in the way we hoped? By doing this, we train children to recognize that asking questions is all right, that God's shoulders are big enough to hold our doubts. When our children leave home, they will leave knowing that the Bible is a difficult but life-filled book."

Another section that I really appreciated had to do with growing a spirit of thankfulness in our children. Here, DeMuth says,
"We forget sometimes. We roll our eyes. We say 'bo-ring' under our breath. We treat life as if it were all about us. But the essence of life is gratitude. Thankfulness. How do we instill gratefulness in our children while the world around them is spinning on the axis of selfishness?...So much of what we try to teach our children is demonstrated, not preached. Perhaps our children are grateful because we are grateful. Or maybe they've seen other be selfish, and it rubs them the wrong way. Or maybe they've gotten to know the gentleness of Jesus a little more each day.

Teaching kids that life is a gift isn't easy.... God is the one who elevates us. He lifts our heads above circumstances. In Psalm 3.3, the psalmist says, 'But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.' Why does He lift our heads? So we can see the vista beyond our belly buttons. Above us is heaven, where the Triune God reigns in glory....

Gracious followers of Jesus will entice the world. Self-serving, prideful Pharisees merely shake their finger and push others away.

What kind of faith do we want our children to bring to this postmodern world? A stoic, stuffy religion that beckons people to rules and regulations? Or a vibrant, life-giving, grace-abounding relationship with Jesus that infects and affects the people around them? What will attract a shifting culture to Jesus? It will be our invigorated, grateful hearts -- authentic, broken hearts that dare to thank God in the midst of life's mess. That's what this world hungers for: a unique expression of the reality of Jesus on the field of postmodernity. As we dare to love and challenge our children in this world, teaching them to follow the path of the scarred Carpenter, we will begin to see how Jesus can infuse culture through them. They are missionaries, sent out to a culture we may not understand. To prepare them is our duty and joy."

If you are definitely interested in a thought-provoking read, especially one that applies to parenting preteen/teen children, go ahead and give this book a try.

1 comment:

  1. last year the kids were in a class where the lesson was supposed to be Annanias and Saphira...the teachers didn't like teaching this lesson...I didn't agree with them...or even how they handled it (they just told the kids, God punished them and didn't quite finish the story)...but after reading your post I feel better about my own thoughts that the story should be taught as written...and then we can wrestle with the questions...thanks for the post ... i'll have to add this book to my list


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