Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Godly Home Does Not Guarantee Godly Children

Like many other spiritual legends, the idea that a godly home guarantees godly kids finds its source in a well-known, but widely misunderstood, Bible verse.  In this case it’s Proverbs 22:6…

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Most people seem to think that this verse promises us that a child raised correctly will come back to the Lord eventually.

But that’s not what it promises – or what it says.

To begin with, Proverbs 22:6 is not a promise.  It’s a proverb.  Promises are absolute, especially God’s.  When a promise is made, it’s a done deal.  You can take it to the bank.  But a proverb is different.  It’s an observation of how life generally works.  It tells us what usually happens, not what always happens.  The book of Proverbs is called Proverbs for good reason.  It’s comprised of God-breathed observations about life.  But the observations are far from universal.  For instance, the righteous aren’t always honored.  The wicked sometimes succeed.  The diligent can lose it all, and the lazy can strike it rich.

The same goes for Solomon’s encouraging words about children who are properly raised.  It’s a proverb, not a promise.  Some children will not depart from their spiritual roots.  But some will.  It's a fact, and you know it.

Let's look even closer.  How did the phrase “Won’t Depart” ever turn into “Will Come Back One Day?”  It’s the second half of this verse that really gets butchered and twisted beyond recognition.  Here’s what it actually says:  “…and when he is old he will not depart from it.”  Try as I might, I can’t find anything here guaranteeing a return to the Lord, especially one that comes after a season of rebellion.  Can you?  In fact, it says exactly the opposite.  It says they won’t turn away in the first place!

The difference is immense.

The myth that a godly home guarantees godly kids (in every instance) is not just untrue.  It’s not just wishful thinking.  It is spiritually dangerous.  If we buy into it, we become especially vulnerable to two things that are never a part of God’s plan for us:  unwarranted guilt and foolish pride.

UNWARRANTED GUILT.  Parents of prodigals can be burdened with a guilt they don’t deserve.  But they aren’t the only ones who get hurt.  It always brings pain and boatloads of unnecessary guilt to parents whose children happen to be hyperactive, learning disabled, emotionally challenged, strong willed, or just plain incorrigible.

You’ve seen it in the Mall or maybe in the church parking lot – a father or mother struggling with the out-of-control behavior of an unruly child.  What’s the first reaction most of us have?  It’s usually harsh judgment or an expressed opinion about the parents, not the child.  “If I was that child’s mother, I would blah, blah, blah.”  Right?  And we also wonder what kind of parenting and home life produced such a little tyrant.

One group that can get particularly hammered by this myth is adoptive parents.  In an incredible act of love, sacrifice, and grace, a couple reaches out to take in an unwanted or abandoned child in the hopes of providing a good home and spiritual foundation.  Many succeed.  But for those who don't, the emotional pain and guilt can be excruiating, especially if they or their circle of friends have bought into the idea that a godly home always trumps a suspect gene pool and or the foolish choices of rebellion.  Let's be honest, when an adoptive child begins to exhibit the same behaviors as their birth parents, the culprit is just as likely to be genetics as home life.   For any one of us - adopted or not - there's only so much a godly home can do to counter these inherited physical or emotional inclinations.

The truth is, every son and daughter of Adam is born with a sin nature.  They, just like their parents, are saddled with a propensity for self-centered and sinful behavior.  It’s not something we can eliminate with a carefully controlled environment or even the godliness of Christian parents.  Our sin nature is not just a mere theological concept.  It’s a real and present danger.

Sometimes it gets the upper hand.

When it does, it’s not always someone else’s fault – not even Mom or Dad’s.

FOOLISH PRIDE.  The flip side of guilt is foolish pride.  It’s something I’ve noticed to be most prevalent among those parents who just happen to have children who are naturally compliant, easygoing, introverted, unassertive, or academically gifted.

It’s not hard to see why we like to take the credit.  When anything turns out well, we’d prefer to think we had something (or everything) to do with it.  If we’ve been told that good and godly kids are the result of good and godly homes, then why not pat ourselves on the back for a job well done?

Oh yea, one more thing.  This foolish prides manifests itself in another way:  hash criticism of other parents who have hard-to-control children or teenagers.  Prideful parents will sometimes oversimplify parenthood by reducing it down to a simple step-by-step recipe, then imply that if everyone else would follow this godly advice like they did, then everyone else's children would turn out as well as theirs did.  But things like Tourette's syndrome, ADHD, or a simple case of stubborness can make the best of homes appear to be dysfunctional.

If you’re a parent, I’m sure you can relate.  Raising children is no easy task.  Each child is different.  Each one has their own personality, strength, and weaknesses.  Each child chooses his or her path.  Consequently, they have a way of dashing our na├»ve assumptions that are built upon spiritual myths.

Bottom line:  children are not mindless lumps of clay.  The accomplishments or sins of our children don’t always reflect our parenting skills.  There are way too many variables that come into play that we have no control over.  All we can do is our best.  The final outcome is ultimately out of our hands.

GOOD PARENTING STILL MATTERS.  None of this is meant to say that parents don’t have a responsibility for the manner in which they raise their children.  Or that it doesn’t matter how we parent.  It does.  The Bible is very clear about these things.

Both the Old and New Testaments place a high priority on godly parenting, home instruction, and exampleship.  Passing the spiritual torch should be a top concern for every Christian parent.  In God’s eyes, our home life is more important than any other ministry we might have.  Parenting is a top spiritual priority.  And as always, we have hope and assurance in God.  He hears and answers the prayers of  parents and works in our behalf, never against us.  His Word and Spirit are contstantly at work as active agents convicting of sin and drawing people to Christ, including our children, because He is not willing that any would perish.  A godly home always increases the chances of a favorable outcome.

Parenting is a tough job.  Advice is easy.  So is critique.  But for those of us in the midst of the battle, it’s not so simple. Things that sound easy in a seminar or Bible study are usually a lot more nuanced in real life.

I’m reminded of the simple advice to keep my cool and never discipline my children in anger.  Sounds good.  Makes sense.  Even sounds spiritual.  But I, for one, haven’t always been able to pull it off.  What was I supposed to do?  Wait until we were all having a good time – then bam!?

Rather than preening in pride, casting harsh judgments, or wallowing in self-pity and unwarranted guilt, we simply need to cast aside the myth that produces these unsavory responses and live in light of the truth:  As parents, we have a sacred responsibility for how we raise our kids and they are given a definite advantage by being raised in a godly home, but we have no ultimate control over how they turn out.

Admittedly, there are plenty of Christians who have good reason to feel guilty.  Hypocrisy, uncontrollable and sinful outbursts of anger, inattention (or its mirror opposite, hyper control), poor marriages, and too much conflict in the home are all too common.  The price for each is always high.

But when godly parents do the best they can and yet fail to achieve the outcome they hoped for, they need a break, not a drive-by shooting of guilt.  And when things go well, we need a lot more gratitude and a lot less pride.

So, if you’re a parent, give it your best shot – then go take a nap. 

And if you’ve already given it your best shot – take a long nap. 

You deserve it.

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