Gospel-Driven Parenting is Just as Much About You as it is Your Children

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

We recently had dinner with a couple who were the parents of four awesome kids, all eight years old and younger.  Over some Mexican food one night on a triple date with another couple, the mother-of-four turned to ask us for some parenting "advice."  She assumed that (a) since we had four children, and (b) since we had been married for nineteen years, and (c) since two of our kids are teenagers that we must know enough about parenting to help her with her questions and issues.


But we do know enough about ourselves.  

After hearing about the issues she was struggling with regarding one of her children, she became transparent about her struggles with anger and frustration.  She wanted to show grace to her kids, and not rush to discipline them.  This often looked like her letting her kids "get away with" so much, only to discipline some things and not others.  And even then there was an inconsistency often about which things got disciplined and which did not.

What she did find however, was that the longer she waited and "showed grace" that the more she grew frustrated with their misbehavior.  Eventually it would all come to a head and she would pop with frustration.  So she felt caught between a rock and a hard place, feeling that she had to show (what she thought was) grace while also feeling that this would always lead to continually blow ups.

Dealing with that issue in parenting is for another post.  We're still learning all about that ourselves and need a couple more years to get that under our belt.  Feeling some degree of certitude about what to overlook and what to discipline is sometimes difficult, especially given the fact that kids can come up with some many ways to disobey so often!  But two things we have practiced have helped us immensely in the last three to five years:  asking others we respect (whose kids are grown and walking with Jesus on the mission), and talking with each other (because teamwork in marriage is the key to consistent parenting).

With those two things on the table with the young mother, and her husband sitting next to her listening closely, I moved the subject instead to something just as urgent as her parenting needs, if not more urgent: herself.  It was apparent in discussing her problems and questions that there was an undercurrent of anger, frustration, irritation, unmet expectations, and perhaps even resentment.  One thing was obvious from my own struggle in these areas as a parent: if it isn't address it will drive every single thing a parent does.  

A parenting lifestyle of this sort ends up creating children who are just like us.  Then they grow up, think sometimes to themselves that they will be different when they are parents, have kids, and out of a reaction to their parents' mistakes and strongholds try to parent differently.  But because they are parenting from a reaction to their own parents' issues, they bounce away from one set of issues to another set.  Problem is, those other set of issues somehow tend to boomerang them back around to the same set of issues their parents had, so that they end up becoming just like their parents.  And the cycle is repeated with their own kids, who will probably grow up and do the same thing.

Exodus 20 talks about sin that passes from one generation to another.  There is something mysterious and spiritual going on behind scenes that is invisible.  It's the demonic world, the world where we listen to and believe lies that demons tell us, which in turn lead us to misery.  Lies are the basis of strongholds, which are nothing more than airports we have built with all the lies we've believed over the years.  With the runway full of lies built, the enemy can fly into the airport of our lives at will, wreak havoc like the terrorist he is, then fly out and leave us with the mess.

So the real question to answer, the real issue to deal with, as I explained that night to this young mother, is to ask the Holy Spirit what issues there are between her and her parents that are yet unaddressed and unresolved.  She admitted with certainty that she was purposefully parenting out of a reaction to how she was raised.  Not wanting her children to endure what she felt she had to endure, she was attempting to parent differently.  Her parents seemed to be overbearing on her, getting on to her for everything, often getting irritated and frustrated at her.  

This created a frustration in her which made her rebel.  Now that she's a parent, she's trying to show more grace and leniency to her children and not get on to them for every little thing.  But the sum result of her parenting is the same as her parents: irritation, anger, frustration, etc.  So the parenting methods, though different, produced the same results, which simply continue the same stronghold.  Satan and his demons are smart, huh?  They know that the method is not near as important to them as the continuation of the same results.

A bold and wise starting point in changing the course of your parenting then is to address and resolve issues that haven't been addressed and resolved yet.  Unless those issues are taken care of, you will continue to parent out of your stronghold and you'll pass that along to your kids who will grow up dysfunctional and perhaps become as frustrated a parent in the future as you are now!

Dealing with these strongholds is simple in theory, but difficult in practice.  

1.  If strongholds are built on lies we have believed for years, then we must spend quality time with God and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal these lies to us.  

As He reveals these lies we can acknowledge them, confess them as sin, ask forgiveness, and then ask for empowerment to recognize them the next time the enemy tries to feed them to us.  This is not based on some formula, to be sure.  In other words, this is not a plan or formula that you can simply attempt to follow in a morning devotional time.  If it took years to believe and build your life on these lies, it will take a significant amount of time to discover them, repent of them, get healing and get freedom from them.  Be patient with the process, let the Holy Spirit do His Work (as the Helper and Comforter), and receive the love and grace of God through the process.

2.  Since lies about other people generally produce resentment, bitterness and unforgiveness, we must ask the Holy Spirit to reveal who we feel that way about.  

When He does, we should ask Him to reveal all those hurts and pains we have felt and to heal them.  Ask Him to forgive you for not responding to those people with the blessing and forgiveness God says we should have shown.  When you become deeply aware of your own forgiveness by the Father, your heart will be filled with the ability and power to forgive others.  Then pursue that relationship by whatever means the Spirit tells you, in order to forgive them, ask them to forgive you, and see healing coming to the relationship. 

While these two essentials are simple in theory, they are difficult in practice.  Why?  For two reasons.

1.  This process takes time.  

Again, undoing the lies we have believed for so long will take a long time.  First-world citizens are so conditioned to do things in a hurry.  We love steps for doing things.  Five steps to becoming a better employee or ten steps to becoming a better parent.  Things like that are foreign to the Holy Spirit and to God's Word.  God is not interested in our steps.  He is interested in our sanctification.  And that takes time.  Yet His grace covers our every step of life so that He is guiding us to freedom and being patient and gentle with us the entire time.  So walk that path...slowly...patiently...waiting on God all the way, all the time.

2.  This process takes guts.   

As you let the Holy Spirit delve into the depths of your heart and pull up hurts from the past, pains in the present, and lies you've believed for years there will be much pain.  Do not underestimate the degree of this pain.  It is emotional.  And it goes deep.  But those are the places where you have allowed the enemy to build his stronghold.  Those are the places where lies settle.  And those are the places where healing is needed.  Those places are deep, deep wells where the healing waters of God's grace and forgiveness will go.  And as grace floods those wells, grace will overflow in your life.  But you must stick with it, through the pain and emotional turmoil, to the place of rest and healing.

I speak from experience in this post.  The things this young mother struggled with are things I've struggle with.  The cycle she was continuing with her children, I continued with mine...until someone came alongside me and showed me the way I've showed you above.  I've walked this road and continue to walk it.  And it has changed me from the inside out...and it is changing my marriage and my parenting in turn.  As a result, my children will not grow up to be like me, or my parents.  They will conform more closely to Jesus Christ, and if they catch this vision then their children will be even further along. In this way we destroy strongholds and prevent them from being passed along to the next generation.  Instead, we build new patterns of truth, take hold of our identity in Christ, and experience more effectiveness and empowerment in the mission God has called us to.

About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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