Becoming a Parent Can Bring Great Joy—and Sheer Terror
The weight of responsibility for an otherwise defenseless young life can haunt anyone. A child’s fragility, naivety, and trust can feel baffling and overwhelming. What if I drop the child? What if my impatience today leads to dysfunction ten years from now? What if I look away at the wrong time? Parents in the animal kingdom don’t seem to suffer from such concern or hesitation. Animal parents act by instinct, sometimes making brutal choices to ensure survival. They often act dispassionately in order to ensure their offspring live on and thrive to raise the next generation.
Natural Parenting? (Gen. 18:18, 19; 1 Sam. 3:10–14)
The prophet Jeremiah observed, “Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the Lord” (Jer. 8:7, NIV). While Jeremiah was addressing people’s disconnectedness from God, his words remind us that sin has stolen what should come naturally, our aptitude for raising children. God created us in His image, but we tend to raise children in our own.
Parenting can be one of the greatest catalysts in life for spiritual and emotional growth.
Children can bring out the worst in us. That is to say, without the Holy Spirit, raising children may just reveal more fully how broken we really are. Yet parenting can be one of the greatest catalysts in life for spiritual and emotional growth. Children can stir our most tender and selfless feelings. They can teach us how God sees us, loving us despite our frailty, weaknesses, and self-centeredness. When we seek to partner with God in parenting our children, it may shape our characters to become more like Him. With God working in us, parenting can make us more patient, more loving, and more self-sacrificing.
The Bible is a handbook for parenting with scattered counsel, providing broad principles applicable to various situations. It also tells stories of how parenting and personal choices impacted generation after generation. Abraham had a favorite son, Isaac. Isaac had a favorite son, Esau, and his wife, Rebekah, had a favorite son, Jacob. Jacob had a favorite son, Joseph. Abraham lied about his wife. Isaac lied about his wife. Jacob lied to Isaac about his identity. Jacob’s father-in-law, Laban, lied to him about his wife’s identity. Jacob’s sons lied to Jacob about what happened to their brother Joseph. In each generation, each parent’s poor choices caused conflict and grief. Only through confession and reconciliation could these life-shaping choices begin to be altered.
Life Lessons (Prov. 22:6)
One of the biggest rules of writing is “show, don’t tell.” What makes for effective storytelling also makes for effective parenting. As a popular saying declares, “Don’t tell me what you believe; let me see what you do and I’ll tell what you believe.” Children learn more from how we live than what we say. Put another way, our values are better “caught” than “taught.” We can tell our children whatever we want, but they’ll pick up far more from our actions than our rhetoric.
King David had a man killed to cover up his sin of adultery. Thereafter, David’s sons committed rape and murder, and they tried to steal his throne. And while David’s son Solomon stepped clear of the vengeance and violence that had defined David’s life and reign, he carried on David’s legacy of plural marriages, which led him away from God. Over the next four hundred years, the kings of Judah wavered between faithfulness and idolatry.
Parenting is daunting. Even people who walked with God, such as Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob, and Hannah and Elkanah, struggled to honor God as parents. There is no magic formula for raising children. Love, patience, time, involvement, praise, correction, faith—today we argue over the balance between such elements, but we all recognize that they are essential. We should also recognize that what we pass on to our children may not necessarily be what we hoped or intended.
A Quiet Turmoil (Prov. 3:5, 6; Isa. 43:1, 2; Jer. 29:11; 31:25; 32:27; Matt. 11:28)
Parenting offers no guarantees. We may never have the opportunity to have children. We may endure multiple miscarriages, or even lose a child to accident or disease. Our children may break our hearts with their choices and actions. In such circumstances, our heavenly Father may be our only comfort and support. He who is our “refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1, NIV), will not abandon us in our time of greatest need. The God who is love (1 John 4:8) is ever present. He will “never leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31:6, NIV).
1. How much of parenting do you feel is instinctive? What’s the hardest part of parenting? Why do people value parenting so much despite the stress it adds to our lives?
2. How can we counter the lingering impact of our unconscious programming, of generations of poor choices?
3. What would you change about your childhood if you could?
4. Why did God entrust parenting to broken human beings?