Season of Parenting
Births are such a common, normal occurrence that often we don’t always fully appreciate the wonder that they are. Imagine what Eve must have felt holding baby Cain in her arms. The changes she experienced in her growing body during those months, the excruciating pain of childbirth, and then seeing this small child, so much like them, yet so defenseless. What an experience it must have been for Sarah, in her 90s and way past childbearing age, to contemplate upon the face of her own son, Isaac; she must have laughed every time she pronounced his name. After praying for a son for who knows how long, Hannah held Samuel and said, “ ‘For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him’ ” (1 Sam. 1:27, NKJV). The wonder in Mary’s heart, still a young girl, cuddling her son, God’s Son, with a combination of amazement and fear.
At the same time, not everyone has the privilege, and responsibility, that comes with parenting. This week we will spend time exploring the season of parenting with its challenges, fears, satisfaction, and joy.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 25.
Children are a blessing. But for some reason God doesn’t always bless everyone with children. Some hope and pray for a family, and God graciously grants their request, sometimes quite miraculously, as in the case of Sarah; others just as fervent in their petitions before God’s throne are met with deafening silence. Every time they see friends praise God for their pregnancies and when they welcome their babies, it deepens the depth of the wound as they consider their empty nest. Even such innocent questions as “How many children do you have?” serve as painful reminders of an exclusive club that those without children are excluded from, even though they may want to join.
Those who have gone through such an experience should come to accept that God understands their sorrow. The psalmist declares of God, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Ps. 56:8, NLT). Even though He seems silent, “the Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him” (Ps. 103:13, NLT).
Other people, meanwhile, for various reasons, might choose simply not to have children. One can understand in a world like ours, so full of suffering, pain, evil, and potential calamity, why some might decide not to bring more people into it. In some cases, some people might choose to adopt children instead of having their own; that way they can raise children who are already here, often giving them a chance at a much better life than what they might have otherwise had.
Our world is a complicated place, and we are likely to meet all sorts of people in all sorts of situations in regard to having or not having children. In whatever situation we find ourselves regarding the question of children, we can live with the assurance of God’s love for us and His desire for our good end. At the same time, too, let’s always remember to be as sensitive as we can toward people who, for whatever reasons, do not have kids.
One phenomenon the world faces is that of single parents, often but not always a woman as the single parent.
Sometimes we think of single parents as those who have conceived a child out of wedlock. However, that is not always the case. Hagar was pressured into having a child with Abraham and then was forced to leave with her child (Gen. 16:3, 4; 21:17). Elijah was sent to a village called Zarephath to help a single mother who was a widow (1 Kings 17:9). By the time Jesus began His ministry, Joseph, His adoptive father, had died, leaving Mary a widow and a single parent. “Death had separated her from Joseph, who had shared her knowledge of the mystery of the birth of Jesus. Now there was no one to whom she could confide her hopes and fears. The past two months had been very sorrowful.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 145.
Being a single parent is perhaps one of the most challenging jobs a person can have. Many face difficulties, such as managing their finances, dealing with the other parent, or simply having time just for themselves or to spend with God, and wondering whether they will ever be loved again.
We as a church have the responsibility to help single parents. James wrote, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble” (James 1:27, NKJV). One could add, in principle, “and single parents in their trouble, too.” The help we can offer does not have to be just financial. We could allow them to have some respite by taking their children for a little while so they can do other chores, rest, pray, and study God’s Word. We can serve as mentors to their children or help repair things around the house. We can be God’s hands in numerous ways to help support single parents.
When you wish to cook your favorite dish, you follow a recipe. If you add all the needed ingredients and follow all the steps, the majority of the time you get the desired results. Parenting, though, is not like cooking. No child is exactly like any other child, and even if you do everything just as you have done with other children, they can turn out different. This may have to do with their gender, the order in which they were born, their temperaments, or a host of other reasons. In God’s plan, parents would lead and teach their children to love and obey Him (Deut. 6:4–9, Ps. 78:5–7). The directive from God to parents is to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Prov. 22:6, NKJV), not to hover over children to make sure they never make any wrong decisions.
While we want to see our children go from cuddly, defenseless little people to independent, successful adults, our ultimate responsibility is that they come to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ. As parents, we can follow the plan for the spiritual development of our children outlined in Deuteronomy 6. There are four important prerequisites: That we recognize “the Lord our God” (Deut. 6:4), that we love Him fully from the heart (Deut. 6:5), that we treasure His Word (Deut. 6:6), and that we share with our children what we know about Him (Deut. 6:20–23).
Deuteronomy 6 continues on to provide two important principles. First, the “teach-talk” principle (Deut. 6:7). Teaching refers to formal education, while talking refers to informal instruction. In both cases, the communication of biblical truth takes place within the setting of the parent-child relationship. Formal times of teaching can happen during family worship as we study God’s Word with them. Informal teaching arises spontaneously in the circumstances of day-to-day life and is even more important. Everyday incidents can become effective vehicles for communicating biblical truth (Gen. 18:19). The second is the “bindwrite” principle (Deut. 6:8, 9). Spiritual truth must be bound up in our actions (“hand”) and attitudes (“head”), but also it must be inscribed in our private (“doorposts”) and public (“gates”) lives. It must move from our hearts into our homes and from our homes into the world.
Parents have a responsibility to be the disciple-makers of their children, so they will become disciples of Jesus themselves. There are parents who believe that the way to teach and correct their children is by applying physical punishment—the more, the better (Prov. 22:15, 23:13, 29:15). Passages like these have been misused to abuse children and force them into total submission, but often that also has led to rebellion against their parents and God.
The Bible teaches parents to govern with kindness (Eph. 6:4, Col. 3:21) and to instruct children in righteousness (Ps. 78:5, Prov. 22:6, Isa. 38:19, Joel 1:3). As parents we ought to provide for our children (2 Cor. 12:14) and set a good example for them to follow (Gen. 18:19, Exod. 13:8, Titus 2:2). We are told to direct our households well (1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12) and to discipline our children (Prov. 29:15, 17) while at the same time reflecting God’s love (Isa. 66:13, Ps. 103:13, Luke 11:11).
Sadly, the Bible reveals stories of parenting gone wrong. Isaac and Rebekah played favorites with their sons, Esau and Jacob (Gen. 25:28), and later Jacob displayed the same attitude toward Joseph (Gen. 37:3). Eli, even though he was a religious leader, failed to correct his children (1 Sam. 3:10–14). Samuel, who also was raised by Eli, turned out to be a very deficient father himself (1 Sam. 8:1–6). King David, by committing adultery and ordering a murder, taught his children who followed his example. King Manasseh sacrificed his children to demons (2 Kings 21:1–9), as did King Ahaz (2 Kings 16:2–4).
Fortunately, however, we also find in the Scriptures some examples of good parenting. Mordecai was a wonderful adoptive father to Hadassah, Queen Esther (Esther 2:7), and Job prayed for his children regularly (Job 1:4, 5). In all of these examples, good and bad, we can glean lessons on parenting.
Sometimes as a parent you do everything you should—spend time teaching your children the right things, live according to your knowledge of God, send them to good schools, attend church regularly, become involved in mission work with them—and they end up leaving the faith in which you raised them. The amount of pain is excruciating, and there is not a moment of rest from your concern for their salvation. The cause is not necessarily the parent’s fault. Children have minds of their own and are ultimately responsible to God for their actions.
Some have taken the words “when he is old he will not depart from it” as a promise, a guarantee that proper parenting will always result in their child’s salvation. But Proverbs often gives us principles and not always unconditional promises. What we can take out of this text is the assurance that the lessons learned in childhood will last a lifetime. Every child reaches an age when they either accept the heritage of their parents as their own or reject it. Those parents who were careful to provide their children with godly training have the assurance that what they taught their children will always be with them, and if or when their children walk away, the seeds they planted in their hearts will continuously be in them calling them home. Being a good parent is our choice; how our children turn out is theirs.
What should a parent do when a child goes astray? Turn your children over to God in earnest prayer. If anybody understands your pain, it is God, whose children, by the billions, have turned their backs on Him, the perfect Parent. You can support your prodigals with love and prayer and be ready to stand alongside them as they wrestle with God. Don’t be too embarrassed to ask for support and prayer, don’t blame yourself, and don’t be so focused on the prodigal that you forget the rest of the family. Parenting a prodigal can divide your household; so, build a unified front with your spouse and set clear boundaries for your child. Remember that God loves your child more than you do, look to a brighter future, and accept that your child is God’s work in progress.
Further Thought: “You should take time to talk and pray with your little ones, and you should allow nothing to interrupt that season of communion with God and with your children. You can say to your visitors, ‘God has given me a work to do, and I have no time for gossiping.’ You should feel that you have a work to do for time and for eternity. You owe your first duty to your children.”—Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, pp. 266, 267.
“Parents, you should commence your first lesson of discipline when your children are babes in your arms. Teach them to yield their will to yours. This can be done by bearing an even hand, and manifesting firmness. Parents should have perfect control over their own spirits, and with mildness and yet firmness bend the will of the child until it shall expect nothing else but to yield to their wishes. Parents do not commence in season. The first manifestation of temper is not subdued, and the children grow stubborn, which increases with their growth and strengthens with their strength.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 1, p. 218.