The Essence of Christian Parenting
By Marc Carrier
During a recent business flight, I (Marc) went through the usual pre-flight exercise, in which the flight attendant explains to the passengers what to do in case of an emergency. At one point, we were shown how to use the oxygen mask in the event that the cabin depressurized. As part of the drill, we were instructed to provide oxygen for ourselves, and then to assist other passengers, including our children. This is because if parents fail to attend to their own safety, they will be unable to aid their children.
We can see how the premise behind this instruction intuitively applies to parenting as well. Until we, as parents, understand and actualize God's precepts in our own hearts, we will not be able to successfully encourage spiritual health and growth in our children. Yet it seems that, by default, we fall into the habit of being child-focused in our approach to parenthood. This social expectation is as common in Christian families as it is in more secular circles. Even in the best-of-breed Biblical parenting resources we've explored, this child-centered perspective quickly becomes evident. It matters little what aspect of parental duties are emphasized. Whether it is training, teaching, love and encouragement, sheltering, or discipline, the obvious focus is the children. Though this has come to be expected, it can be problematic.
Granted, there are, indeed, parenting resources that point out the need for us, as parents, to focus on our own behavior. The deficiency we've seen with such resources is that the formulas and suggestions revolve around performance. This should not come as a surprise, given that even in Christian circles we are inundated with things like WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?), and the best-selling The Purpose Driven Life, which focuses on what we can do to fulfill the five purposes of the church. Concepts and teachings such as these are widely accepted by the mainstream Christian community because we live in a performance-based society in general. As such, we are innately drawn to measurable standards of achievement. Shooting for a goal gives us a sense of purpose and security. This thinking, however, begs the question: does performance please God?
Certainly, God wants us to live according to His precepts; however, we can do the right things and still fail because we lack a proper heart attitude. As the apostle Paul said, “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). Selling all of our possessions - even sacrificing our own selves to the flames! - has no value to God if we are not right in heart. We see here that it is not the doing that pleases God, but rather the being. God cares more about who we are than what we do. This is as true for parenting as it is for any other aspect of our lives.
When we consider the demands of life that compete for our attention - especially those associated with the homeschooling family - we see that performance does matter. It's a fact of life that we can't simply ignore. Let's face it: we all have our “to-do” lists for house work and chores, lesson plans to keep up with, meals and shopping to coordinate, bills to pay, and countless other duties which cannot reasonably be ignored. Then there are our parenting responsibilities - the things that are the focus of all those books we read. We train, we teach, we create bonds of fellowship, and we discipline - all of which can simply become yet another list of things to do. We run ourselves ragged doing, doing, doing - slaves to the parenting performance trap. Meanwhile, our hearts grow distant from the Lord, our attitudes sour, and our intimacy with God diminishes. But isn't homeschooling supposed to improve our walk with the Lord and help us to pass this heritage of faith to our children? We're sure that this scenario is more common than most of us would care to admit.
Performing, in and of itself, is not bad. In fact, it is our duty. Yet being right with God is the only way to facilitate true joy, peace and success (see, for example, 1 Samuel 16:1-13). We've often heard people point to the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) to illustrate that our attitude is more important than our actions. Pay close attention to the words of Jesus here, however, and it becomes obvious that Martha was not being asked to neglect her work; instead, she was rebuked for the condition of her heart as she went about her activity: “Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42, italics added for emphasis). The “good part” is a good heart! The lesson here is, quite simply, that we can't focus on our doing at the expense of our being.
So how does this apply to parenting? You may have heard the old adage, more is caught than taught - it's true! However, this doesn't just mean that our actions speak louder than words. It also means that our being, or who we are, has as much, or more, impact on our children as our actions and words alone. While our objective should always be to instill God's percepts on our children's hearts, we must first shift our focus away from our children and towards ourselves and our own personal relationship with the Lord in order to accomplish this goal. By no means should we neglect our duties; but if we remember to first “look to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2) as we go about our daily doings, we will be that much more effective.
So, if you are like us, and just about every other person we know, you will now be asking, “How can I achieve this goal?” This is the paradox: we must do something in order to be who God wants us to be. Personally, to help ourselves consistently grow in spiritual well-being, we devised an actionable plan. It enables us to live out God's Word, to the best of our ability, so that we can more successfully impart God's precepts to our children and have a right heart before Him as we go about all of the other activities of daily life.
To keep us focused on what is of value to God, we have searched the Scriptures and identified what we have labeled the “twelve core values.” The core values have become for us a compass to point us in the right direction when we are in danger of veering off course. We have them painted on our dining room wall; we memorize the Bible verses that point to each one; and everyone in the family strives to live by these Biblical ideals. They help us, as parents, to live Godly lives. In the process of being who God wants us to be, we are able to more successfully do what God wants us to do. And, yes, we are able to provide a better example for our children to model. But, it's not about them. It's about us and God, first and foremost.
Consider the twelve core values, and study for yourself how and why each one is important to God. The passages in parentheses are those that we have chosen to focus on, but there are many others that point to the significance of these character traits:
- Faith (Matthew 9:29, 2 Corinthians 5:7, Hebrews 11:1)
- Surrender (Ephesians 4:22-24, Romans 13:1-2)
- Love (1 Corinthians 13:4-6, John 15:9b-12)
- Faithfulness (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, Philippians 2:12-13)
- Wisdom (Proverbs 3:13-18, Proverbs 9:10)
- Self-control (Proverbs 25:28, Galatians 5:22-24)
- Righteousness (1 John 3:7-9, Romans 3:22a)
- Holiness (1 Peter 1:14-16, 1 Thessalonians 4:7)
- Humility (Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 5:5b-6)
- Diligence (Proverbs 10:4, Hebrews 6:10-11)
- Generosity (2 Corinthians 9:6-7, Proverbs 11:25)
- Praise (Philippians 4:4, 6-8)
John 15:1-17 reminds us of the necessity of remaining in Christ if we are to bear fruit. Using these twelve core values helps keep God's Word on our hearts and minds in a directed way so that we can abide in Christ, grow in our faith, and be productive for His kingdom.
Perhaps you've used behavioral charts with your children; we do, too. Ours, however, aren't simply lists of chores or things to do - we created a chart that encourages the children to exhibit these twelve core values in various ways. As we evaluate the children's progress each day, we as parents introspectively monitor our own hearts, as well. In this way, we are all making progress in our walk with the Lord and in our growth into Christlikeness.
We are all imperfect beings slowly but surely being transformed into the image of Christ through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. This is a journey we take with our children. We find that our imperfections are opportunities for transparency and humility. We can be clear with our children that while our parental authority is not to be questioned, we all periodically have behaviors that may place us at odds with God's desire for our lives. We, as a family, are subject to God's standards and strive to live by them. When we fall short, we can humbly share our shortcomings, seek prayer, and encourage one another. We believe that our transparency will foster the children's acceptance of our rules and our authority, because they will learn that God's Word is for all, and not just for them. Together, we will become the people that God wants us to be and encourage a legacy of spiritual wholeness.
MARC AND CYNTHIA CARRIER are the founders of the Balanced-Family Resource Center (www.BalancedFamily.org). They are homeschooling parents of five children and currently reside in Connecticut. Together they have co-authored The Values-Driven Family: A Proactive Plan for Successful Biblical Parenting. The book is available at www.ValuesDrivenFamily.com.