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Love-Powered ParentingLoving your kids the way Jesus loves you
By Tom Holladay
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2011 Tom Holladay
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWEEK 1, DAY 1
The Priority of Love
Parenting is a relationship. Anyone who has been a parent for more than a day knows how easily we can turn this relationship of parenting into merely a task. Bottle dispensed, diaper changed, asleep in crib—my parenting tasks are done for the day. Eighteen years later, it's schoolwork finished, dinner fed, in by curfew—the day's parenting tasks are over. Parenting is filled with tasks, but the task is never the most important part of parenting. Parenting is a relationship.
Jesus taught us that when we look at the whole of life, nothing is more important than relationships. So it clearly follows that when we look at parenting, nothing is more important than the relationships—my relationship with God and my relationship with my children.
Coming to realize that it is not the skill or task of parenting that is most important but rather the relationship is extremely encouraging in light of one of the realities we all face: we're often not very good at parenting! a number of years ago, when our three children were from early preschool to early grade school age, I decided to take them all shopping together for Mother's Day—to an antique store. I thought, "This will be no problem." What was I thinking! The expensive vases and china teacups and fragile wood furniture cowered in their places just seeing us enter the store—and every shopping mother and grandmother looked at me with terror in their eyes. I believe we made it out without any major damage to the antiques, but the strain of the experience exhausted us for days. There is something about actual parenting that humbles you. This is why Charlie Shedd's famous story on the challenges of parenting resonates with us. Before he had children, he boldly preached on "How to Raise your Children." after he became a parent, the message became "Some Suggestions to Parents"—and with two more children, it changed to "Feeble Hints to Fellow Strugglers."
Successfully navigating the difficult waters of parenting starts with a clear priority: nothing is more important than love. That's the truth to remember anytime you wonder whether what you are doing as a parent is important. In a world that too often values tasks over relationships, the truth Jesus taught tells us it is the relationships that are most important. When Jesus was asked by a teacher of the law to name the most important commandment, he immediately replied, " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:30–31). Love God and love people; there is nothing you do that is more important.
What does this mean for us as parents? It means parenting is a priority! and it means love is a priority in our parenting.
You can see the priority of parenting in the way Jesus treated children. Remember the day a group of mothers took their children to see Jesus? Imagine the energy and excitement in this crowd—moms and kids gathering more mothers with their children as they walked down the street toward a single purpose: "We're going to see Jesus!" Think of how it must have felt as the mothers shared with their children the anticipation of meeting this man they had heard so much about. " Jesus is a man who cares about people like us. They say he does miracles and heals people. He teaches in ways even children can understand. Many even say Jesus is the Promised One of God we have been waiting for. We're going to see Jesus for you, little one. I want Jesus to pray for you. I want this man of God to bless you."
They finally catch a glimpse of Jesus in the square far down the narrow street. The mothers walk a little faster, and the children's chatter grows more excited. They're getting close enough for Jesus to hear them now. The mothers begin to cry out his name; they gather their children into their arms to prepare to present them to Jesus.
Just a few feet away from Jesus now—and suddenly the disciples of Jesus stand in their way. "Stop!" they say. " Jesus doesn't have time for the children. You'll have to take them away." The mothers stand stunned, not knowing what to do. Then they turn to walk away. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. We won't be able to see Jesus today." Tears of disappointment begin to fall from the children's eyes; cries of "Why can't we, Mommy?" escape from their lips. At this very moment of letdown, they hear a rich, gentle, powerful voice speaking. "Do not prevent the little children from coming to me." Turning back, they are greeted by the welcoming smile and open arms of Jesus. (From Matthew 19:13–15.)
* * *
Like these busy disciples, many people in our busy world act as if what you are doing is unimportant. But Jesus' actions affirm the priority of your parenting. There are three specific choices you can make to encourage a growing sense of the priority of what you do as a mom or dad: accept parenting as a calling, prepare your life for parenting, and value your role as a parent.
First, you remind yourself that parenting is more than a set of tasks; it is a life calling. How do you know if you're called to be a parent? If you have a child, you are called!
You may say, "I didn't plan this—at least not this many kids or not in this timing." If you have children, clearly you have been called by God, your children's creator, to be a parent. Whatever the circumstances of your child's birth, the miracle of their birth is all the evidence you need that you have been called by God. There is an awesome power in recognizing that you are called—the power to live up to the priorities God has now placed in your life. Paul wrote, "I ... beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God" (Ephesians 4:1 NLT). You "lead a life worthy" of being a parent, not in order to get called, but because you know you are called.
Second, the priority of parenting is encouraged as you prepare to be the best parent you can be. We invest in preparation, training, and tools for any other career; it should be even more so with this most important of careers. You are shaping the next generation. Solomon writes, "Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him" (Psalm 127:3 NLT). They are a gift and a reward that require our time and energy. The time you spend reading a book or gaining wisdom from other parents will have a multiplied impact in your children's lives. Some of us learn best by reading, others by listening. However you best learn, it is important to learn from others. "People learn from one another, just as iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17 TEV). Get in a support group of parents; maybe even talk to grandparents. If you're reading this book, it shows you are motivated to prepare.
Let me share with you the two best words of advice about preparing to be a parent I've heard over the years. First, prepare for the good times, not just the tough times. Make no mistake, when you take the time to prepare a fun family vacation or to prepare to celebrate a milestone in your child's life, you are doing some of the best parenting you will ever do. Second, become comfortable with the fact that even the best-prepared parents are often unprepared. How could we be prepared for some of the things our kids throw at us? We never could have imagined they would decide to climb that, or jump from there, or think up that plan. Your preparation for parenting cannot prevent the chaos, but it can give you a measure of peace and even wisdom in the midst of the storm. Great parenting is not about building a perfectly ordered world; it is about knowing how to get your kids into the cellar when the tornado hits.
There is a third way to encourage your heart in the priority of parenting: remember the value of what you are doing. "So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord's work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless" (1 Corinthians 15:58 NLT). Every work you do for God is of great value, and parenting is certainly God's work! Never forget the almost incalculable value of what you do. A world that measures value in tasks completed and money earned too often forgets the real bottom line is that people will last and things will not.
Linda Weber writes about a woman named Donna, who happened to be seated next to the CEO at her husband's company dinner. He asked her, "What do you do?" After learning she was a career mom of three preschoolers, the CEO turned away and spent the evening talking to the person on the other side of him. Linda's opinion: "Donna should have told Mr. Big she was director of health, education, and welfare. She should have said she was secretary of the treasury and the head of public affairs. She should have told him she was chairman of the house rules committee. She should have responded, 'I'm responsible to teach my kids everything from how to chew food to how to drive a car. What do you do all day?'"
What happens when you hear these three encouragements from God to accept your calling, prepare your life, and value your role as a parent? You don't automatically get perfect kids or even become a perfect parent. But you do get a sense of the love of God that you need as a thread of hope on your toughest days, as a burst of strength on your most exhausting days, and as a higher purpose on even your best days.
WEEK 1, DAY 1: The Priority of Love
Verse to remember: "I ... beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God" (Ephesians 4:1 NLT).
Action to take: accept God's encouragement of the value of your parenting.
Tomorrow: Priorities begin with my choice.
WEEK 1, DAY 2
Priorities Begin with My Choice
I was talking with Chaundel recently about a commitment she had made a number of years ago concerning our youngest child, Luke. In her words, "after we dropped off our daughter, Alyssa, for college and came home, I felt sorry for Luke that he was now facing five years with just his parents. There was a part of me that was ready to move on with life, and it was a real temptation to act like we were done with parenting. Because Luke didn't demand a lot of attention for himself, I realized it would be easy to coast. I decided instead to be intentional in investing time and thought in parenting him rather than depending on him to get by on what we had already taught him. That decision to invest instead of coast was a decision that resulted in a great deal of unexpected joy in the building of our relationship."
As we look at the priority of love this week, we will focus these next three days on the three essentials that create a priority: your choice, your goals, and your time. Priorities begin with your choice, are expressed in your goals, and are accomplished in your time. We begin today with the truth that priorities start with a choice.
Relationships don't slide into a position of higher priority; we have to make them a priority. Money can slip into a place of greater importance in your life; success can, and even hobbies can—but not relationships. Relationships must be chosen as a priority, and then re-chosen and rechosen and re-chosen. Because we tend to take each other for granted or to avoid the hard work of relationships, what was most important can easily become less important and sometimes even slip to unimportant. The priority of relationships must be a daily choice.
We all want to make this daily choice as parents—certainly this is true for anyone who has picked up this book. So what gets in the way? What keeps us from actually making a priority of something we want to be a priority? We've talked to too many parents who look back with regret on the time they didn't spend with their kids to think this couldn't happen to us.
I see three major obstacles that can get in the way of our making relationships a priority: decisions, distractions, and drift.
First, our own decisions can get in the way. Our relationship with our kids stops being a priority when we decide to make other things the priority. Perhaps it is a job or a hobby or some entertainment or even a ministry. Of course parents have to spend time at work, so please, no guilt trips here about the reality of balancing busy schedules. I'm talking about going on a business trip for days without connecting with or even thinking about your family. You are then deciding that something else is a higher priority. Sometimes we tell ourselves we're doing this "just for a time" or "just until things settle down." Have you discovered yet that the right time for relationships never comes and that things never settle down?
God leaves absolutely no doubt as to his opinion of the value and importance of parenting. If you ever come across someone who acts as if what you are doing for your family has little importance, point them to 1 Timothy 5:8: "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." In fact, God says clearly that family is an even greater priority than church ministry. Consider these words about a group of widows who were spending their time serving God in the church: "These should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God" (1 Timothy 5:4). Focus on these phrases: "these should learn first of all ... by caring for their own family." First is a priority word! God is telling us we may not hide from the priority of parenting, even in as important an activity as ministry in the church.
I will never forget hearing Billy Graham being interviewed by David Frost years ago. Frost asked the evangelist, who had seen so many God-honoring successes in his ministry, if his time away had shortchanged his family, and Billy Graham's humble answer was, "It did. I don't think any of my children would say that. But I feel it. I feel the emptiness of not being as much of a confidant that I would like to be to my children." At age ninety, when asked in an interview for Christianity Today if he had any regrets, Graham said, "I regret that I didn't spend more time with my family; I'm sure Ruth and the children paid a heavy price for all the times I was absent."
Excerpted from Love-Powered Parenting by Tom Holladay Copyright © 2011 by Tom Holladay. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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