The second thing I have to share has not been easy for me to put in writing, and I have really struggled with whether or not to share this. I am concerned what I say may be misconstrued or that I may not state it articulately enough. However, it is so strongly on my heart right now that I feel I must share it, and I pray God uses it.
Recently I stumbled across the heart breaking story of Lydia Schatz. When Lydia was 4 years old she and her two sisters, one younger, one older, were adopted from the African country of Liberia by an American family with 6 biological children. Three years later Lydia, age 7, was "spanked" by her adoptive parents with a plastic plumbing pipe for so many hours that her heart finally gave out and she died. Her older sister was also hospitalized in critical condition but later survived.
As people look for answers to this senseless tragedy, one detail of this story has come to light. Lydia's parents subscribe to a parenting method that comes from a book called "To TrainUp a Child" by Michael& Debi Pearl. Many people believe there are some serious issues raised in the methods the book advocates. I admit I have not read the book in it's entirety, only bits and pieces. There are many things I have trouble with from what I've read, but I will focus on this from chapter 6 of that book: "use whatever force is necessary to bring him [the child] to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final."
The problem I have is with ruling, defeating, and trying to control a child. I believe that our highest calling as parents is to be a mirror of God's character to our children. It is in this way that as the child matures they will understand the character of God. This is a daunting task. We are imperfect and we fail. However, it should be our goal to parent our children in a Godly manner.
What breaks my heart and tears me up inside is the thought of children who are being raised under a kind of parenting whose goal it is to control a child's behavior for the sake of good behavior, or that in someway by dominating them & controlling them we have "saved" them from their sinful nature. How can these children ever understand Jesus as the lover of their soul? How can they understand a God who loves them passionately, unreservedly, deeply? Their view of God is going to be that of a dominating superior force whose goal is to punish them when they step out of line. And their version of Christianity will be to adhere to surface behaviors (legalism) all the while keeping their heart far from the Father who loves them so much. (Children who have had their will broken by force no longer trust their parents with their heart, and thus will not trust God with their heart either.)
God has made it clear, "People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (I Samuel 16:7). When Jesus told us that to hold hatred in our hearts towards another is the same as murder (Matthew 5), he was bringing this to light. It's not about doing what you need to do to fulfill the requirements of the law, it's about what's in your heart. As parents we seriously need to evaluate ourselves and ask the question, "WHY do I want my child to do or behave in XYZ manner?" Is it because I want people to look at me and say I'm a good or Godly parent? Is it because I will be embarrassed by my child's behavior and how I know people will be judging me? Be real with yourself! Are these the reasons why we want our children to do what we ask? Or is it because we somehow feel validated when our children do what they're told?
I have started reading the book, Sacred Parenting, by Gary Thomas and it fits in perfectly with what has been put on my heart right now. Gary states,
"Child-centered parents act nicely toward their children only when their children act nicely toward them. A child-centered parent goes out of her way as long as her children appreciate her sacrifice. A child-centered parent bases his or her actions on the kids' response. A God-centered parent, on the other hand, acts out of reverence for God. Regardless of how my children treat me, I know that God wills that I move toward my children, to get engaged in their lives, to offer Biblical correction and loving support. It doesn't matter how they respond to me as much as it matters what God has called me to do... When God does not supply our motivation, we tend to major in the minors and minor in the majors. We may raise a courteous and obedient child, but we won't pass on what is of ultimate importance. If parenting were only about behavior modification, Jesus would have praised the Pharisees and kicked dirt on the adulterous woman."
He goes on later to state, "C.J. Mahoney encourages every parent to ask their children a very insightful question: "What do you think your daddy and mommy feel most passionate about?" If the gospel does not come to mind, they may have picked up that we really care about avoiding embarrassment over their behavior, having a clean house, getting them into the best schools, or having a straight-A report card to boast about in the Christmas letter... I think children are our heart's mirror. How we interact with them truly does reveal what we value most about life."
I believe our motivation in parenting should be to disciple & point our children's hearts towards God so they can make the choice to respond to Christ someday (we can not make that choice for them). We should remember that God does not force his will upon us, rather it is "his kindness (or goodness) that leads us to repentance" (Romans 2). We understand our sin and God's love, his forgiveness reaching out to us, and it is our misery in our sin that causes us to reach out to him.
I do not want to come across as saying that punishment is wrong, or that we just need to be soft or weak. That is not love either. We create loving boundaries for our children, and if they cross those boundaries there should be logical consequences, just as there are in life. God forgives us of our sins, but there are still natural consequences that we have to deal with as a result. Then we begin to understand that his boundaries for us are because of his love for us and wanting what's best for us.
Parenting is not an easy task- not at all! We need God's help and direction. We need to spend time each day listening to God and asking him what our children need (another point well made in the book Sacred Parenting), as well as spending time listening to our children to find out what is going on in their hearts. God help us to be your ambassadors to our children and parent them in a way that points them to you.
God Bless You,
Some articles that talk about Lydia Schatz, if you want to hear more of the story: Beauty for Ashes blog. Mommy Life blog.