“How many times have I told you not to do that?!?”
“Stop doing that, right now!”
“Why can’t you obey and do just this one thing?”
“You know that you are not supposed to do that!”
“If I hear you say that one more time!!”
“One thing, why can’t you do just this one thing?!?”
Do these statements sound familiar? They are uttered, muttered, shouted and pouted when your child just doesn’t seem to get the point: why can’t she just obey! They are statements of frustration and vexation. The focus is on stopping or changing a particular action. But is the particular act of disobedience the real core of the problem?
Actually, this focus on stopping a particular act demonstrates a significant misunderstanding of how sin works in our lives and in the lives of our children. Simply stated, sin is a process, a connected series of thoughts and actions that originate in the heart and culminates in an outward sin. Here is how James describes this process:
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. (James 1:13-16)
Sin is a process more than it is a single act. Parents, don’t just focus on the act, understand the process! The individual act that is so frustrating originated in the soil of the troubled hearts of your children. Biblical parenting is not primarily about managing actions and events. Biblical parenting is about the process of nourishing your children, over time, in the good soil of the gospel. This is what Paul instructs fathers to in Ephesians 6:4:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
The Greek word for “bring them up” in this verse means to bring your children up by nourishing them with God’s discipline and instruction. This nourishing aspect of raising your children is often lost when talking about parenting. Consistent nourishment will yield better results than attempts to control and manipulate behavior. Providing good nourishment is not a one-time event. It is ongoing.
For example, good nourishment is not giving your kids an occasional healthy, balanced meal while junk food is the norm. No, good nourishment is giving your kids a regular diet of well-balanced meals. An occasional healthy meal doesn’t cancel out the negative impact of a steady junk-food diet.
Here is how this applies to parenting:
Once again, your child is slow to respond to your direction. Rather than just focusing on the immediate act and disciplining your child for the slowness alone, Ephesians is instructing you to nourish the whole child and attempt to understand the possible reasons that resulted in the slowness. Perhaps you have been inconsistent with your discipline. So, sometimes the child is disciplined for being slow and other times the slowness is ignored. In this case, the problem is not primarily that the child is responding slowly. The problem is that you have created a climate where the child is not sure when discipline will be enforced, so he just does what seems most convenient for him. This inconsistency is not effective and misrepresents the intent of God’s word. This is not loving, faithful nourishment. This is the equivalent of a diet of unbalanced fast food instead of faithful, consistent nourishment. This is what Paul means when he says, “Do not provoke your children to anger!” If your nourishment is of the convenient junk-food variety, you will provoke your children to anger!
There are many other possible reasons for the slowness. What is important is that you understand the process which produced the slowness. The process is important!
Take the time to understand the process and nourish your children with God’s faithful discipline and training. Raise your children with discipline that consistently nourishes rather than provokes. Like sin, true obedience is the result of a process!
This post originally appeared on Shepherd Press and was republished with permission.
Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, and he is the Shepherd Press blogger. He is a ruling elder at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.