I love it when my children are obedient. Now, don’t get me wrong. They are not always obedient— far from it! (After all, they are my kids, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) I said that I love it when they are obedient, particularly because it makes my life so much easier. Consequently, it is easy for me to focus on their behavior. I give them rules and tell them to obey… or else! When they obey, we get along wonderfully. When they disobey, they get the “or else.”
However, if my primary parenting goal is to raise outwardly obedient, well-behaved children, then in the end, I will not be serving them well. This is because, as a parent who claims to follow Jesus, my goal in the child rearing process is not merely to see my children reformed morally, but to see them transformed spiritually– and there is a huge gulf between those two goals. The former focuses on actions. The latter focuses on motives. The former wants to create a rule-keeper. The later desires to shape a Jesus-lover. The former demands immediate results. The later recognizes that reaching the heart of a child is a process.
When parents consciously shift their parenting philosophy toward reaching their child’s heart, everything changes. Not only do the goals change, but so also do the methods. For example, if my primary goal for my children is outward obedience, then I must serve as the standard of moral perfection. The consequences of this are devastating. One tragedy is that I am no longer able to confess my own sins before my children. I will tend to justify myself and then discipline them as if I were no longer a sinner. Thus, I parent with pride and discipline out of anger. In this scenario, my aim is to rear no more than a Pharisee– the kind of person in Jesus’ day who was outwardly moral, but according to Jesus was a son of the Devil and a whitewashed tomb.
Alternatively, if I want to reach the heart of my child, I must be honest and vulnerable about my own sin. Yes, I still serve as their standard. But the standard is now what it means to be a sinner who needs a Savior. They need to internalize the gospel, and the only way that will happen is if I internalize it myself. The result is that I am able to parent out of humility and discipline with patience, because the ultimate goal for my children is not merely moral reformation, but ultimately spiritual transformation– a life that is changed from the inside out.