There are moments as a parent when you realize you’ve done a lot less clapping for your kids than you have disciplining them for sin. It can feel like all you do is battle them between errands and events, pick-ups and drop-offs, and much of what you battle lies where you cannot reach, inside hearts which you feel so helpless to change.
How can we enjoy our children in those moments when we can’t even think of them without fear of what might come?
Another Valley the Same
I have found it helpful to remember another hard place, a place where a man faced a dead, barren valley, helpless to change anything on his own. In Ezekiel 37, we read that God himself set Ezekiel down in the middle of the valley of dry bones. There was no sign of life, which is a lot like we can feel when faced with our children’s sins. Sometimes there are so many it’s often hard to even know where to begin — whether squabbles over a toy no one wanted the day before, or the refusal to say “thank you” when they should, or the incessant complaining when they don’t get what they want. It seems that everywhere you turn there is no hope to be found.
As they age, the subject matter only gets more complicated and the consequences more life-altering. An attitude of superiority and callousness towards another’s suffering makes you wonder where your tender-hearted son went. They have friends who trouble you, tweets that alarm you, secrets that worry you. It all combines into one big valley of dust and death. Imagine gazing at a valley full of it and hearing the Lord ask you as he did Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?”
That valley was over Ezekiel’s head, and parenting is over ours. He doesn’t know how to make the bones live, but he knows who does. “O Lord Gᴏᴅ, you know,” Ezekiel says (Ezekiel 37:3). God brings Ezekiel into the miracle of resurrection by telling him to do what he cannot do . . . speak life.
Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lᴏʀᴅ. Thus says the Lord Gᴏᴅ to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lᴏʀᴅ. (Ezekiel 37:4–6)
The Breath of God
And as he speaks, Ezekiel hears the sound of creation happening again, as from the dust, bone rattles against bone. There are now bodies, but not life — not yet. There is no breath, no life-force to animate their being. They are the shell of what was, the promise of what could be.
Again, we know this parable in our own lives and in the lives of our children. So often, we’ve seen them walk through the motions of a gospel-centered life, doing what they “know” is right, but without the power of the Spirit. They have the appearance of life and all the right structures in place, but the heart is not beating. They said they were sorry. They picked up their toys with force and temper. They mouthed “yes, sir.” Though you’ve taught them the form of what to feel, do, and say, you recognize in these moments how helpless you are to change their hearts. This is when we need the same thing Ezekiel did that day in the valley.
Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord Gᴏᴅ: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live. (Ezekiel 37:9)
God made them live.
God, being rich in mercy, promised that he would restore Israel. He would give them life, fill them with his Spirit, make them his people. Isn’t that all we really want for our kids? We want their hearts to be his, not just their motions. We want God’s kingdom to come in them and through them. We want them to treasure Jesus above all things. And what was true for Ezekiel’s day is still true for ours. The life for which we long comes by speaking of the words of God — by sharing, again and again, the word of Christ.
He Knows What to Do
Jesus has gone into the barren field, to the place where death once reigned, and he emerged victorious. He is the Resurrection and the Life. He is the one who makes alive. God didn’t tell Ezekiel to first bring life and then speak. It is the speaking of the words of God that brought the life, and that is the only way we can move toward the hearts of our children with hope-filled steps.
We can face the areas of sinfulness in them we once feared, convinced that the God who speaks life is able to breathe life into them. He is able to make them know him and live for him forever. He is the one who said the harvest of his people is plentiful, greater than the number of stars in the sky. He is the one who sent his only Son that your son or daughter might proclaim the wonders of his grace.
Teach the truths of the gospel to your children, “seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21–22). Go into the chaotic, death-filled valley of your kids’ sins and walk amongst it all because you know that every raindrop that falls on the earth today shows his mercy toward those who’ve rejected him (Matthew 5:45). Serve them with peace and humility because you can smell the breakfast cooking on the beach for a man who, three times, denied even knowing Jesus (John 21:9–19). Speak confidently of God’s power over every competing rule, including your child’s heart.
Do not fear the death you see in their lives. God knows what to do with it. After all, dry bones are all he’s ever had to work with in his people.