When Parents Set the Bar Too Low
Adrien Segal (Guest Contributor for Desiring God)
Parents are as anxious, active, and vigilant as ever, but is that good? With all the time, and energy, and tears, are we really accomplishing what God has asked us to do?
Many parents take our responsibility very seriously because we love our children and want them to grow up to have happy, successful lives. While we want this for our children, though, what does it really mean to live a happy and successful life? What is the goal of our parenting?
The obvious answer might be that parents want their children to have loving, meaningful relationships, a good education in order to land a good job, money and resources to meet their needs, and the ability to do the things they enjoy doing. These are noble desires for all parents. As Christian parents, however, we must remember that God created us and our children for much more than anything they might have or experience here.
Making Mud Pies for Children
If our only horizon is the seven or eight decades our son or daughter might have on earth, and if we believe that happiness comes when we make enough to live comfortably and are able to do the things we want to do, it would make sense to focus on managing time and circumstances to make that happen.
Because our horizon stretches far beyond this life, however, and because we believe no comfort, possession, or achievement can ultimately make us happy, Christians set the bar much higher. As C.S. Lewis put it so well in The Weight of Glory,
It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Earthly success and pleasure are not necessarily bad, but when these are the goal, they are mere mud pies compared to the riches we have in Christ. The world may settle for less, but we believers know we were created for more. Much more.
Our children need most to know we were created by God not simply to live nice mud-pie lives for seven or eight decades on earth, but to be in a loving relationship with our Creator throughout eternity, joyfully living here and forever to bring glory to him. When it comes to parenting, this changes everything.
What Do Parents Really Want?
How do we know this is what we were created for? The simple answer is that God tells us over and over in his word.
Why does God himself do everything he does? We don’t have to wonder. In Christ, he has already made known “the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:9–10). Everything and everyone is heading toward that day when God unites all he has made and done in Christ — “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:14).
If you’re not in Christ, this is devastating news, but for those of us who know the joy of receiving forgiveness for our sins, of having a completely new life in Christ, and of grounding our identity in the saving grace of Jesus, this is wonderful news. We are united, now and forever, with God as his beloved children and made coheirs with Jesus himself of the new creation (Romans 8:17), as long as we joyfully and faithfully dedicate our lives to living for his glory (1 Corinthians 10:31), come what may.
Paul prays what we ought to be striving and praying for most — for ourselves and for our children,
that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith — that [we], being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17–19)
“Filled with all the fullness of God!” We can hardly imagine what this means. This is the glory C.S. Lewis was pointing to, and what we want to experience with our children forever.
Teach Them Diligently
We need to teach our children the joy of learning to obey what Jesus affirmed is God’s most important command:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . . And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37, 39)
Unless we make it our highest priority to live in a love relationship with God, we will quickly be distracted by the world and live our lives in mud puddles, separated from him and prone to fear and anxiety about our (and our children’s) purpose and future.
The truth about God’s astounding love for us, and his command for us to make loving him and glorifying him our most important priority, is what God wants us to teach diligently to children (Deuteronomy 6:7). When we, and our children, establish our lives on the foundation of loving God most, he is faithful to work the hardest things and the greatest joys for our good (Romans 8:28). Is there anything greater that we might want for our children?
Our First and Greatest Lesson
Now, some will immediately ask, “Can’t we teach this and work really hard to help our children have happy, enriched lives on earth?” And the answer is, of course, yes. But how we parent depends on what we really believe, in our heart of hearts, is the goal.
If knowing and loving God is just another important idea among many that our children will learn, a fact that we believe has little relevance to whether they’re prepared to get a good job or afford a house and a family, then we will send the message that what our children learn in family devotions or Sunday school or when reading the Bible is just more information along with math and science and literature.
But if we truly believe that we were created not simply for this world but to be in eternal relationship with God, that this God is sovereign over every single thing that happens every single day (in other words, he is in control, not we), and that, ultimately, our happiness hinges on getting this relationship right, our strategies change, big time. All of the sudden, all of the other things the world tells us we have to teach our children become secondary. Of first importance, we have to see ourselves as appointed by God to teach our children about the wonders of him and his loving plan for them.
Alive to God Everywhere
If we are going to do this well, we need to be sure we know what this loving, sovereign God thinks is important, and display and teach these truths really well. This begins from birth and means we need to be in God’s word every day with our family and also be part of a good Bible-teaching church. Children need to see our joy in this!
Then, we look at the world around us as God’s world. He is responsible for and holding together everything in it (Colossians 1:17). Helping our children delight in wonder as we see him in the things and organization of the world, and showing them how the largest and smallest things, and the whole sweep of history and science and the arts all flow from him, will open the eyes of our children to delight in the glory of it all in light of the truth we learn from God.
This is a dramatically different assignment than non-believing parents can or will understand. The beauty of Christian parenting is that, as we teach our children the things of God, we grow spiritually ourselves, and fear and anxiety about our children’s future begins to dissolve. Increasingly, we are sustained and inspired by the promises that this powerful God will be with us, encourage us, help us, and is the one ultimately responsible for the result.
Higher (and Better) Bar
The goal of our parenting isn’t simply to help our children find fulfillment in this world. We need to help them find fulfillment for all eternity.
Our heavenly Father will direct our paths and the paths of our children in this world and throughout eternity as we love and trust him. Christian parents, remember the goal: Teach your children that true happiness and success follow from doing what they were created to do: to love the Lord most and best, to see him as the loving author of everything, and to join in a loving relationship with him as they embrace the glorious good news of Jesus Christ.
When they begin to understand and welcome this reality into their hearts, they will not only be filled with confidence and joy; they will see their lives as the means they’ve been given to love and serve God and others, especially by sharing this good news. A different goal than the world understands, to be sure, but a far more glorious one.