RELATIONSHIP RESCUE – JESUS STYLE: Some Encouraging Words for Parents and Their Children
Back in the 17th century, John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, made this rather astute observation: “Before I got married, I had six theories about bringing up children. Now I have six children and no theories.”
I understand the feeling. After rearing three children in our family, Trisha and I are not long on theories. However, we are convinced that there are some very basic principles which apply to those seeking to build solid relationships between parents and children. And in order to highlight those principles, I would like for us to focus today on an incident which took place in the life of Jesus. It’s fascinating when you stop to think about it that Jesus is the most talked about, the most investigated, the most researched, the most studied figure in all of human history, and yet, we have only one recorded incident from His childhood. Today I want us to focus on that single incident.
Mary and Joseph and their twelve-year-old son, Jesus, together with some other friends and relatives, left Nazareth and journeyed to Jerusalem for the religious festival known as the Passover. When the festival ended, they began the return trip home to Nazareth. Now it is important to understand that, as was the custom in that day, women and children in the party would leave first, early in the morning. The men, able to walk at a more rapid pace, would depart later in the day, carrying with them the luggage and supplies. Toward the end of the day, the men would catch up with the women and the children and they would then spend the night together, continuing their journey in the same fashion on the next day. Consequently, that was the way Mary, Joseph, Jesus and the others started out from Jerusalem headed home to Nazareth after the Passover. Mary was aware of the fact that Jesus was not with her and the other women and children, but Jesus was now twelve years old. The Scripture specifically informs us of that fact, and in ancient Judaism, when you were twelve years old, you were considered to be a man. So Mary, noting Jesus’ absence, simply assumed that since He had reached the age of manhood, He would be traveling with Joseph and the other men and would be along later. Joseph, on the other hand, realized that Jesus was not with him, and therefore, assumed that because Jesus was still quite young and because the journey would be quite long, He had more than likely gone ahead with the women as had been His habit up to that point. So you see, Mary assumed that Jesus was with Joseph and Joseph assumed that Jesus was with Mary. In fact, He was with neither of them.
When they realized that inadvertently, they had left Jesus behind in Jerusalem, they immediately turned around and headed back to the city searching for Him with a growing sense of desperation. At last, they found Him in the Temple and Jesus said to them: “Why were you worried about me? Did you not know that I would be in My Father’s house?” Then we are told that Jesus rejoined His parents and returned home to Nazareth and there He was obedient to them. The whole story ends with this wonderful line: Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in divine and human favor. In other words, Jesus grew strong and wise and He was loved by God and by other people as well.
Isn’t that beautiful? I want to suggest that that is the ideal all of us want for our children and our grandchildren. We want them to grow as Jesus did. Our desire is that they will be physically fit—strong and healthy, that they would be mentally alert—not only bright, but have discernment and wisdom, that they will be socially well-adapted—being loved, liked and accepted by others, that they would be spiritually strong—having a deep, meaningful relationship with God. So much of who we are as parents and grandparents is invested in our children and grandchildren. So much of our happiness and contentment, as we grow older in life, is centered on who they are and what they become. Ideally, then, we want our children and grandchildren to have a sense of self-worth, an inner serenity and peace, a commitment of purpose, an experience of contentment. We want our children and our grandchildren to be like Jesus; to grow both strong and wise, to be loved by God and by other people as well.
Now let’s bring the experience of Jesus and His family into our own time.
I can tell you that as a parent and now as a grandparent that it takes extraordinary commitment and perseverance to create a satisfying, fulfilling home and family life, to create the kind of place where children can grow to become everything God means for them to be.
The late Erma Bombeck writes with riotous good humor and rare insight into life’s realities and gives us a hint of the perseverance that is required when she writes: “I always knew that raising kids, if you did it right, might impair you from living a normal life. My tongue was nearly severed by an eight-month-old baby who positioned himself under my chin and then stood up. Motherhood is definitely not for sissies. You must have courage to enter a car with a teenage driver who releases the hood on the expressway, thinking he is turning on the lights. You must have stamina to drag a preschooler on your leg for two blocks while he is dragging a bubblegum machine behind him. You must have firmness to say ‘do not force those car keys up Mommy’s nose or Mommy will pass out.’ Other mothers have similar stories. One was numb as she checked into a hospital. When she was asked the cause of her dizziness she replied: ‘I was hit by a truck.’ She didn’t have the heart to tell the admissions nurse that it was a toy dump truck dropped on her from a bunkbed. Another mother had not seen her son’s bedroom for a year and a half. When she pushed open the door and looked in, she lost the sight in her good eye.” Yes, it does take perseverance and commitment. If our children and grandchildren are going to grow strong and wise, if they are to be loved by God and by other people as well, then they must grow up in the midst of loving relationships at home. Of course, a healthy love for children does not mean letting them do anything they want to do, it does not mean letting them run wild. Children need parameters and guidelines. Not long ago, the Houston Police Department published a little circular which was widely distributed in the city of Houston. The circular was entitled:
For Parents: Twelve Easy Ways to Turn Your Children into Delinquents
1. Begin at infancy to give your children everything they want. In this way they will grow up to believe the world owes them a living.
2. When they pick up bad language, laugh at them. This will make them think they are cute.
3. Never give them any spiritual training. Wait until they are twenty-one and then let them decide for themselves.
4. Avoid use of the word wrong. It may develop a guilt complex. This will condition them to believe later, when they are arrested for stealing a car, that society is against them and that they are being persecuted.
5. Pick up everything they leave lying around—books, shoes, clothes. Do everything for them so that they will be experienced in throwing all responsibilities on others.
6. Let them read any printed matter they can get their hands on. Be careful that the silverware and the drinking glasses are sterilized, but let their minds feast on garbage.
7. Quarrel frequently in the presence of your children. In this way they will not be too shocked when the home is broken up later.
8. Give children all the spending money they want. Never let them earn their own way. Why should they have things as tough as you had them?
9. Satisfy their every craving for food, drink and comfort. See that every sensual desire is gratified. Denial may lead to harmful frustration.
10. Always take their side against neighbors, teachers or policemen. They are prejudiced against your children.
11. When they get into trouble, apologize for yourself by saying “I never could do anything with them.”
12. Prepare for a life of grief. You will be likely to have it.
Tough words from the Houston Police Department, but words we need to hear and to heed.
But now let me bring this whole matter close to home—closer to your home.
I want to offer to you, parents or grandparents, or to you who think you might be. I want to offer you, not some theories for rearing children, but some guidance for creating the kind of relationship between parents and children where the children can grow as Jesus grew—strong, wise, loved by God and loved by other people. I call these principles
“Edington’s Construction Tips for Building a Loving Home”
1. When no one is watching, live as if someone is. That means look at the way you are living your life. Look at the way you are using alcohol or prescription drugs. Look at the way you use profanity. Look at the way you may be cutting the corners of what is right financially in order to get ahead. Look at the way you are relating to people of another color. Look at the way you are living. You may be delivering a bad message to your children or your grandchildren. Instead, I call you to live in such a way that when your children think of caring or fairness or honesty or integrity they will think of you. When no one is watching, live as though someone is.
2. Listen twice as much as you speak and pray twice as much as you fret. Create an atmosphere in your home where children will want to talk to you about anything and about everything. Be interested in them and listen to what they say. Be alert to them and to their needs. Sometimes opportunity knocks so softly. Listen and be alert. I remember years ago when my son, John David, came in asking me a question and before he was finished, I unloaded on him a ten-minute answer. He sat there patiently, and when I finished he said: “Well, Dad, you answered a question I was not going to ask.” You see, I was lecturing, not listening. So parents and grandparents, listen to your children and grandchildren and be alert—and pray like crazy for our kids. Kids today are vulnerable. They can be misled. They are ripe for exploitation. Bathe them in the power of prayer in order to ward off the infectious disease of evil that exists in the society around us. Listen twice as much as you speak and pray twice as much as you fret.
3. Remember that the most important things in life are taught, not bought. We must help our children to learn that their sense of self-worth and self-esteem is never dependent upon what they possess. Dear friends, I’ve never yet seen a hearse with a U-Haul trailer hooked to the back of it. You can’t take it with you. We must teach our children the joy of living life in the Christian style, of living life within limits. Don’t worry yourself sick about not being able to give your kids the best, because what your kids really need in life is not THE best but YOUR best. There is no substitute for the simple gift of your presence. David Elkind has written a provocative book called “The Hurried Child.” What he means is that our children are growing up too fast, too much, too soon. I would add to that proposition the reality of the “Hurried Parent”—snatches of time here and there is all that we can give them and then in order to compensate for the lost time and the burden of guilt we shower our kids with “things” when what they need is the gift of ourselves.
4. Keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground. Keep your eyes on the stars, keep your eyes on God. Make the worship of God the top priority in your family life. Frankly, I believe that up until age sixteen church attendance ought to be mandatory in the family. And that means, you understand, that church attendance can’t be just a matter of convenience for the parents. Keep faith in God the top priority in your family life. Help your children learn how to look up to God. I find it more than a little disconcerting that here at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando we have one of the strongest, best attended Sunday schools in the Presbyterian Church in this country and yet, on any given Sunday, 55-60% of the children on the rolls of this church are not in Sunday school. We’ve got to help our children learn how to look up to God. So we’ve got to keep our eyes on the stars but we need to keep our feet firmly fixed on the ground. That means we need to be realistic. We need to know the adversary. We need to know the kinds of things our children are having to deal with. We need to learn about drugs—their names, their effects, their uses. We need to find out where the trouble spots for kids are in this community. We need to learn what it is our children are being taught in school. We need to know where our kids are, who they’re with and what they’re doing. We need to monitor our children’s television consumption. Parents and grandparents, don’t bury your head in the sand. Keep your eyes on the stars, but keep your feet on the ground.
5. Don’t worry about who’s right, but decide what’s right. Establish a set of house rules. Do it, if possible, in conjunction with your children so that they not only understand the rules, but understand the reasons behind them. Set curfews. Be awake when your children come home at night. Talk to your kids about peer pressure and don’t take the easy way out. Some people today are saying that in response to our kid’s inquiries about sex we ought to just give them a condom. Rubbish! Does that mean that when they want to go drinking we’ll just go down and pick up the tab at the local bar? Or when they want to experiment with drugs we’ll see to it that they have a clean needle and syringe? Or when in some moment of adolescent depression they hint at suicide we’ll rush out and buy them a loaded gun? Come on now! You see, the fact of the matter is that our children and grandchildren respond wonderfully to a call to righteous living. I cannot tell you how many times young people have said to me: “I just wish my parent would give me a reason to say no.” So don’t worry so much about who’s right, but decide very clearly what’s right.
6. Never give up on your kids. Miracles happen every day. Love them, tell them you love them. Never stop telling them that you love them. Remind them over and over again that they are special—special to you and special to God. Never, ever give up on your kids. I remember reading about a mother who was devastated when her little boy’s teacher told her that her boy had been tested and that his IQ was dangerously low. The teacher was impatient and unwilling to listen when the mother began to tell her about all the things that little Michael could do so well. The teacher said: “Listen, you need to face the fact that he has a way below average IQ and probably will have struggles all his life long.” Well, his mother made a decision on the spot. She resolved not to believe that diagnosis from the teacher, and consequently, she never told her son about it. Instead, she supported and encouraged and affirmed her son. As a result, today, Dr. Michael Elmore is one of the leading gastroenterologists in this country. And he jokes about it all saying: “My parents never told me that I couldn’t be a doctor until after I had graduated from medical school.” So believe in your kids and let them know it. Be confident and encourage your children. Love them. Care for them. Believe in them. Never give up on them. They are more than worth it.
Well, there you have it—“Edington’s Construction Tips for Building a Loving Home.” Let me add just one little finishing touch. It’s the story told by Carl Stigall. It’s a story of two little boys who were enrolled in the first grade of elementary school. The teacher asked the two brothers about their birthdays. The first boy said: “I was born Jan. 1, 1984. The second brother said: “I was born April 4, 1984.” The teacher was understandably curious—two brothers born three months apart? So she asked: “How can it be that the two of you were born so close together?” One of the brothers spoke up and said: “One of us is adopted.” She knelt down by the desks and asked: “Well, which one of you is adopted?” One of the brothers said: “I asked my dad about that one day. He just leaned down and kissed us both and said: ‘I forgot which one.’”
Do you understand what that would do for those two children? Do you understand what you can do for your children or your grandchildren? Think about that today, will you?