[Portions reprinted from Gentle Christian Parenting: Jesus, The Gentle Parent due to be released in 2014; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages, Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood, and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline by L.R.Knost now available on Amazon]
Throughout the Old Testament, He spoke through prophets, dreams, angels, and even a bush! He revealed His character in His commandments and in the Names He called Himself and in His interactions with that lovely, stubborn, chosen nation, Israel.
And, finally, in the New Testament, He just stuck His feet right in the dirt and somehow stuffed His infinite Being into the skin of a human.
GOD. With. Us!
Why in Heaven’s Name would He do that? Well, that’s been the subject of dusty tomes and esoteric debates for centuries, but in truth the answer is very simple: God is a Father, a Daddy who wants to connect with and build a relationship with His children.
In the Old Testament God revealed Himself as a Father who is Creator, Provider, and Protector. He showed Himself to be an involved Father, interested in every detail of His children’s lives, from what they ate to how and where and when they worshiped Him. And He revealed His purity, His incomprehensible Holiness that kept His beloved children hopelessly separated from Him and helpless to change that fact. All the rules for cleansing, all the rituals, and all the formulas, only served to highlight the pitiful fallen state of God’s beloved children.
And that ritualistic, external, temporal cleansing? It became internal and eternal.
Stones once thrown in righteous judgment were laid down in humble mercy. Punishment was replaced with grace as Righteousness Himself stood between sinful man and his dire fate.
And so we have Jesus, God Himself with us in the flesh, God’s heart in a very literal sense laid bare for all the world to see, the perfect Parent to model ourselves after.
We have the Father…not a father, but THE Father…to look to for guidance on how to parent our children.
So, let’s get practical. What does God’s parenting look like, and how can we model ourselves after Him?
Well, Jesus raised twelve children, so let’s take a look at how He did it!
Twelve of God’s children, all with different personalities, backgrounds, and talents, became Jesus’ disciples. The word disciple is the root word in discipline, so to discipline our children means to disciple them.
What characteristics defined Jesus’ discipleship? In other words, how did He treat His disciples? Was He harsh? Did He yell? Did He punish them? Clearly, He had the authority to. But since He came to take our punishment, it really wouldn’t make sense for Him to start meting it out, would it?
Was He distant, unresponsive to their needs? Did He make demands, insist on instant obedience, and toss around kingly commands?
No, no, no, and no! Jesus treated His disciples gently, tenderly. He listened. He responded to their needs, answered their questions, spoke their language. Jesus encouraged and guided and taught His disciples.
He drew them close to Himself, lived with them, ate with them, traveled with them. Jesus didn’t just say He loved His disciples. He didn’t simply feel love for His disciples. Jesus lived love for His disciples. And He lived that love daily, mercifully, sacrificially.
So, what are the characteristics that defined Jesus’ discipleship?
Gentle. Tender. Responsive. Available.
Listening. Encouraging. Teaching. Guiding.
God, Himself, intimately and empathetically connecting with His children.
That is perfect parenting.
I, however, am NOT a perfect parent. In the time it’s taken me to write this so far, I’ve failed at pretty much every single one of those perfect parenting qualities. I only say that to point out that we aren’t shooting for perfection here.
If perfection were possible, the Cross wouldn’t have been necessary.
I have failed and will fail again as a parent. But even my failures have great value because they lead me back to the Cross, time and time again.
My failures remind me to turn to my perfect Parent, God, and trust Him with my children. And my failures offer me the opportunity to be transparent with my children, to ask for forgiveness, to show them it’s okay to be human and make mistakes.
In short, my imperfections are perfect for demonstrating God’s unconditional love. I call this particular parenting ‘technique,’ for want of better wording, “If you mess up, ‘fess up!”
So, what are some ways we can reflect Christ-like qualities in our never-perfect-but-best-effort parenting?
1.) Build your relationship. Everything, absolutely everything in raising children, is dependent upon a secure parent/child relationship, and the foundation is trust. We talk all the time in Christian circles about needing to trust God more. Why? What’s so important about trust? Trust is the secure knowledge that we will be cared for, that the person we are dependant on is who they say they are and will do what they say they will do. Without trust, there is no relationship. You build trust in your children starting from day one by responding faithfully and quickly to their needs, day or night, even if their ‘need’ is simply reassurance that you’re there.
2.) Be there in the moment. This isn’t about quality time or quantity time. This is about actually being with your children when you’re with them. I’m talking about muting the television and making sustained eye contact all the way through the story of how they had the piece of string first and how it was taken by a sibling when they only set it down for a minute and…well, you get the picture. Jesus showed He cared by listening and responding to what was important and relevant to His children.
3.) Encourage, don’t discourage. Jesus built up His disciples, giving positive directions, allowing time and opportunity for them to try, helping when they needed it, and forgiving them when they failed. Never, not once, did He lash out at His disciples in anger. He taught them gently and encouragingly, often in stories that related to their daily lives, and He was always available to discuss or clarify or answer questions.
4.) Practice what you preach. This is foundational, right along with trust. If you don’t live out how you want your children to turn out, you can be pretty much guaranteed they’ll go an entirely different way! Listen to your children if you want them to learn to listen. Respect your children if you want them to learn respect. Model compassion, kindness, honesty, forgiveness, and a grateful spirit if you want your children to grow into adults with those character traits. Jesus lived out every one of those qualities for His children!
5.) Don’t make excuses. If you fail (and you will) apologize! Nothing penetrates hurt more deeply and with more healing power than an honest, open apology.
6.) Give grace. The unconditional love of God is beyond human comprehension. Even ‘veteran’ Christians resort to trying to earn God’s grace when they’ve already been given it freely. We all fall into that trap, time and again, because we just can’t wrap our little human brains around something as awesomely simple as unconditional love. We think it MUST be more complicated, and we end up complicating it by trying to pay for something that is free! So help your children while they’re looking to you, their earthly parent, for an example of how their Heavenly Parent operates. Give them grace. Guide them gently. Forgive them when they fall, and get down on their level to help them back up again.
7.) Enjoy your blessings. Your children are a reward, a blessing, a gift straight from the heart of your Father to you, His precious child. He wants you to feel what He feels, to experience Him through your children. He wants you to delight in your children so you’ll understand how He delights in you. He wants you to feel the depth of concern He feels when you stray into danger, the heights of joy He feels when you run trustingly into His arms, the pangs of compassion He feels when you are hurting or scared. Take the time to enjoy your children, and you will find yourself closer to the heart of your Father than you can possibly imagine!
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood , Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages , and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline the first three books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.