Over the 48 years I have been a parent, I have gone through several shifts in my understanding of the parenting process. For example, I began as a parent in 1969 when my first child was born with really little thought of what responsibilities God had given me in caring for this little one who was now dependent on Jill and me for everything. I was so ignorant I didn’t even know enough to be concerned, let alone worried, that I might not know some very important things I really needed to know about this parenting task I was undertaking.
Gradually, however, I began to understand that indeed God had
given to me, individually, specific task to fulfill: “Bring your children up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), and He had laid out some guidelines in His Word for me to follow. So, I set out with great effort to do just that, with the focus on using all that I was learning about a biblical family to inculcate into my children what I understood at the time about Jesus and His kingdom.
In the last few years I have been surprised by an interesting discovery. Not only is there still much more for me to learn about the Lord’s kingdom, but I have discovered that even after raising three children, who now have ten children of their own, there remains much more for me to learn about parenting.
You say, “Robert, it’s too late. Your children are grown and gone. Your parental relationship with them is over.” And you would be right. If parenting is just about training my children, it is indeed too late.
But here is the surprise: I have learned that parenting is not just about training my children, but parenting is first, and most importantly, about me, the parent. God has placed in my life a task that is essentially impossible to accomplish successfully. It begins with learning firmness, compassion, discipline, consistency, honesty, self-control and absolute self-sacrifice in the life of a little one who couldn’t care less. However, he/she holds in his/her tiny hand the heart of a parent in a way a husband/wife does not.
That little child, maybe now a teen-ager or even a married son/daughter with children of their own, retains the power to break your heart. As a result, we as parents are vulnerable in a way we would never voluntarily choose. So, God says to us, “Now I’ve got you where I want you. Now you are ready to learn!” When we ourselves finally become needy learners in God’s classroom, and realize that we are not experts with all the answers, our children will be much more eager to join us as learners too in that classroom!
When we are being stretched and things are not going as we had planned in our families, most Christian parents will pray and ask God for help. Generally, those prayers are for our kids and are some version of “God, shape him up.” Or, “ Father, bring her to her senses.” Or, “God, break his rebellion.” Or, “Lord, teach him (whichever character trait your child lacks that bugs you the most).”
But, if parenting starts with you as the parent, and then you are the key to the response of your child, there are three prayers that may be more effective than those prayers. The first one, Essential Parenting Prayer #1, is . . .
Parenting Prayer #1: This prayer was uttered by Paul as He prayed for the Ephesian church in 1:17, 18: “(I pray) that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your heart being enlightened . . .”
Paul’s prayer is specifically that the Ephesians would see clearly, with their hearts and not just their heads, what our sovereign, holy, loving, merciful Heavenly father is really like. But a parallel truth for which we also need the eyes of our hearts opened in order to see is what we are really like.
Lutheran seminary professor Gerharde Forde says that these two revelations occur together; we cannot genuinely see what God is like without genuinely seeing what we are like. So, recognizing the truth of Jeremiah 17:9 is crucial for all parents: “The heart (my heart) is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Certainly not I unless You show me, Lord!) I stubbornly resist looking at myself and my own sin because my eyes have not been opened to see, and I go blithely along blaming everyone else for the difficulties occurring in my family and all my other relationships as well. Since I have a vested interest in being a “good Christian parent,” I ignore any evidence to the contrary.
Until a few years ago, I had been completely unaware of a subconscious attitude I had toward my then 38-year-old-daughter, which she was experiencing deep down in her heart more than she understood it with her head. Next week I want to share with you this experience of praying Essential Parenting Prayer #1 and the ensuing result that completely changed our relationship.