The world can be a scary place if you have kids. There’s the danger of online predators luring kids into meeting them in person. Kids can take inappropriate pictures of themselves or their peers only to have those pictures spread around on the web. Porn sites abound. Drugs and alcohol seem to be easy for kids to come by. There are kidnappers and sex traffickers and child molesters lurking where you least expect them, even in the church. And, society would have us believe, every teenager is having sex.
It’s a blessing from God that there are so many ways to protect our kids. There are all kinds of software locks and blocks and filters you can put on your electronics in order to keep your kids safer when it comes to technology. There are phone apps that allow you to track your child’s location, and do it yourself drug testing kits, and breathalyzer attachments you can put on your car to keep your child from driving drunk. And then there are the more “analog” precautions of keeping the family computer in a common room, scrolling through your child’s phone log every day and asking about each call or text, banning sleepovers, and never letting her spend time alone with friends.
Certainly, we should use wisdom about the activities we let our kids take part in. Maybe some of those locks, blocks, and filters, or restrictions on places she can go and people she can see would be a wise idea for your family, especially if your child has proved herself untrustworthy with the freedom you’ve already given her.
But, increasingly, as I hear Christian parents in a near frenzy about installing multiple security measures on their electronics or the car and making all kinds of restrictions on activities with friends – not to clamp down on a rebellious child, but to prevent children from getting into trouble who have never showed any signs of rebellion – I have to wonder, what’s the foundational mindset here?
Are we putting these safety measures in place because we’ve prayed about it and believe it’s reasonable, godly wisdom, or are we putting these safety measures in place out of the fear of evil, or because we trust devices and restrictions more than we trust God and our kids? For the Christian, it’s not that it’s wrong or bad to take precautions – indeed, God doesn’t want us to be careless or foolish – it’s the motivation for the precautions we take that we need to examine.
Do we really trust God with our kids, or are we taking matters into our own hands out of fear?
Trusting God can be scary. We can’t see Him, hear Him, or touch Him, and He never promised us a life free from difficult or painful circumstances. It’s much easier and more comforting to our flesh to trust something tangible. Something that guarantees us it’ll do what we want it to do. It reminds me of an event that took place toward the end of King Asa’s life in 2 Chronicles 16.
Asa was one of the good kings of Judah. He “did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God. He took away the foreign altars and the high places and broke down the pillars and cut down the Asherim and commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to keep the law and the commandment.” (2 Chronicles 14:2-4) But one day, Baasha, king of Israel, came up against Judah. Did Asa cry out to the Lord, trusting Him to help, as he had years before when the Ethiopian army came out against him? No. Asa’s response was to gather up a truckload of silver and gold from the palace and the temple and bribe the king of Syria to break his covenant with Israel and attack them. Instead of fully trusting in the Lord and seeking His help and guidance, Asa took matters into his own hands and attempted to protect Judah with his own strength.
We love our children. We don’t want to see them hurt or fall into sin. We want to do whatever we can to protect them. Those are all good and godly desires of the heart. But we must make sure we are seeking and trusting God and His ways first instead of acting upon our fears and relying on our own strength.
What are God’s ways? How does He “Father” us? How can we imitate our Heavenly Father as we parent?
1. God makes clear that He is the Father and we are the children.
Throughout Scripture, God is crystal clear that He is the one in charge. He made us, He sets the rules, He provides for us, He protects and cares for us, He knows what’s best for us. Because of all this, He instructs us, our responsibility is to be obedient children.
Do you and your children understand that you are the parent? That you are in charge and that they are to obey? That you make the rules and they are to follow them? Are the roles of parent and child clearly defined in your home with a godly authority structure in place?
2. God spells out what He expects from us.
The Bible is chock full of explicit commands. Sometimes God tells us what to do. Sometimes He tells us what not to do. Often, He explains why He is telling us to do or not do a certain thing. We can always rest assured that all of His commands are for our own good, the good of others, and the glory of God, and that they flow out of His great love for us. But God never accepts excuses for disobedience. He expects us to obey.
Have you thoughtfully and prayerfully developed rules for the online and offline activities your child participates in? Have you sat her down and lovingly explained the rules to her, answering any questions she might have? Does she have a clear understanding of what the rules are and how to obey them? Does she grasp your expectation that she will obey the rules without excuses?
3. God warns us of the consequences and dangers of disobedience and the blessings of obedience.
God doesn’t hide the unpleasant truth from us that the wages of sin is death. In fact, He gives us enough of a description of that eternal death to help us understand that we don’t want to go there. He explains that He disciplines those He loves in order to keep them away from sin and harm. But God also reminds us of the blessings of obedience – that it will help us flourish, grow in joy, and bring glory to God.
Have you warned your child of the consequences for disobeying your rules about her activities? Do you carefully and consistently enforce those consequences? Have you explained to her that the reason there are disciplinary consequences for her disobedience is to protect her from danger and sin? It’s neither necessary nor appropriate to go into all of the specific, terrifying details of child trafficking or the disgusting elements of pornography, but our children must have an age-appropriate understanding of the very real dangers that are out there.
And it’s just as important to explain the blessings of obedience to your child: she won’t have to live in fear or in shame, she’ll be protecting her purity for marriage, her health, or her life, her parents will trust her, and she’ll be acting in a way that’s pleasing to God. Maybe you’ll even be more inclined to give her extra privileges.
4. God doesn’t give the consequences before the sin.
Look at what Jesus said in Matthew 5:29-30 with regard to lust:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Jesus doesn’t tell us to gouge out an eye or cut off a hand as a precaution to prevent lust that has not taken place. He tells us to respond to sin with an appropriate consequence.
Is there any way you might be “maiming” your child to prevent her from committing sin – especially sin she’s never shown an interest in or temptation to? Maybe it’s time to reconsider that rule or restriction? Conversely, do you have a child who struggles with a particular sin? She may need your love and your help mortifying that sin by “gouging out the eye” of the internet or “cutting off the hand” of that destructive friendship.
5. God wants our obedience to be motivated by our love for Him.
God doesn’t want us to obey Him because we have an unbiblical view of Him as a mean old ogre and we’re terrified of Him. He also doesn’t want us to obey Him in order to get something from Him, to impress others, or just to go through the motions. God wants us to want to obey Him because we love Him.
Have you fostered an environment of sacrificial love for your children in your home? Do you lay down what you want or how you feel to do what’s best for them? Do you invest time in them, pouring the gospel into them, teaching them God’s Word, and demonstrating that we obey Christ because we love Him? Do you take time to talk and play with your children? Do you tell them you’re proud of them? Discipline them and say no when necessary? Are you generous with hugs, “I love you’s”, and encouragement? Do you encourage them to develop their talents and skills? Having parents who love their children in a godly way doesn’t guarantee obedience, but it does encourage it.
6. God doesn’t micromanage every move we make.
At least not the way humans sometimes micromanage. Have you ever noticed that there are no commands in the Bible like, “Thou shalt wear blue socks every Tuesday,” or “Thou shalt not stay up past 11:38 p.m.”? Regulating every little thing we do isn’t God’s way. He loves us and cares for us, He tells us what He expects from us and the consequences of obeying and disobeying Him, and then He gives us space within those parameters to make decisions that are aligned with His will as revealed in His Word. As long as we’re not violating any of His principles or commands and we’re exercising godly wisdom, it’s fine with Him if we want to wear red socks on Tuesday or stay up until midnight.
Our children need space to make decisions within the confines of the rules we’ve set up, especially children who haven’t given us any reason not to exercise reasonable trust in them. Nitpicking, checking, regulating, and hovering over every little move your child makes is smothering and frustrating to her. It says, “I don’t trust you to do what’s right without constant monitoring from me.”
7. God allows us to fail.
I once read the biography of a girl who went blind. She enrolled in a life skills class at a school for the blind to learn how to navigate the world. During orientation, her counselor showed her around the common room of the dorm she was staying in. The counselor took her hand, placed it on the protruding mantel of the fireplace and said, “This is a sharp corner. You’ll need to watch out for it.” The girl gasped, “That’s dangerous! Why don’t you put some padding on it?”. The counselor replied, “You need to learn to be careful and aware of your surroundings. Nobody’s going to pad the sharp corners of the world for you.”
God doesn’t pad the sharp corners of the world for us, either. He doesn’t put us in a protective little bubble where we’ll never be hurt or fail or sin. He gives us everything we need for life and godliness in His Word and allows us to obey or disobey Him. Even when we fail, give in to temptation, and sin.
Consider that your child needs to learn the skill of facing and resisting temptation on her own. Give her enough age appropriate, situation appropriate freedom to do that – and to fail at it and repent – in the spiritual safety of your home. One day you won’t be there to put a lock on the computer. God will hold her responsible for her own sin. Will your child have developed the spiritual strength to say no to temptation when there’s nobody to stop her?
If you are a parent, job one is not your career, it’s parenting. Generally speaking (yes, there are sometimes exceptions and exigent circumstances), that means, Mom, your primary vocation is to raise your own children. Don’t just assume you have to work outside the home. Pray fervently for God to make a way for you to raise your children. Be creative and look for ways to get out of the workforce and get home. Slash every possible expense. Move. Eat at home. Home school instead of private school. Sell a vehicle. Bargain hunt. Find a way to earn money from home. Make the effort. Your children don’t just need any random person to raise them, they need you.
Are we imitating our Heavenly Father in the way we parent? Do we cry out to Him for wisdom in the rules and restrictions we set for our children, trusting Him to help us and to protect our children? Or do we live in fear of what might happen, worrying and trying to protect our children in our own strength?
As much as we’d like to sometimes, we can’t build walls around our children to protect them from every sin or from anything bad ever happening to them. That is not how God deals with us. He loves, cares, and provides for us. He disciplines us appropriately when we need it. He clearly spells out what He expects from us. He warns us of the dangers and consequences of disobedience and teaches us the blessings of obedience. It’s then up to us to decide whether we love Him enough to obey Him, or if we’d rather go our own way.
Do we parent our children like God “parents” us?