"Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up (nurture them) with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4 NLT). I didn't realize until I started making this list how much this verse has influenced my parenting over the years. See if you can see the many ways it influenced me (starting with the fact that Paul placed upon fathers the primary responsibility for parenting!). The principles are below. None of them were practiced to perfection--more than once my parenting flowed more from fear than principle--but there was a consistency that God graced us with, and it seems to have been what God wanted.
- Absolute commitment to living God-centered lives in every context. Maybe it was some bias in me, more likely it was a gift from Papa, but there was never any question in my life that we would "practice what we preached" and that God would indeed be the center of our lives as evidenced by our actions and not just our words. It didn't take me long after Jon's birth to realize that he was watching (and soon imitating) my every move, and from the moment of that realization there sprung a fresh commitment to live with integrity the Jesus life. More than once my sons saw me on my knees asking for their forgiveness (or me asking their mom for the same), and we tried to be consistent in modeling everything related to healthy relationships and the fruit of the Spirit. (Again, not with perfection but with growing consistency).
- Intentional prioritization of parenting. Jettie and I viewed the raising of our children as a sacred trust and the most important thing in our lives, something that eclipsed all other goals and destinies. I had seen far too many children marginalized in the name of "serving God" to want to go down that path, so my sons knew that they were valued above my personal ambitions even while they also learned to make room for Daddy's sometimes busy life. One of the many ways I lived this out was to have "Daddy time" with my sons every single night I was home. Every night we would go back to the master bedroom, lay on the bed and read a story (Chronicles of Narnia were favorites), talk about life and things and then pray. That practice continued even through college days for Jon until we finally moved away from him!
- Discipline early that set clear boundaries that enabled us to start coaching them early on. Danny Silk's book, Loving Our Kids on Purpose, does a better job of describing the coaching process and purpose for it, so I recommend you get it and read it! The early use of clear boundaries, lovingly but firmly enforced seems to have made room for instruction.
- United parenting. By sheer grace, Jettie and I were united in our approach to parenting. Our sons never had a sense of division between Jettie or me so they were never confused nor were they tempted often to try to play one of us against the other. This is probably more important than I realized at the time.
- Living responsively more than reactively. My experience with my own dad wasn't always positive, but early on Papa God made it clear that it would be counter-productive to raise my sons in reaction to what my own dad did or didn't do. I chose instead to listen a lot to Papa for how to live proactively and positively, seeking to encourage my sons, spend time with my sons, listen to my sons, etc.
- Listening to God helped more than I can describe. One incident early on comes to mind. I had come home from a tense church meeting (yes, those do exist!) and the boys (very young) were being rowdy or something. I exploded in anger at them almost as soon as I entered the door, striking the wall with hand hard enough to hurt myself. My sons were surprised and terrified. Immediately God spoke to me and asked me, "Do you remember that look? Do you want to pass that along to them?" My repentance was instant and deep. There we also many times of just sitting with Papa and listening (usually after worrying a while and trying to figure things out on my own!). I cannot tell you how many times God was faithful to give wisdom that could not be gained through human means.
I am sure that I will think of other things later, but these are some of the big rocks, I think. Please, please note, too, that all along the journey Papa was healing me up so that I could live the Jesus life from a place of increasing wholeness. If you are terribly broken and trying to parent, you need to pursue healing and nurturing from a loving community of believers.
Did these things work? Josh wrote a tribute to me several years ago which is too glowing for me to include, but one of his closing lines drills me to the heart and describes for me what the Grace of Parenting looks like: "From God's hand this man received the Christ-like heart that he needed, and though at the time he did not know it, his boys, on that large island, met God in him." (Thanks, son!)
Marveling at God's grace,
Tom, one of Abba's little boys
p.s. Wayne Jacobsen's last two blogs are amazing! Check them out here.