September 28, 2008
I’m going to share with you today something very near and dear to my heart. Parenting. You didn’t get the opportunity to see me as a parent. You got me later. But it was – and is – truly one of the greatest joy’s and privileges of my life!
When you meet my kids, you’ve probably said, or thought, what many have said. “You have great kids!” And that’s true, I do! I’m very proud of them! But, I rarely let that go without saying, “That’s because I worked very hard at it!” And I did. And I didn’t always get it right. And I went through tough times, and my kids did, too!
Parenting is a lot of work. And we can only begin to scratch the tiniest bit of the surface here today. I am considering holding a seminar on parenting. If you’re interested, please let me know. What I want to do today is give you just a few snippets of my thoughts, and a few of the guiding principles that I’ve used over the years. And let me warn you. First, I don’t have all the answers. And I think that’s a good thing to admit right from the start, and to stay humble. And second, I might say some things today that you don’t agree with. Maybe you won’t even like! So I ask for your grace, to hear me, and consider these things. I will try keep it simple and easy to remember.
I saw that ad on TV the other day, maybe you’ve seen it, too. In it, a man echoes a phrase I’ve heard many times – often from exasperated parents. He said, “Kids don’t come with an instruction manual.” Well, that’s not true. They come with a very good one! The Bible has a wealth of things to say about raising kids. I’m only going to talk about one today. But it’s a great one! It is Ephesians 6:1-4.
Now the first part of this is good, but it’s more a message about being good children. That theme will come later. But hear this anyway, because it’s a good setup. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother.’ This is the first commandment with a promise. “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’” (Ephesians 6:1-3)
Now, here comes the one I want to commend to you today. “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) I “cut my teeth” on the RSV Bible, but in this case, I like the words of the King James Version. It says, “but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Those are two great words. Nurture and Admonition. At the request of the Worship Team I included a definition of the second of those words in the bulletin. Just because it may not be as familiar.
The definition of Nurture is probably more well known. It is: “to give tender care to a young child, helping it to grow and develop.” Children need nurture. No matter how much we may discipline, we must lavish them with love! That’s the background of anything else I might say here! Kids need to know that they’re loved, that they’re secure, and that they are valued as people. But they need to know that without thinking that they are the center of the universe! That’s a tricky one! It isn’t easy to lavish love on them while at the same time teaching them that the world doesn’t revolve around them! But it is necessary.
That second word, “Admonition,” is the one I want to develop a little more here. It means: “a mild but earnest rebuke or correction.” It also means, “advice against doing something wrong.” If I admonish you about something you did, it would be a sincere challenge to show you the error of your ways. I might also admonish you not to take a certain course in your life, thereby avoiding trouble.
If it helps, you can think of the word as “discipline,” though this is a bigger word than that. Then, while you take those two words with you today, “nurture and admonition,” let me give you three others that go along with that word admonition. Those words are “Firm, Fair, and Consistent.” Those were my mantra for parenting for many years. I came to know that those are three things kids desperately need from their parents.
First of all our admonition needs to be Firm. Kids need to know beyond a doubt the seriousness of what they have done or what they might do. And being Firm is not easy. And you may not like this, but sometimes just a “Time out” will not be effective. In fact, I have to tell you, folks, I think that technique of “Time out” is over-used. It’s only effective to a certain point. As they grow, kids will learn to gauge the response of parents. And they’ll start to weigh in their minds whether they’ll do something they shouldn’t based on the anticipated response. “If I do this, I’ll get a time out, or maybe a lecture. And I can take that! That’s a good trade-off!” The “admonition” needs to have “teeth” to it.
By the way, let me say something here about defiance. Dealing with defiance is all about, “who is the parent, and who is the child?” That is so important! It pervades so many parent/child issues! If a child has a toy that you need them to give to you and they refuse, the issue is no longer that toy! The issue is “who is the parent!” You must deal with that every time! The less you deal with it, the worse it gets! Teenagers do not suddenly become defiant! If they do become so, many times it’s because that defiance was not effectively handled at an earlier age. It has not been firmly enough established who is the parent. And that needs to be established at a very early age.
We could say a lot more about all that, but let’s go on to the next word – “Fair.” Kids have an innate sense of fairness. The admonition they receive must be fair. In other words, the punishment must fit the crime. And, a parent should NEVER threaten anything they are not willing to follow through on. Kids will learn that every time!!
This, of course, brings up a very controversial subject – Corporal punishment. Let me just say here that I rarely had to spank my children. That’s because they knew I would! I took that kind of thing seriously and I never gave it as an “empty threat.” As a result, it hardly ever happened. (By the way, I’m glad for the moment that my kids are not here. Because one of the things I learned very early on is that ministers should rarely ever speak about their kids in sermons!!! It’s tough enough sometimes being a PK, without having your life paraded before the public!)
The last word of the three words is “Consistent.” That’s where parenting is the hardest, I think. It’s tough to have the consistency that kids need. Kids can be very persistent! They’ve got a lot of time on their hands!! Time you don’t have! It’s easy just to want to let things slide because you’re tired, or you just don’t feel up to it. And kids will know that! As one author said, they’ll learn where they can “get you.” And they’ll act out in those times and place. It can be the worst when it happens “in public!” Because you’ll worry about what other people will think of you. Parents need to know that people will think better of them if they are able to deal effectively with children who need admonition.
We could talk a long time about that one! But however that looks for each of us, we need to be sure to work on the stamina of parenting. We need to be consistent in our admonition and discipline. We need to be up to the task, all the time! Kids need to have that firmness and fairness in a consistent manner. They need to learn that they will always have that admonition. And we need to know that if it’s not consistent, it won’t be effective.
So there you have it. Keep in simple and easy to remember. Bring your children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Love them! Give them your time. Teach them that they are valued as people. Make their lives secure. But also mold their lives! Admonish them in the Lord. And as you do remember those three words, “Firm, Fair, and Consistent.”
May God be with you in your parenting and your grand parenting as well. And may you know the joy of that wonderful blessing!