Sixteen years ago, my wife and I became parents. Now we have four children, and God continues to teach us many things as we seek to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. So I feel somewhat awkward laying out lessons that we have learned from parenting, as if we have everything figured out or can provide some hidden insights for current and future parents. At the same time, in God’s kindness we have learned several lessons through the years as our children have been growing up, and I hope that some of these lessons will prove helpful to others. With this in mind, here are five lessons:
Trust in Christ
Parenting is an incredibly humbling experience. I thought that I was getting a handle on marriage and doing pretty well in my spiritual growth until I had children. Then I was confronted with how much sin remained in my life. I was (and am) selfish, impatient, and prideful. My parenting has exposed these truths in so many ways. When my children were young, they were completely dependent on me, and this would hinder my desires and frustrate my plans. And things haven’t changed as they have gotten older! Essentially, my children have been a needle to pop my inflated balloon of self-centeredness and sinfulness.
But I need to be confronted with this reality so that I can look to Christ for forgiveness, cleansing, and strength. When I have yelled at my kids in anger, or punished my kids in frustration without hearing them out, or not paid attention to my kids because I was more interested in something else, or any other of a thousand failures and sins as a parent, then I am reminded of my need to turn away from my sin in repentance and turn toward my Savior in faith. It is only as I draw close to Christ that I am able to faithfully parent to the glory of God and for the good of my children. Parenting is a God-given gift for our sanctification!
Thank God for Blessing
Children are blessings from God, and I wake up every morning thankful to Him for the privilege of parenting them. Next to my relationship with Christ and my marriage to my wife, nothing is more fulfilling and enjoyable than being a father to my children. Is parenting a daunting and challenging responsibility? Of course! But is parenting also an enriching and wonderful blessing? Absolutely! There is nothing like watching my son play a baseball game and then taking him out for ice cream or enjoying a brownie that my daughter has just baked and wants me to test. Who can forget when their children began to walk or first called out “Dada”?
I don’t deserve such abundant and ongoing blessings in my life. Yet God in His love and grace has given me children. Thank you Jesus for such precious blessings! My heart is filled with thankfulness to God for so many blessings, and at the top of my list is the amazing opportunity to parent my children.
Teach Them God’s Word
We all know the Proverb: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” While this is not a promise to us, it is an encouragement for us to teach our children God’s truth so that they can live in His world for His glory. Central to this responsibility is leading them to Christ as our Savior through the gospel. We also want them to know that a life pleasing to God is one that loves Him and loves our neighbors. All of this comes from a home saturated with the Word of God.
As a result, I have sought to bring my family before the throne of God daily in family worship. I can’t claim that I have always been consistent or have always done a good job, but I have seen my children regularly singing God’s praises, listening to the Bible read, and praying together as a family. I have also seen how important memorizing Scripture and practicing catechism with them is. They are learning God’s truth for themselves, storing it up in their heart for when they need to remember the hope of Christ. They are also learning how to discern errors and falsehood, living in the midst of a fallen and sinful world which always pleads with them to join in rebelling against God. My prayer is that the truths of God’s Word will not only inform their minds but penetrate their hearts so that they will be able to live wisely and faithfully when they are grown.
Train Them in Church
God never intended for us to parent on our own but in a community of brothers and sisters in Christ. This is about far more than attending Sunday School classes on biblical parenting (even though these classes can be very helpful!); it is about receiving encouragement, support, and accountability from my our church family. As my children worship in the assembly of believers, they see what it means to worship God. As my children are together with other Christians, they see many faithful examples of believers who are walking with the Lord. As my children participate in various activities, they see how all of life is to be lived to the glory of God.
Does this mean that we have decided for my children to not participate in certain sporting activities because they would be prevented from joining with the church in worship? Yes. Has this commitment to our church caused neighbors and friends to think that we are strange, religious zealots? Yes. But we know that a commitment to our church is what is best for our children and what is best for us! And it gives us an opportunity as parents to share with our children that this world is not our home, but we are waiting for the world to come where we will dwell in fellowship with our God forever.
Time is Short
One area where I have struggled over the years has been how much time that I have spent with my children. During my six years at seminary, I was also working two part-time jobs in addition to my studies. So I often felt like an absentee father. Now my oldest daughter has turned sixteen and started working, and I look at how quickly she is becoming an adult. I have become all too aware that I will never be able to get these days and months and years back. Yet I am often pulled in a thousand directions, sometimes sacrificing time with my family in the process.
What can I do? Look to Christ for forgiveness. Pray to God for wisdom. Talk to my wife about how much time I am spending with the kids. Ask others in the church to hold me accountable. Look for opportunities to love and care for my children. Be present in their lives. Say “No!” when needed. My time parenting my children is so short, and I have taken it for granted far too often. But by God’s grace, these years will be an opportunity that He will bless in their lives through my parenting.
When He returns, I yearn to hear from the lips of my Savior: “Well done, good and faithful parent.” So I pray that Christ will use me in my children’s lives to direct them to Him.