When we brought Jude and Sophie home—before we could even speak the same language—we had two simple priorities: show them we loved them, and teach them to obey.
The first one was easy. We said “I love you” non-stop in English and Amharic. We gave lots of hugs and kisses and smiles of approval. We bought new clothes and books and bikes. We took them sledding (a first!) and played legos and put together puzzles. We made it clear, through our actions and attention, that they were every bit as much our children as our biological son and daughter.
All these things were hugely important. In hindsight, though, I think they felt our love most of all through our gracious authority.
It didn’t feel that way at the time. To train them to obey we started with a few simple guidelines that were easy to understand: No TV until right before dinner (4:45 pm to be precise), no getting up from the table until being dismissed, and no hitting or biting.
They fought back at first—pouting about no TV or sitting at the table with their legs stretched out to the side, poised to bolt. Some days we were tempted to give up. Were we being to strict? Would they grow to hate us forever? What was the harm in letting them watch a little extra TV? But a well-timed word of encouragement from Mom always strengthened our resolve.
So we kept telling them “I love you” and put the remote out of reach.
A funny thing happened. Instead of becoming more resentful toward us and unhappy with the rules, Jude and Sophie became more compliant and obedient, and what’s more, they grew happier by the day.
Recently it dawned on me. One of the main reasons Jude and Sophie seem to have bonded with our family so quickly (in addition to the sheer grace of God!) is because the clear boundaries helped them feel like they belonged. They know the rules, the way things work around here. And so they feel comfortable because they aren’t on the outside trying to understand how this family works. They are “on the in” of the Whitacre family. Because they know what is required of them, they can relax and concentrate on other important things such as soccer and coloring and learning to read.
Don’t get me wrong, like every family, we have plenty of areas that need work. But this morning, as I write, Steve is downstairs going through our Advent devotional over breakfast. And tonight we will be able to sit down at the dinner table and talk and laugh as a family.
Now that they understand our words, and can sit still long enough to listen, we can tell them the greatest news of all: through Jesus Christ, they can join the family of God.
Obedience is the gateway to understanding the gospel.
“‘For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.’ It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:6-11 ESV).
“Joy to the Word, the Lord is…LEFT?!”
Mike, our children’s ministry director, made a discordant sound with his guitar to emphasize to our church’s four and five year olds the mistake in his song.
“Nooooooo” they all gigglingly corrected him. “The Lord is COME!”
The Lord is come.
Maybe it feels to you like he has left. Maybe you feel abandoned by God. You don’t sense the Holy Spirit’s presence. Or maybe you don’t see God’s loving and wise sovereignty at work in your situation or in the world as you would like.
But the Lord has come. God became man to save sinners. If we have put our trust in Christ, God has come into our hearts in the person of the Holy Spirit. And because he has come we know he is coming again. Because he has come we have hope and joy.
May we honor our Savior, come and coming, with child-like faith this Christmas.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Matthew 1:23
As moms, we may be so afraid of raising little heathens of the self-righteous, legalistic, variety that we neglect to teach our children how to obey.
Perhaps we grew up in a home that was as unloving as it was overbearing, or maybe we have known children who conformed to certain outward standards but who were also arrogant and rude. Or we may fear that to be firm with our children is the same as being ungracious and unloving.
But here is where we have to be careful not to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. In (rightly!) trying to throw out the bad motive of raising children who meet a certain external standard for the sake of our ease or reputation, we have to be careful not to throw out the biblical mandate to raise children who know what it means to obey, who can come to understand the gospel and live in submission to its claims on their lives.
Throughout Scripture, from the Pentateuch to Proverbs to Paul’s letters (e.g. Deut 5:16, 6:1-9, Prov. 6:20, Eph. 6:1-4), God couldn’t be more clear about a parent’s priority: we are to teach our children to come under the authority of God’s Word by coming under our loving authority. It is what Tedd Tripp so descriptively calls “the circle of God’s blessing.”
Lovingly teaching our children to obey, “right away, all the way, and with a happy heart,” is not legalistic, moralistic parenting. It is obeying God’s Word—if, and only if, we are doing it to please the Lord and not men. Obedience is the gateway to understanding the gospel.
“With her children she was a model disciplinarian, exceedingly strict, a wise lawmaker; nevertheless a most tender, devoted, self-sacrificing mother. I have never seen such exact obedience required and given, or a more idolized mother. ‘Mamma’s’ word was indeed law, but—O happy combination!—it was also Gospel!” (from The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss by George Lewis Prentiss)
Here was a mother who was lavish with her affection as she was insistent on her children’s obedience. The fruit was found in her children’s love and in their receptivity to her gospel words. May our “Mamma’s word” be loving law and gospel grace to our children. O happy combination!
“It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word became flesh’ (Jn. 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.” JI Packer, Knowing God, p. 53