"If you ask parents what is the most important thing they can do to raise children who will follow Christ, some will mention adequate discipline, others enrollment in a Christian school, still others the importance of homeschooling or Bible reading. They rarely mention example. Yet example is the first principle of parenting." William Farley, (pg. 107)That statement is enough to really put fear into me. In fact, I really didn't like the whole first part of this chapter. I felt like a bigger and bigger weight of despair was sitting on my chest. It is probably what Jesus' disciples felt when Jesus explained the true meaning of the law to them in the Sermon on the Mount. He showed them how what they thought were "keepable" laws were really deeper heart issues. Not just "Do not murder" but "Do not hate", not just "Do not commit adultery" but "Do not lust in your heart". He reveals the depth of our depravity when we realize that we cannot keep God's standards of holiness. And this is how I felt when I read the statement above. Even though it would require a lot of effort and commitment from me, I could do all the right actions (homeschooling, bible reading, discipline) that might guarantee that my kids would follow Christ, but if my example is the standard... I am crushed. Does that mean there is something wrong with the standard? Is Farley wrong about "example" being the main tool in our toolbox to raise children who follow Christ? I don't think he is. I think there are definitely those who have come to Christ in spite of their parents' examples, but if I am thinking solely of what MY responsibility to my kids is, it would not just be words, but a consistant example of what it means to follow God. Did I mention how much I felt crushed by this?
Christ is the only example that perfectly reflects what it means to follow God. So, should I just try harder and hopefully I'll come pretty close and God will say, "Well, you tried, I guess that is good enough, no one is perfect, of course, and your heart was in the right place"? I don't think that is it. But that is what I would have thought was the right answer for most of my life. Just try harder. Farley perfectly describes what I am feeling when he says, "Aware of the importance of example, sincere parents strive to model the gospel - but the harder they try, the more aware of their failings they become." (pg. 118)
Obviously trying harder is NOT gospel powered parenting.
The answer, Farley says, is humility.
"The key to the family functioning as a redemptive community, where the Gospel is the glue that holds the family together, is parents who so trust in Christ that they are ready and willing to confess their faults to their children." - Paul David Tripp (quoted on pg. 119)
Let me open up a window on my life to show the opposite of humility... Let's say I show ungodly anger to my children in a moment of frustration and unrestraint. When I realize my sin, I feel shame- my pride causes me to want to ignore the action and move on. Listen in on my conversation with myself... "After all, I apologized to them for the same kind of outburst yesterday - they will think that I didn't really mean it. If I'm constantly apologizing, they won't respect me anymore. In order to maintain my authority, I am not going to apologize for this, I'm just going to move on. They were disobeying me, they need to know that they can't continue to push me this far. In fact, my anger is just the consequences of their continued disobedience!" OK, that was embarrassing... but do you see how all that guilt, shame, justification and blaming all came from basically the sin of pride? I don't want to admit (to my children, or to myself) that I don't have it all together! (I still think that I have some merit in me that deserves the favor that God has given to me.)
So how does the gospel help with my problem?
A few helpful quotes from Farley...
The gospel opens my eyes to who I really am - "wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked" (Rev. 3:17). "Biblical humility," notes G. A. Pritchard, "is not some self-induced groveling or hang-dog attitude. Biblical humility is seeing ourselves as we are. Humility is a response to beholding the holiness of God." (pg. 118)
"Those who meditate on the message of the cross strive for holiness. Their efforts only make them more aware of their failings. This causes them to run to the cross for forgiveness more frequently. It causes them to need the cross more desperately. All of this happens because they feel the weight of their sins more biblically."
What is the effect of this humility in parenting?
"Confession sends a crucial message to our children. It reminds them that, yes, my parents are imperfect, but they are deadly earnest about following Christ, about wanting to change, and about doing things God's way." (pg. 120)
And I no longer feel crushed, I feel freed.
I hope that you got as much out of this chapter as I did, even though I really had to wrestle with it. I didn't touch at all on Farley's emphasis on marriage from this chapter, because it was not the area that struck me most. Please feel free to comment on that aspect of the chapter if it is what struck you.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment on any chapter that you have finished either here or on that chapter's post. You can find all the posts here. I find that writing out my reflections really helps me to cement them - maybe you will too.