Summary: There are many parallels between our relationship with our children and God’s relationship with His. We may gain much profit and insight by comparing these two relationships.
And you fathers, do not provoke your children to anger: rather, bring them up in the training and exhortation of the Lord.(Ephesians 6:4)
For this is the love of God -- that we keep His commandments, and His commandments are not burdensome.(1 John 5:3)
There are many parallels between our relationship with our children and God’s relationship with His. We may gain much profit and insight by comparing these two relationships.
Some children resent and resist their parents, even though outwardly they may obey. Others willingly obey for the most part, except for occasional lapses. The children of God fall into the same two categories. Some see God as a stern taskmaster whom they obey against their will because they fear the consequences of disobedience. Others willingly and gladly obey, although at times they may be reluctant. Certainly Jesus was in the “willing” category. Isn’t this what God intends for all of His children? And isn’t this what we desire for our own children as well?
How demanding the parents are goes a long way towards determining the children’s attitude towards their authority. At first sight it appears that there is a tradeoff between the parent’s level of demand and the child’s willingness to obey. But this is not really true, as we shall see.
Some parents try to teach their children obedience by imposing rules which are not in themselves necessary or useful. But does God treat His children this way? As far as I can see, there is no instance in the Bible (and especially in the New Testament) where God gives people useless rules just so they could practice obeying Him. Such rules may be useful in the army, where unthinking, instantaneous obedience is required. But for children, who are being prepared to become thinking, discerning adults, useless rules are the best way to gain their disrespect and distrust.
Some parents are demanding simply because they enjoy wielding power. They boss their children around as they themselves were bossed around by their own parents. Others justify their despotism by saying they want their children to grow up to be achievers. Unfortunately, their children often grow up to be the unhappy, compulsive overachievers that dominate the business world today.
The Christian parent’s own image of himself as God’s child often determines how he treats his own children. Demanding parents see God as demanding. Their practice of faith is rife with rules and restrictions that more easygoing Christians do not observe nor even recognize as part of God’s instructions.
How can a parent challenge and stretch the child while maintaining his willingness? The answer may be found by looking at how God parents us. He seasons all of His demands, especially His most arduous ones, with lavish amounts of love and personal attention.
What do your children want most from you? It may appear that what they want most is freedom to eat junk food, watch TV and indulge in other wasteful, expensive, and empty activities. If the situation with your children appears this way, it’s probably because they haven’t received from you what they really want most, which is attention and time.
The attention I’m speaking about here is of a particular nature. I’m not speaking of the attention that forces the child to perform or conform to parents’ expectations. Rather, this special kind of attention lets the child take the initiative, follows the child’s instructions, and responds appreciatively to what the child is doing. It is paying attention to the child, rather than requiring payment of him. It does not compel the child or tell him what to do, but rather invites him to open up and makes him feel like an esteemed and valuable individual.
The other day my son said to me in anger, “You always get things your way”. That really caught me up short. I was spending a lot of time with him, but I wasn’t paying him any attention. I was so busy instructing him that I had lost sight of his own individuality and integrity as a person. But to gain his love and respect, I need to sacrifice my own preferences for his sake. I need to play the games he wants, under his rules; I need to read the books he likes; I need to spend time with him when I’d much rather be doing something else. These things are often boring, mentally deadening, and exhausting -- but they are the sacrifices which count.
Paying attention doesn’t mean providing the child with expensive toys and amusements. Expensive amusements are in reality a cheap substitute. Parents often throw these things to their children like they toss leftovers to a dog below the table. They’re an easy way to avoid spending a lot of concentrated, exhausting time with the kids.
Children get hooked on expensive amusements, just like they get hooked on junk food. Once their tastes have become corrupted, it’s difficult to restore their healthy appetite for attention. What originally satisfied has been denied them, so they have found spiritual, emotional, and mental sustenance elsewhere. To bring their appetites back to a healthy state requires extra work and commitment on the parent’s part.