The Parenting Equation
As parents we have heard the “Parenting Equation” many times. If we do such and such, then our children will turn out a certain way. If we have a weekly Family Night and if we pray at dinner time, then our kids will become high functioning Christians who transform their world. A + B = C. Even the writer of Proverbs mentions this equation, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Prov. 22:6). The “Parenting Equation” is very comforting to us as parents. We have a step-by-step process for raising kids that honor God. We are in control. If we just follow the directions then we can enjoy the end product. But what if I were to tell you that this is all wrong? What happens when our daughter gets pregnant as a teenager? What happens when our son gets ensnared by pornography?
When the equation doesn’t give us the intended results we wonder if we did something wrong. Maybe if I would have taken that vacation instead of putting more hours in at work then my daughter wouldn’t be pregnant. As a youth pastor, I see parents pouring in endless hours to make their equation work only to see their son or daughter give up on it all. Even the most devout parents have children who give God the stiff arm. Even though we know our efforts might be in vain in the end, we still let the pressure of parenting own us. We experience guilt if we don’t have our kids in every activity under the sun because if we don’t put our kid in AWANA that might be the one missing piece of the equation that leads to their downfall. The guilt and pressure of parenting according to the equation is like carrying a ton of bricks on our back. We think this is God’s way of raising our children, but could it be just the opposite?
This past spring I read Larry Crabb’s “The Pressure’s Off.” In it, he speaks of two ways to live: the Old Way with its equations and pressures and the New Way of the Spirit. He writes, “That’s the Old Way–discern which principles to follow that will bring about the blessings we want, then put them into practice as best we can, then pray, trusting God to honor our obedience by making our lives work better. With all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, get it right so life works. Desire the peace available in this world” (80). So much of our spiritual lives our governed by this Old Way. If I just have my daily quiet time and get rid of sin in my life, then God will reward me with a healthy marriage, a good job and kids who obey me. In this Old Way of living, a healthy marriage, a good job and obedient kids become my idols. The spiritual disciplines are just things to do in order to get God’s blessings. This is jacked up and I know God hates it but yet I continue down this path. I want life to be an equation. My experience tells me that it doesn’t work that way though.
Crabb continues, “It’s not about growing up into the maturity of a good self-image and developing the energy to do good things; it is about growing down into the brokenness of self-despair and deepening our awareness of how poorly we love compared to Trinitarian standards. It’s not about working hard to get it right so that we can present ourselves before God to receive the blessings we desire; it is about coming before Him as we are, honestly, pretending about nothing, becoming increasingly convinced that we can’t get it right though we try as hard as we can, then listening for the whisper of the Spirit, ‘Welcome! You’re home. You’re loved. You’ll be empowered to speak your unique voice as you hear the Voice of God singing over you with great love’” (26).
May I give up on the idea that parenting and life as a whole is an equation that I am bound to toil under. Living under this bondage will only pull me further away from God. Lord, take my burdens and let me rest in your presence. The pressure’s off!