I have three very strong willed sons. As they grapple for power and strength at 4, 7, and 9 there can be days of incredible discord in our home. It starts early in the morning, when the first awakens with a yell and a roar, then proceeds to wake their siblings (though they've been told not to). And so I wipe the sleep from my eyes and put the little lions back in their dens, reminding them of our rule to let brothers sleep until the sun is up.
Our days often begin with correction.
When I call them to the table for breakfast 1 out of our 3 comes on a good day. After breakfast 1 or 2 might remember to clear their plate. When I remind them its time to brush teeth and get dressed before school starts, again I may have 1 or 2 obey. I try to walk around the house taking them by the hand and helping them do what they've been asked to do, though often I end up losing my patience (by 7:30am) and pointing out all they've done wrong since they woke up instead. They are torn down before the day has barely begun.
I've read oodles of parenting books and love the idea of natural consequences, but when the onslaught of poor choices comes in such quick succession I don't have the time to think globally about each individual issue and instead I become hurt and angry. They tear through our home flexing their muscles and testing what they are allowed to get away with and what they cannot, and when I hit the end of me I begin tearing into them. It is exhausting. For us all! Sometimes I think we need "Super Nanny" to come into our lives and give us some help. But then I realize that the most Super Intercessor of all is available every hour of every day. And so early this morning (though not before my sons roared their good mornings) I opened up God's Word and came immediately to this applicable piece of encouragement.
For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you may be made complete. For this reason I am writing these things while absent, in order that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me, for building up and not for tearing down. (2 Corinthians 13:9-10)
Paul was writing to the young church in Corinth to encourage them in faith and right living — that's what we hope to accomplish in our own homes each day, isn't it? Paul says that even while he is weak, their strength gives him cause to rejoice. And I thought of my own weariness as I encourage my children in faith, love, and righteousness. Of course my heart's rejoicing knows no bounds when I witness the strength of faith, kindness and generosity in my children that leads to completeness, but how often do I stop and look for that strength which is being developed? Do I? Or am I too busy with the constant correction?
Starting the Day with Encouragement: Parenting is a tricky thing. Paul knew it and so do I. Paul went on to admit that he had to actively ENCOURAGE his family of faith through letter writing while he was away, so that when he came to them he wouldn't have to correct them severely. He wanted to enjoy them the way that we long to enjoy our children. Paul's parenting style isn't void of correction, but it is purposeful and well placed.
Paul corrected his flock through letters while he was away from them so that he could enjoy their healthy fellowship on his visits. Can you relate to that? I can. I'd love to have a time and a place and a means by which to instruct, train, and correct our children so that we could simply enjoy one another. A Morning Devotional together starts us all off on the right foot. We have not been consistent with this and I am convicted today that my husband and I need to get back into this habit. By God's grace, when we start our days as a family in God's Word (before things can spin out of control) there is an anchor. The boys and I often come back to the main point form the morning throughout our day and apply it to our hearts and our behavior. I believe a Family Devotional is a great application from Paul's example.
After the Encouragement: While the goal of training our children in righteousness is that they might be complete and know the joy of being loved by God and transformed into His likeness, I sometimes make the mistake of expecting them to immediately be transformed and complete rather than just starting out in this fallen world.
While I am learning to not expect perfection from myself in these early years of parenting, I realize with great regret that I have transferred the unnatural burden to my children. I read the Word with them in the morning and encourage them to be kind and obedient only to fall apart when they can't live it out. What a shame! And speaking of shame, that is what they walk away with. Shame and not grace.
So after we've done as Paul leads us to do with his example, after we've spoken encouragement and correction into their young lives, what's next? Affirmation and Blessing must penetrate our home!
Affirmation: Paul tells his charges in Corinth that he REJOICES in their strength. How wonderful to hear from a parent! He is saying that he sees fruit in their lives! How often do I purpose to praise and affirm my children in the midst of our days? When there is spilled milk can I affirm the way my four year old gets up to get a rag on his own? When one of my boys kicks over his brother's LEGO set in anger can I remember to praise my injured son for coming to get me rather than trying to hurt his brother back? I want to, but so often I board the ceaseless roller-coaster of poor behavior and correction and never stop feeling nauseous from the loopty-loops, and stomach lurching drops to find pearls to affirm and kind hearts to praise.
I've heard child rearing experts suggest giving 10 positive words of encouragement, affirmation or praise for every 1 correction we make. For goodness sake! With the rapid fire assault weapons my children seem to fire upon one another with, I'm not sure that is possible! My husband has been encouraging me to put the boys in their rooms whenever bad behavior starts to get unmanageable. Time away from one another isn't just a consequence, its protection! The time allows them to unwind and find their balance again. It also communicates "While we love you, you may not treat the rest of us that way. We hope you can pull yourself together so that we can play with you when you join our family again."
When they do rejoin the family is a great time to start looking for behavior to affirm. Little ones are eager to be welcomed back into fellowship.
Blessing: At the start and close of every letter, Paul blesses the people and encourages them with words like "Grace to you and peace from God our Father... The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all."
Every morning (that I'm not awakened by hurt laden cries and angry shouts) I try to greet the children with words of love and hope in the new day. When we load up in the car to go to a class day or on a fun adventure together I say, "This is the day that the Lord has made..." and they respond "Let us rejoice and be glad in it!" When they hop out of the car to be with friends or teachers I remind them "Be a blessing today!" And each night my oldest son asks "would you Bless me?" It's true that I sing him a specific blessing each night, but "Would you Bless me" is synonymous in our house with "Would you tuck me in?"
Its time I close and get the kitchen picked up and the folded clothes put away before I run off to get my kids from their play date. But before I go, let me say that after reading through 2 Corinthians 13:9-10 I looked across the page to the start of Paul's letter to the Galatians and one highlighted verse caught my eye:
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:20)
The God who delivered Himself up for us, in our sinfulness, did so on the very same day for our children. And so the life we live as parents, we live surrendered to Christ in us, working His salvation into their lives through His Power. But here's what we can do... Encourage, Affirm, and Bless them today and everyday.