Joshua pushed the door to my study open for the millionth time that afternoon. “Dad, will you play Lego with me?” His face beamed as he bounded alongside my desk. He held out a small Lego creation. “It’s a dinosaur.”
Normally I’d love to play Lego with him, but boy oh boy, I just had so much work to do. How many times had he interrupted me now? If I told him once, I had told him one-hundred times. “Sorry, Joshua, I’d love to play Lego with you, but Daddy’s got a lot of work to do. Go downstairs beside your mum and sister.”
His chin lowered in tandem with the multi-colored Lego shape he held out in front of him. He silently turned about and trudged out the room.
I pushed the door shut behind him drowning out his footsteps as he descended the stairs. Poor guy, he took such great pleasure in his creation and wanted me to take part in his little world, and I was fobbing him off again. But it was okay because there would be plenty of time to play once I got things done. If I were left alone, I’d finish quicker. Since I had already been in the thinking-zone and my brain juices were flowing, it did not take long to gather my thoughts. “Now, where was I?”
The door swung open. “Dad!” Joshua called.
My thinking process shattered into pieces. All the thoughts I was juggling crashed to the ground around me. One word, “Dad,” annihilated my brain’s functioning. “Joshua, get out!” I hissed.
Joshua’s lips quivered, and his eyes moistened. A sigh escaped his lungs as his head sagged. His shoulders and arms went limp, and the little Lego creation hung lifelessly in his hand. All the life in his upper body drained down into his feet. He ran out of the room pulling the door shut behind him.
The click of the door latch twanged like an arrow piercing my heart. I quietly got up from my desk and peered outside the room.
Joshua sat in total silence halfway down the stairs out of sight from his mum and Hannah-Rose who were down in the living room. His back was to me, and he was apparently fumbling around with the Lego he had in his hands.
Through the grey cotton t-shirt, I saw the contours of his back and the form of his small shoulders. His frame seemed very insignificant and fragile. Psalm 103.13-14 came to mind, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those that fear him because he knows our frame and remembers that we are dust.”
As I looked down at my son from the top of the stairs, and in the weeks that followed when I reflected upon how I acted, it was as if God said to me, “Would I do that to you? Would I behave towards you the same way you behaved towards your child?”
Something’s not quite right
Do any of us apply these verses to how we act towards our children?
“You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” (Jm 1.19, NLT)
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph 4.32, NKJV)
“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Eph 4.29, NLT)
I doubt many of us do. We hear sermons, read Christian books, and look at encouraging quotes and scriptures on social media, and apply them to our relationship with God and other people, but we seldom apply them to our relationships with our children. A sermon we hear may encourage us that it is good to be patient, so we decide to be patient with the in-laws. However, we stay impatient with our children when they do not move quickly enough to get their coats on. A Bible verse may speak about being slow to anger, so the next time some stranger cuts us off in a car park we apply it by suppressing our rage. However, we quickly anger when our child’s cries impede us from watching our regular evening television show because it is unable to soothe itself.
Sinning more and more
There is a breakdown somewhere between what God teaches us about our relationship with him and each other, and then conveying that into our relationships with our children. As I think about this, what the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5.20 comes to mind.
“God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.” (Rm 5.20, NLT)
In the passage that this verse sits, Paul is speaking about the Law, which is essentially God’s list of dos and don’ts. He explained how the introduction of God’s dos and don’ts revealed sin as contrary to God’s lifestyle standards for humanity.
Humanity lived in darkness before God gave the law. The only notion of what was right and wrong came from the faulty moral compass that humankind inherited from Adam’s fall. However, God shined a light into the darkness by providing the law. It revealed what actions were right and what actions were wrong so that humanity’s sinful acts became obvious. God’s law made sin evident and put in place a process to atone for sin. The process usually involved going before the priest and performing a ceremonial act through which the lawbreaker made amends and was forgiven.
One way to think about it is by using a modern example. If there was no law in place defining a speed limit, we could go whatever speed we like. Our conscience may tell us that we are going too fast but because it is faulty we are still relatively in the dark concerning our actions. However, if a law was passed setting a speed limit of 40 mph and we continued to drive around at 100 mph, we would be breaking the law. The introduction of the law reveals our sin. If we are caught, we must atone for breaking the law by paying the fine or going before a judge.
The abundance of God’s grace
Although the law revealed sin so that it appeared people were sinning more often, God’s grace became more abundant through Jesus Christ who demonstrated God’s grace perfectly. Since grace abounds through Jesus Christ, we do not have to go to a priest or an intermediary to atone for our sins. Instead, we go to Jesus for forgiveness because he is the one from whom grace abounds. Moreover, it is through the abundance of God’s wonderful grace that he interacts with us as his children. In every area of our lives, no matter how much we obey or disobey him, God’s actions proceed from grace. His actions are always full of grace.
The abundance of God’s grace in parenting
We can see a parallel to this in how we raise our children. We put rules in place about how we expect our children to act and behave. Like the law that God gave, these rules are not bad. A lot of times we put them in place for the child’s good. However, as our children break these laws, they prove themselves to be lawbreakers and their sin becomes evident.
When our children break our rules we enforce them by making them atone for their disobedience. We may make them sit on the thinking step or take from their allowance the money for replacing the neighbor’s broken window. We see the broken law and enact discipline as a form of instruction and atonement. However, using God’s interactions with us as a parallel of how we should parent our children, we see that God does not stop at the point of where the law is broken and where we need to make retribution. Instead, he carries the process all the way through to grace and new life in Christ.
It is a strange thing, but it is impossible for grace to abound where there is no sin. If Jesus’ crucifixion tells us anything, it is that the power of love is best demonstrated against the background of sin. Similarly, it is difficult for us to express love and grace if our children never do anything wrong. We can hug and kiss them as much as we like when they are good, but it is how we behave towards them when they are unruly that will bear the most significant testimony.
When we see our children breaking our rules and sinning more and more, we must let grace become more abundant because it reflects how God interacts with us. This means that we administer discipline or correction through an avenue of peace and love. We do not administer it through a channel of punishment, revenge, retribution, or out of a spirit of “it serves you right!” It proceeds from the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh.
I realize that there is a lot to handle when approaching this topic. Because there are so many dynamics at play, I shall leave it to you and the leading of the Holy Spirit how to add what I wrote to your parenting toolbox. However, although I think Joyce and I are relatively good parents, my shortcomings remind me how important it is to treat our children with the same love, respect, forgiveness, and grace that God shows us. No amount of saying, “Serves you right. I told you not to do that,” or “Well, you’ve got to learn somehow,” ever justifies them as comments that God says to us. As the Bible says, “But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant.” (Rm 5.20) Let us make parenting a platform for our children to see the abundance of God’s wonderful grace.
How it ended
Joshua sat in total silence halfway down the stairs. His back was to me, and he was apparently fumbling around with the Lego he had in his hands.
I lightly stepped down the stairs to sit beside him and put my arm around him. “Joshua, when dad’s working you know not to disturb me. I told you lots of times.” I gently cleared my throat and pulled him closer. “I am sorry I shouted at you.”
Joshua focused all of his attention on the few pieces of Lego he had in his hands.
I pulled him in tighter and lowered my head to try and look into his face. “Do you want to play Lego? How about we play for an hour, then dad has to go back to work. Okay?”
He nodded sullenly and took my hand.
As soon as his hand touched mine, I realized that in the grand scheme of things, when I come to the end of my days here on earth, one hour playing Lego with my son will be a lot more precious to me than one-million hours of study and work.
Joshua led me to the yellow Lego box.
For more on this topic see “Cats in the Cradle.”