“As innocent as children seem to be to us, yet if they are out of Christ, they are not so in God’s sight, but are young vipers, and are infinitely more hateful than young vipers.”
~ Jonathan Edwards
Let me be the most recent one to say…”bullshit”. This is not reality.
When we study the real nature of things in this well-designed universe – especially in this case the whole parent/child relationship – we can detect the heart of God, our true nature(s), and the path before us that is in harmony with this design.
Yes, my children at times had a desire to explore things outside of what my wife and I wanted for them. They sometimes flat-out rebelled. But MOST of the time it was a rather joyful, loving, peaceful experience.
The challenge with kids is getting them to the point where they make their own good decisions because it is in their heart to do so. When my kids each get to the point of making good, wise choices because it’s in their heart to do so, then all of the prior training techniques have had their place but are welcome to be over and done with.
Initially, some parents use fear, shame, or guilt to try to control or manipulate their behavior. Some use enticements, distractions, and outright bribes instead (while still others leave the kids to their own devices and live with the results). These techniques tend to work…for a while. But they never seem to get to the heart of the matter.
How does God parent us? What techniques (in hindsight) do we see the Creator/Father-Mother God has employed in our lives? Here are a few:
- Consequence – both bad and good. Hot Stove and Blessing. We experience pain when we choose foolishly, and this teaches us to at least avoid the consequence if possible. We also experience blessing, the benefits of wise choices – increased privileges, material things, harmonious relationships filled with laughter and joy. It’s a form of the karmic notion that you get what’s coming to you, you reap what you sow. In my experience, God actually does this on a regular basis to provoke us (in a good way) to grow and improve. Consequence helps correct behavior and convince one’s heart and mind that it’s worth the exertion of will to choose wisely.
- Repetition (with patience). This goes along with the notion of consequence, but it’s an important distinction. How many times have we been put into similar situations, only to fail yet again (but maybe not as bad)? Each time we seem to learn a little bit more until the life lesson seems to go away and we actually finally “own” the lesson. God is ever patient with us (as we should be with our children, much to my chagrin). God is willing to put us through the same lessons over and over while we kick and scream and wish to avoid the pain and discomfort because God knows in the end it’s the primary way for us to mature.
- Meekness. I’m not talking about weakness; meekness is having the strength and power to act, but choosing to be gentle, patient, kind, etc. Another place where I as a parent am an epic failure, while God over and over shows meekness upon us, extending mercy so we don’t get all the consequence we deserve, and showing grace so that we receive many benefits that we never actually “deserved” but are part of any healthy, loving relationship. It’s one thing for me to not yell at or physically correct my children (showing strength instead of mercy). It’s another thing for me to withhold good things from my children (like food, shelter, clothing). God rarely does that with us. Our essential needs tend to be met except in very unusual circumstances in which either God might be using the lack of these things as consequence, or mankind’s inhumanity refuses to share to meet our needs, refusing to be God’s hands and feet to the needy.
If you have kids or have observed kids being raised, you know this is true. If you’ve embarked on a spiritual journey, partnering your life with the God of the universe, you’ve probably also experienced this as true if you look back carefully on your story.
Kids are neither all evil nor all good. Environment does help to shape them one way or another. Genetics and chemistry has a lot to do with it, too. If you feel physically lousy due to body issues or food reactions, you’re going to be a nasty person at times (just like anyone else who isn’t feeling well, not rested enough, or unhealthy in other ways). I grew up on a diet of sugary breakfast cereal, Twinkies, Faygo red pop, and peanut butter & marshmallow creme sandwiches. I was a spastic mess, much of it because of the poor diet I was given. Ritalin was prescribed, but it didn’t help and it missed the point. My diet was out of harmony with what my body really needed.
My children eat far healthier than I ever did. And now that we’ve identified some food allergies, they are also eating more appropriately for their bodily needs. And guess what? Their demeanor is far different in most cases. Sure, they still have some learned responses that we find annoying at times (moping, isolating themselves, passive aggressive behavior) – but these are actually fewer and farther between.
And when I view my eldest daughter – a senior in college – I’m so proud of how she has made the life lessons we tried to teach her own. Whether we trained her directly or indirectly (via delegates like youth groups, extended family, friends, etc.), she still had to make the lessons her own and add to it so she could mature to become the responsible, mature person she is. I remember when she finally took ownership over the neatness of her bedroom and her own laundry… which led to her being responsible in so many other areas. I don’t have to yell, nag, prod, or anything – it’s part of her belief system.
I think in the end, that’s what God is trying to do with all of us – train us up so that we can make wise, good choices from the heart (regardless of denomination or political affiliation). So that we can then make the sacrifices necessary to help restore this planet to the kind of harmony originally intended for mankind.
Jesus asked rhetorically, “If your child asked for an egg, would you give him a poisonous snake instead?” Of course not. And God, as Jesus argued, is a way better parent than us in every respect. As Paul wrote, “It is the goodness of God that leads you to your change of heart and mind.” May our parenting reflect how God parents us all – not harshly condemning us all as little vipers worthy of destruction, but patiently, lovingly, meekly guiding us to know, own, and love the truth from our hearts so that it naturally flows out of us and blesses the world as we live in harmony with reality as God created it to be.