As a church family RENEW is venturing through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. What began as deep, rich theology, has turned the corner to the “practical matters” of life. It’s as if the foundation has been laid, the walls are built, and the fixtures installed. Now we’re living in the house God built, full of grace and truth. He enters every room where life is enjoyed and helps us re-order it around the centerpiece, the Gospel of Grace. Next week is about work, our life vocation, while last week was about marriage. This week is about parenting.
1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.
2 “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),
3 “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
In our home we want to see these commands obeyed, from the heart. And not just by the kids. We are all children, even us grown-ups. We all have parents, whether living or deceased. We all were children at one time, with good parents, or bad ones, or mostly likely, imperfect parents who did their best and wanted us to become more than they were (with varying definitions of “more”).
At one time we children stopped obeying our parents, for we grew up and they no longer had authority over us. (Or if your parents were bad and asked you to do things against God’s good and pleasing well, then you had to stop obeying them earlier.) Yet we never stop honoring them. That’s the challenge for us adult kids, to keep honoring our parents, and pursuing creative ways to do that. Just as parents set aside what they wanted to do in order to give us what we needed, now we set aside what we want in order to bless them.
We’ve nicknamed our house the Greenhouse, partly because it’s green, but mostly because we hope to grow up our “starts” into healthy, thriving “plants.” A greenhouse is an optimal environment which provides everything necessary for growth. There’s food, water, shelter, and yet much more. There’s a healthy — even loving — structure and order of things, with a master gardener who ensures every plant thrives in order to “grow up” and one day grow roots down into other soil outside the safe confines of the greenhouse. It takes nurture and it takes discipline. Both are necessary in a nuanced balance. That’s the essence of “instruction,” which is really teaching. And teaching is more than telling others what to do and believe. Teaching involves a relationship; it means walking alongside others as they learn, and letting them fail in safe ways before — and so that — they succeed. Every teacher will tell you it’s hard yet wonderfully rewarding work. I am learning that good parents are teachers.
It is commonly taught (thanks to a landmark study in the 70s by the Carnegie Foundation) that parents should not try to pass on their philosophical and religious values to their children. Parents should simply provide lots of experiences and let the kids choose whatever path they want. Sounds great when it comes to careers and expressions of self, but I have to say that sounds foolish when it comes to core values and life philosophies. How will children learn right and wrong? Plus, if you’re not convinced enough to share your values with your kids, do you really hold those convictions?
In this Greenhouse the youngsters don’t get their own way, yet they’re loved and nurtured, with appropriate order and discipline, and given plenty of minerals for life: affection and affirmation. Jesus is the foundation of this home, and His life runs through all we do and share. He is the Master Gardener of the Greenhouse. His values are infused as the essence of the whole environment.
There’s an old adage that it’s good to want your kids to grow up and do well in the world. That’s a noble goal. Yet it’s even better for them to grow up to do good in the world. That’s character. Since I don’t believe there’s such a thing as pure altruism, it will take lots of decisions and relational transactions for them to trade selfishness for servanthood, self-centered ways of thinking for generous, courage, and wise ways of living. That seems like a better definition of success.
How will they learn to serve others and not insist on having their own way, unless they learn it by example at home? How will they learn to take risks and challenge themselves unless their parents are doing the same? We want to grow many things in this Greenhouse, especially godliness and virtue, which won’t grow “naturally.”
A friend noted recently how he wants to capture photos of his son doing good and godly things, even more than capturing the “cute” moments. So that years later his son would look back and notice how much admiration his parents had for him when he unselfishly served others, loved God, and was authentic and humble. That’s intentional parenting, even down to when and when to point, click, and shot the camera (or smartphone). There room for lots of creativity to grow in the greenhouse.
What is the foundation of your home? How will you “grow up” your children? How will you define “success” for them?