There are five minor prophets living in my home, all under the age of thirteen. They preach at me continually with their actions and words, exposing my heart for what it is at levels previously unknown. They are my children. When I became a parent, I thought I was ready to address the heart and motive behind their behavior, but I never realized how quickly they would address mine.
When They Fail in Ways We Succeeded
My friend was an amazing athlete and played sports in high school and college. His son can’t catch a ball. It’s hard for my friend. Why?
Parents often act as though our role is to shape our children into an idealized version of our younger selves. Were you good at sports? Your kids should be as well. Could you play the piano? Your children’s progress will be measured based on where you were at their age. Was school easy for you? It should be for your children. Love a certain hobby? They should too!
And if they fall short, we often drive them forward even harder toward our idealized version of ourselves. They must be better than me at the things I was best at. If we have the money, we pay tutors and camps and personal trainers to make it happen (which are not wrong in and of themselves). This is how we turn children into trophies. If they don’t measure up or surpass us, we may subtly begin to hide them and make excuses to others for their shortcomings.
But what does Scripture say of your children (and of God)?
You formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:13–14)
“I tend to judge others harshest for the sins I have been enslaved by most.”
Are our children wonderfully made to be exactly like us? God has uniquely created his image-bearers and gifted them according to his plan, for the sake of his glory, not ours. We are to develop, encourage, and use these gifts with humility (Romans 12:6–8). The apostle Paul might say, we should not force our kids to be a foot, when they are a hand (1 Corinthians 12:12). Perhaps we need to lay down the love for ourselves that eventually judges our children based on what we are good at and love.
When They Copy Our Sins
I used to cheat and steal. When I was a new teacher of high school students, I caught a student cheating in my class. I lost it. I tend to judge others harshest for the sins I have been enslaved by most. When my children try to cheat and take something that does not belong to them, that anger emerges.
As they have grown older, they have begun to mimic the faults of my wife and me. They are often the idiosyncrasies and sins that drive us the most crazy. And what is our response? Anger and frustration. We ask ourselves, What is wrong with them?
More like, what is wrong with me? Jesus’s words haunt us: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1–2). We may mock the postmodern world for quoting this as a form of protectionism from any kind of criticism, but Jesus clearly warns us about being harsh toward others without taking a long, hard look at ourselves (Matthew 7:5).
When we respond this way to our children’s sins, especially to sins they may have learned from us, we have taken the place of God, believing their sin is primarily against us, instead of him. We forget our own sinful nature and treat them in a way we would never wish to be treated when we are caught in sin and in need of help.
Paul writes, “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). We’re often quick to heavy discipline, and slow to gentle restoration. Why? Because we loathe our own faults and don’t want others to imitate them. Sometimes we punish our children harshly simply because they struggle with what we hate most about ourselves — instead of disciplining them like God disciplines us, in and through the gospel.
When They Restrict Our Freedom
We just want an hour of quiet, but the children want to talk. We want to talk on the phone with a friend, but by some magnetic force, the kids are drawn into the room. We need to prepare for dinner, but they want to wrestle on the floor below the oven. Kids get in the way. We laugh at situations like this, but they are a small glimpse of a bigger trend and problem.
Even having kids is delayed altogether today for personal and professional fulfillment. Once the kids have arrived, you mourn the vacations you can no longer take. There are things you want (or covet) to buy, but now can’t. There are ministries you want to join, but diapers and talking and training your kids leaves so little time. So, you cry out to God, wanting to do something “more significant” than discipling your kids.
“Parents often act as though our role is to shape our children into an idealized version of our younger selves.”
We live in a society that is growing in its animosity toward children, primarily because we view them as a limitation, a shift that has sadly infected the church. The abortion industry, which Christians tend to attack the most, is one (glaring) piece of evidence for a much larger cultural idol: limitless freedom. Kids hinder us from doing (or being) what we might do (or be) if they weren’t around to limit our options. We view them as weights around our ankles. It is the idol of self — of determining our schedule and deciding our priorities based on what we want.
The psalmist says, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3). God calls us to die to our definition of “dreams” and “impact” and view our children, not as limitations, but instead as our God-given gift and responsibility.
When They Choose the ‘Wrong’ Job
My friend worked in construction. One summer, the son of a wealthy Christian came to work with him. The dad showed up to work one day, turned to the son, and said, “I gave you this job for the summer so that you would never want to have to do it your whole life.”
We talk a lot about glorifying God in all we do, no matter what we do as a vocation, but do you find yourself let down by your children’s choice of work? You may have been steering them toward a certain career when, all of a sudden, they choose something totally different, and it’s not up to your standard. A common phrase parents say to a child is, “God made you for so much more than this” or, “God made you for something better than this.” The sentiment reveals a potential (and prevalent) idol: deep down many of us fear what people might think of us based on where our children work.
Where do we get this “so much more” idea? If our children have clear capabilities in academics or business, and they choose construction or farming, have they squandered something “better” or “greater”? Of course you need to help your children to see how God has wired them and gifted them, but choosing a job based on how the world will view you and them is something completely different.
Paul teaches us, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23–24). Whatever we do, we work as unto the Lord. Say it again: whatever. The verses are not just about having bad bosses and doing everything with joy despite how they might treat us. Paul is also saying that our children can honor God in almost any kind of work.
“Christian parents are the greatest hurdle most missionaries face in heading overseas.”
We should help them fight a far greater threat than a lower income or less recognition: against working for “selfish ambition or conceit” (Philippians 2:3). We should help them glorify God, no matter what they do (1 Corinthians 10:31). If we think about children’s careers in a worldly way, it’s likely we have valued other people based on where they work or how much they make. We may have never admitted this, but our child may be exposing our true idol and heart’s desire.
When They Want to Move Far Away
In my experience, Christian parents are the greatest hurdle most missionaries face in heading overseas. I know that sounds crazy. As our kids get older and leave the house, there is an unspoken expectation and hope that they will live close. Most men live within ninety miles of their mother-in-law. But sometimes God calls our kids to cross-cultural work in Bhutan or Pakistan or Indonesia — and they want to take our grandkids with them!
All of a sudden, all the talk about the importance of sending people to the ends of the earth is a reality. Singing “Let the Nations Be Glad” was easy when it didn’t cost your kids. And now you are asked to sacrifice by sending in a manner worthy of God (3 John 5–8). The hesitations in your heart are often plain and simple idols.
If kids are arrows in a quiver, eventually we need to unleash them. That could mean shooting them across oceans. Perhaps you should consider whether your emotions reveal that, at least in your mind, the Great Commission is really for other families if it involves sending your kids far away.
What Is the Root?
What is the root cause of all of these things? James would say disordered desire. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (James 4:1) It is why we covet. It is why we get angry. Those passions fuel our pride. We are by nature lovers and protectors of ourselves. We are by nature at the center of the universe, desiring everyone to orbit around us.
One way God reveals this is through the minor prophets that grow up in our homes. And when their preaching hits home, the response should be repentance and not self-protection. It is to lay aside our old nature (Ephesians 4:22), deny ourselves (Matthew 16:24), and choose to, instead, follow and treasure Christ.