A popular worship song declares, “You’re a good, good Father.... It’s who you are, and I’m loved by you.” Some days, knowing how to be a good parent seems idealistic and impossible. The Apostle Paul sets a model of sorts when he describes his relationship with a church: “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” ( I Thessalonians 2:11-12).
Paul recognized that a good father deals with his children, encouraging successes as well as correcting misbehavior. Yet some seem to think ignoring a child is considered good parenting. We’ve all seen the parents who allow their child to run around bullying, tantruming, and even breaking things while the parents continue their conversation with someone else as though nothing is happening. Another way parents refuse to deal with their children is by ignoring disrespectful language or behavior. How often have we heard a teen belittle a sibling or mouth off to an adult while the parent doesn’t bat an eyelash? A good parent deals with their children, and the good news is that God equips you and gives you the wisdom to do just that! You are anointed to deal with them. When we don’t know how we should parent, James 1 reminds us that we can ask for wisdom, and our loving Father will give us the wisdom we need. We can go to him for advice!
To encourage is to give support, confidence, hope, or advice to someone so that they will continue to do things well as they develop. We as parents are called to encourage our children as they develop into adult citizens of God's kingdom.
Breaking down the word encourage you can see the phrase "in courage." Good parents pour courage into their children. We stimulate their growth not by doing everything for them but by spurring them on to competence and confidence. As they get older, we do less and advise more so that they can continue in the faith and the ways that we have raised them.
Often, I see parents on both sides of this fence, either trying to do everything for their children or leaving them hanging with no assistance. One picture of an encouraging parent is a parent teaching a child to ride a bike. First you might use training wheels. Next, you hold on to the back of the bike while the child rides, letting them feel the nuances of balance and imbalance. Next, you let go. Another might be swimming lessons. Teaching a child to swim by throwing them in the deep end of the pool skips important courage building in learning to tread water. Such an approach impatiently avoids dealing with a child's learning process. Parenting is the careful choreography of instruction, support, allowing mistakes, and letting go; all with the cheer-leading of encouraging words as the accompanying music.
To comfort is to console and fortify, bringing protection from pain and constraint or feelings of grief and distress.
We live in a fallen world, and there is nothing we can do about the fact that our children will experience pain. Part of encouragement includes comfort when our children have tried and failed. If we revisit the picture of learning to ride a bike again, we remember the scuffed knees and bruises that often come from learning something new. When a child is hurt, to whose arms do they run? One hopes they run to their parents arms to be comforted. That parent holds them, wipes their tears, but then also attends to the wound, cleaning and dressing it. We cannot avoid the cleaning and dressing of wounds, otherwise they get infected and affect the whole body.
It is the same when our children need comfort because the heart is broken. We clean a wound with God’s Word. After all, His Word is likened to water. I remember the fear of pain when my mom had to clean a knee scrape. The fear was often worse than the actual pain of it, however, if it was going to heal properly, it must be cleaned and dressed with a bandage. We cover our children’s wound by continuing to pray for them, even after the initial pain of it. This allows the Holy Spirit to comfort them in ways that we cannot, so that He can make them completely whole.
Finally, we urge our children to live lives worthy of God, because ultimately we are temporary caretakers of God's children. The task of a parent is to cultivate children toward becoming adult citizens of God's kingdom, using all their gifts to glorify him. It's our job to help them see a vision of who they can be in God's world. It's also our job to let them go and do it without us.
When my children were younger, the Lord was always good to give me “teachable” moments with them. Modern day parables can be found everywhere! Now that my children are older, I find that I have to be more select with my teachable moments. However, knowing who they are and what they enjoy helps me to seize opportunities to add value. For instance, one of my sons loves movies. He studies everything about film the way an English professor analyzes literature. We often have discussions about Biblical truths found in movies that we watch together. My daughter loves music, literature, and deep conversation, so these can be points of contact for me. In addition to knowing your children, as they get older they might even come to you for advice. What a gift it is to be invited to add value!
No matter what stage of parenting you find yourself in, these keys are sure to make you a better parent. Encourage your children to grow and become strong. Comfort them as they feel the pain of growth and the losses that are sure to come their way. Urge them to be worthy of the high calling of Jesus Christ. In doing so, you are sure to become a better parent.
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra