Years ago I remember my father-in-law expressing a reluctance to offer seminars on parenting. I think I am beginning to understand his reasons...
There is just something about parenting. You never feel like an expert. There is no clear pattern of 'cause and effect' because nothing seems to guarantee anything. Great parents can have such troubled children. That seems to be the way it is. And the parental emotion associated with watching children grow up always seems so extreme - either very high or very low and not much in between. Success is held lightly (because we all know the story is never over) while failure seems to hold on tightly.
Nothwithstanding the truth of all that I have just written, I've decided to risk a few comments about parenting. Among the many priorities that come with parenting, I find it helpful to place Christian parenting within a disciple-making framework. Our goal is to see our children become disciples of Jesus who take their place within the mission of God in the world. This intention must not be frozen or trumped by what I know you are all thinking - "what if they don't head that way?" I still think we keep praying and planning towards this end, particularly while they are young.
One principle that Barby and I have followed is to look for ways to place our children in the path of blessing. Things can be done, decisions can be made, time can be taken, books can be read, movies can be watched, conferences can be attended, trips can be taken ... and money can be spent to place our children in an environment where they are more likely to hear God and be nudged forward by him.
The money one is a huge one. Just as you check the budget of the church, or the business, to see where the priorities lie, you can do the same with a family. Where we spend our money betrays where our hearts are - as parents. With Christian parents, the question needs to be asked: what percentage of the expenditure/budget goes on enhancing the possibility of our children joining the mission of God in the world?
Another biggie is the local church. Famous for its failures and frustrations, the local church still has a lengthy track-record as a place where people hear God speaking to them. For this reason, apart from the occasional holiday-time, we always go to church on a Sunday. It is a crucial section of the 'path of blessing' onto which we place our children. And when the problems surface we urge them to work away on the solution-side, rather than contributing to the problem-side. It provides a fabulous training ground for life.
Yes, these things are on my mind because today I return home to NZ after 11 weeks in India - half of them on holiday with Barby and the children. As I scan the photos with the memories they contain, it has dawned on me just how much the path of blessing controlled the itinerary.
We took pilgrimages to Amy Carmichael's Dohnavur, to Ida Scudder's Vellore and to Paul Brand's Karagiri. Over time these people have become my childrens' heroes. We went to Kolkata's slums and met women with whom our Alyssa worked five years ago. She came home "scarred for life" and shared the scarring with us all. We lingered at the graveside of Mother Theresa, visited the museum on the site of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination - as well as tidied-up the gravesite of Barby's grandfather who went to India almost 100 years ago. We visited Kachhwa Christian Hospital and savoured the holistic ministry flowing from an EHA (Emmanuel Hospital Association) hospital - an organisation founded by my father forty years ago. We visited our aiyah (a home-helper) from my childhood, Savitiri, in her village. We had meals in the homes of Indian missionaries, living simply and sacrifically as they move cross-culturally within the borders of their own country. And Barby and Joseph were able to join me for their first taste of a full Langham Preaching seminar in Guwahati (Assam), mingling for a week with 60+ leaders in the North-East.
It is not too late.
Under the gracious hand of God what is it that you can do in 2011 to place your children on the path of blessing and enhance the possibility of the living God speaking to them in a transformative way?