It’s not particularly hard to grow weary in parenting. Children can seem slow to learn the lessons we teach them over and over and over. How many times have I told you…? And when the kids are young it can seem like they’ll never grow up. I imagine parents of older children can feel similar distress, only more intense as they realize the time they have is short. Most of the cement is hardened by high school, and there’s not a lot left to be done. Of course there are still important responsibilities, but many parents panic as they see sin and weakness in their children. When they’re young it looks like they’ll never grow out of their sins, and when they’re older it looks like they in fact haven’t.
Of course sometimes this is because parents aren’t/haven’t been faithful. They haven’t obeyed the Lord in correcting their sons and daughters, they haven’t prayed for them faithfully, and they haven’t loved and rejoiced over them. And then they reap what they have sown.
But then there are many faithful parents who still fear the outcome of their children. They toil, they correct, they love, they sacrifice, they pray, they die for their children and expectantly wait, looking for the fruit of their labors. And after slaving in the sun for six years it doesn’t look like there’s much to show for it. After fifteen years, it can look even more worrisome. All he cares about are dinosaurs and swords when he’s six, and now that he’s sixteen it’s only sports and movies. Where’s the spiritual fruit? Where’s the devotion to Christ?
But there are at least two points we should make. First, parents should beware of cookie-cutter piety expectations. In other words, what does heartfelt piety look like in a six year old boy versus a six year old girl? What does piety look like in a fifteen year old girl and a fifteen year old boy? Of course worship and prayer and scripture should be central, but we shouldn’t shy away from teaching and looking for faithfulness in whatever area our children are into. If it’s dinosaurs, you can talk about science and faith, creation and evolution, miracles and magic, mythology and Scripture, Moses and Darwin. If they’re into sports and movies, you can talk about courage, loyalty, hard work, discipline, self-control, stories, and virtue. There may be great piety in a sixteen year old boy who refuses to return trash talk to an opposing player, but overbearing parents only see “sports obsession” and miss the fruit of the Spirit. There may be great virtue in a six year old boy who stands up to his classmates insisting the dragons and unicorns are real, and that modern science is mythological bunk, but a faithless parent can only think of the fact that he cries too easily when he’s injured. Of course, the flaws and weaknesses should be prayed for and addressed diligently, but not in such a way as to crush the seedling faithfulness in our children.
And this leads into the second point which is that parents always lead most effectively by example. Children grow up to be like their parents. And parents who allow themselves to be overwhelmed by the “to do” list for their kids are still training them. When parents are constantly discouraged at the apparent lack of progress and spiritual maturity in their children, one of the lessons they are teaching is discouragement. Again, there is a place for expressing disappointment for failures; there is a place for teaching, correcting, rebuking, etc. But we want to make sure that this is well balanced with thick, double helping portions of love and delight in the progress of our children.
We have a few bare patches of dirt in our yard, and I planted some grass seed this Spring. But it’s been cold here and very slow in sprouting. The other day I was out with my son, and he very helpfully made a sign to stick into the yard by one of the dry patches. The sign is a piece of paper with a kindergartener’s scrawl taped to a stick. The sign says (in green crayon letters) “Grass.” I called over to him and asked if there was any new grass sprouting yet, and he said “no.” I walked over to see his sign and to lament the persistence of the bare patches in the lawn, and at first glance, it certainly appeared that he was right. It all looked like caked, dark brown dirt, like it has for months. But I knelt down and looked a little closer, and I suddenly saw a tiny patch of angel hair sprouts in a tiny section of the bald patch, no larger than a quarter. I pointed it out to my son, and we celebrated our gardening miracle together with expressions of admiration and amazement all mixed together. But as we stared at that little tuft of ten or fifteen slender hairs of grass, we spotted another microscopic forest a few inches away and then another and another. They were tiny, and it would have been easy to miss them. In fact, standing up, I couldn’t really see them at all but perhaps for a faint greenish tint, smudging the dirt here and there. I might have easily glanced at the dirt, concluded there was nothing there and walked away discouraged, disheartened, or dejected.
And parenting is that way. We can scrape and labor and teach and discipline for weeks, months, years, and with a glance at the landscape conclude that there is nothing growing. But when we think there is nothing growing and we grow frustrated, that can have adverse effects on our view of the ground and how we treat it. But if we peer more closely and see the tiny fruit, the seedling faithfulness just breaking the surface, it suddenly sends us into joyful tending mode. I suddenly become far more protective of those little bald patches of dirt. And that’s how we should feel about our children. There are hard cases, and there are seasons of famine and barrenness. But faith looks to the promises of God, obeys His word, and then looks closely for the little signs of God’s blessing. And faith rejoices in even one, tiny sprout of life. And that joy is efficacious, for them and for you. Frequently, we when we find one tiny sprout of faithfulness, we may suddenly become aware of another and another and another. And faith sees God’d provision and faithfulness and looks to Him for more.