Today’s the last day of June; the summer we longed for is a blast – swimming, friends, no alarm mornings, relaxed routines….ahhhhhh, summer!
And if we’re honest, summer is already a struggle, too.
- Maybe we liked some things about routine after all.
- How do I keep my sanity and get my children to clean up after themselves?
- How much more entertainment can I think of?
We’ve looked forward to some down time together – but now, reality is creeping in more than we’d like to admit. Our children are messier than we realized and we’re sounding more and more like nags than summer-loving parents.
So now we have a choice – a choice as old as time. Will we choose:
- Law or Love?
- Old covenant or New?
- behavior modification and compliance or maturing in heartfelt obedience?
- pleasing or trusting?
- the tree of knowledge of good and evil (independence) or the tree of life (dependence)?
All five choices offer the same strategies and outcomes.
It’s weird to think about it this way – but it’s true:
this summer we’ve been cast into the role of Adam and Eve and we’re standing in the garden…with God…and a serpent.
You know the story; you know the “right” choice. But what does this “in the beginning” story of two trees have to do with my family’s summer struggles?
This “in the beginning” story is always our story, too. Our family’s primary diet will come from one tree or the other.
We already know how to move through summer eating the fruit – and feeding our family – from the knowledge of good and evil:
- we control and demand
- we keep score (usually on a sticker chart or chore chart – more on the potential benefits of these charts later in this blog!)
- we manipulate – we’ll use blame and shame if we have to! “After all I’ve done for you…. or “You KNOW better!”
- we compare – siblings, friends…anything that might “help!” We never thought we’d say, “Why can’t you be like ______?” but if we’re exhausted and frustrated enough – we’ll try almost anything.
These choices are the very fruit of the tree we know offers only bondage, bitterness, bummed out summers, and eventually broken relationships.
“In the beginning” – we think we can please; we think our children can please. We forget that God designed relationships to work by “faith” – and only then, can we please. (Hebrews 11:6) What does “faith” have to do with summer sanity?
It is by faith that we eat from the tree of life – and are born again with a new nature. “On my worst day – I am Christ in me.” (John Lynch)
And it is by faith that we continue to eat from the tree of life – and grow up into all that is already true about us. I am a saint – who sometimes sins; I am no longer a sinner striving to become a saint.
It matters because I’ll live out of one identity or another. If I believe I am a sinner striving to become a saint – I’ll work to perform. As long as I keep performing in a way that pleases, I’ll keep relying on my self-effort to gain acceptance – and rewards.
Until I mess up; then I’ll hide. And then I’ll feel ashamed; then I’ll blame. (Sound familiar?)
OR – if I believe I’m a saint, who sometimes sins – I’ll grow up learning to live from my new DNA. I have a new heart that longs to obey; I have the heart of Christ in me. I live this new life every time I trust this new life in me.
My role is no longer a “performer.” I don’t have to keep living in the bondage of the old covenant cycle:
- find some version of pain relief – to relieve performance-induced stress and injury
- hide so I don’t have to perform anymore.
My new identity offers this cycle instead:
- work, restore, redeem, create
- enjoy leisure and relationship
- rest and restoration
And we can offer the freedom of this life to our children. We can remind them of their new, God-given identity; we can continually speak words of affirmation that remind them who God says they are. (If our children don’t yet trust God, we can offer them the hope of this new nature – instead of the bondage of the old.)
Born again as new creations – we get to help our children grow up into all that God says is now true about them. Will they let us?
Our children will only let us help them if they trust us. They won’t trust us if they think they have to please us – in a way that requires a good performance.
Because they’re going to mess up. They’re going to make a mess.
They’re going to forget they have a new identity; they’re still learning to trust the power of Christ in them – not just for heaven one day, but for a full and free life every day.
They’re still learning, because we’re still learning. We’re going to mess up, too. I can’t remember a day I didn’t make some sort of a mess; can you?
And our children will be watching how we respond to our own mess ups. Do we ask for help? Do we blame and shame others? Ourselves?
Do we remember who God says we are? Do we remember grace is a supernatural power that equips us to live a new life – that’s free to admit we’ve messed up without fear of condemnation or shame? Do we have relationships of trust? Do we ask for help?
You may be hoping for something a bit more practical by now. “Trust” and “love” sound like the choices we want to make – but what does this new covenant life look like and sound like?
I offer these practical suggestions to begin with; I hope you’ll comment on the blog with more practical questions. This blog is an invitation to join this conversation.
- Talk with your children about the fruit of the Spirit – as if these gifts are new tools in a new tool box; they are! In our old nature, we didn’t have the equipment we have now. Because of the life of Christ in us, it’s now actually possible to demonstrate love and kindness and patience and self-control…even when we don’t feel like it or when others don’t deserve it. We learn to use these new tools just like any other – we try them out. We trust kindness instead of meanness; we trust love instead of hate; we trust patience instead of impatience. It’s messy; we’re not good at it at first. But it feels satisfying – and it just gets better.
- Use a chart if it is a way of lending strength – and reminding your child what it “looks like” to restore order to chaos, or to help them remember the work that’s important to do as a maturing young person. Using charts to manipulate — or from a motive of behavior modification is fruitless; it might get your children to comply, but it won’t help them mature. Reward systems entice our old nature – to perform; side-effects of performance based systems include the raising of prodigals and/or elder brothers.
- If this idea is a stretch, consider this: if behavior modification worked, the cross of Christ was a waste. I’ve searched all four gospels numerous times; if a compliance-based system was a good idea, I’m sure Jesus would’ve used some version of one with his disciples. He didn’t; He knew a sin nature cannot be fixed or modified- it must be crucified. So He died and rose again – and because they trusted Him, His nature came to live in them. He gave them new tools in a new toolbox! He also sent the Holy Spirit to be with them and help them; we have the Holy Spirit, too. Let’s help our children learn to trust their new nature – instead of confuse them by attempting to fix their old one.
- Work together. Children will often do with you what they will not (or can not) do by themselves. Make beds together. Clean the kitchen together. Do laundry together. Mow the yard and weed the flower beds together. Work was part of life before the Fall and the Curse; work is not punishment. We work because we are created in the image of God – and as we work, we mature – especially when we work side by side. With experience, children will learn to work together – and help each other. More mature people enjoy helping less mature people grow up. It’s one of the most deeply satisfying parts of our new life.
- Allow real consequences. Play time comes after work time. Friends come over when your room is clean. When you make a mess – and you will, you clean it up. And it’s ok to ask for help. Without consequences, children grow up with no real identity – because they have no real boundaries. We don’t learn, “I am a worker.” or “I am a helper.” or “I can do laundry.” or “I can be kind to my sister.” without experiencing the consequences that happen when I don’t act like my real self. Consequences offer the boundaries we need to build a life of integrity.
- Be real about your own struggles. Be vulnerable about the ways you forget who God says you are; be honest about the times it would’ve been a better idea to ask for help. Yes, be age and maturity appropriate. Sharing your mistakes with your children invites them to share their struggles with you – instead of hide them. Trusting relationships offer a safe place to fail – and that is the foundation of a safe place to grow up.
Parenting is hard; we need each other. Your question may be the one someone else wants answered, too. What are your thoughts? What is your question?