Parenting is hard. Those of you that are parents understand this truth all too well. The basic reason it is so hard is because we are selfish to our core. Raising children is a life-long exercise of setting aside our own desires and comforts for their betterment. It is not a question of if your child’s needs and wants will be inconvenient, unpleasant, or downright painful for you. It will happen and it will happen every single day. The real question is whether you are going to choose to hold onto your selfishness and leave their well-being and upbringing to chance or let go of your selfishness and love them like God loves you. It’s a decision you will have to make over and over and moment by moment.
Man, Matt…that’s pretty harsh, I don’t think I’m all that selfish. Oh, but you are. We all are, because we are all sinners. It is the nature of fallen humanity to want to fulfill our own needs and desires over others. Truly, the only thing that ever overcomes this tendency is love, whether it is a love of devotion or that selfless, self-giving love (the one oft-described as agapē love you hear about from Bible teachers and preachers). You see, selfishness cannot coexist with selfless love. They are mutually exclusive opposites like dark and light or hot and cold. How well we love is directly proportional to how well we are able to put aside our selfishness. When it comes to raising children, we have seemingly endless opportunities to practice this. The best way I know how to overcome my “I don’t feel like it…” is to focus on the “but…”
I wrote a little about this in Daddy Will You Play With Me, but when my kids interrupt something I’m trying to do like putting away dishes or fixing the sink or studying for Sunday’s lesson or reading a book, it can get frustrating having to stop to entertain them…I don’t feel like it…but this is such a precious time and I want to live intentionally with my kids so that I can raise them to love and follow God and I want them to know they are loved.
It’s not just about playtime. That’s the easy part. There are times when I have to set aside true personal needs (like sleep) for their benefit. When they wake me up multiple times in the middle of the night and I have to get up to inspect a shadow or look at where they bumped their head on the bed frame or watch them talk in their sleep (yes…it happens)….I don’t feel like it…but I want them to feel secure in our home and in my presence so that they will confidently walk with me wherever God takes us in life. I want them to trust me implicitly so that I can teach them to trust their Heavenly Father implicitly.
Giving up sleep and temporary comforts is still a little on the easy side, though. There are also those times when I have to set aside personal desires…my wants. That’s where the real battle with selfishness begins to rage. When I finally have a moment to relax do something I want to do like watch non-cartoons or work out in the wood shop or tinker with the car and then I’m petitioned mercilessly to retrieve a toy that will be strategically placed under my bare foot at some point in the future or break up a fight between the boys or any number of needs that small children frequently have…I don’t feel like it…but I want them to know that they are more important to me than anything in the world and they always have my ear so that they will always come to me with their needs later in life and when I try to teach them how to live with biblical priorities, they will have seen it in practice.
And then there’s the hardest one of all: discipline. This is where the battle with selfishness reaches its pinnacle. No parent enjoys disciplining their children. I hate seeing my kids cry after a spanking. I hate seeing their dejected look of hurt feelings when I have to scold them for bad behavior. I hate having to tell my child “no, you may not participate in this because you disobeyed.” I hate the constant fight of enforcing a standard of behavior. There are times when I just don’t feel like it…but I want them to learn to live by biblical principles and be productive members of not only society, but in ministry.
Discipline is ultimately the most loving thing a parent does. Without it, children will grow up attempting to make their own rules that will inevitably conflict with God’s, and often-times the rest of society. There is a reason Proverbs 13:24, Hebrews 12:6, and Revelation 3:19 all talk about how discipline is closely linked with love. You see, when we choose not to discipline our children, we are ultimately choosing our own desire to not see them hurt or not to “be the bad guy” over their need to be “brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). That is the most selfish decision we can possibly make as parents. (Sara here to give my 2 cents. While we are both big believers in the benefit of spankings when done properly and out of love, neither I nor Matt believe that spanking is the only form of discipline that should be used. Every child is different and responds differently to different forms of discipline. Figure out what works best for your individual child and always discipline out of love rather than anger.)
I’ll say it again: parenting is hard. Overcoming our own selfishness for the sake of our children is a lifelong endeavor. I could go on to list 100 other examples of how our selfish tendencies will be tested on a daily basis, but the basic truth is that children themselves are born selfish. They want what they want when they want it and woe to the parent who does not comply. In the same way that selfishness cannot coexist with love, two people clinging to their own selfishness cannot coexist in any kind of relationship. Only when one chooses love over self can a relationship remain intact. That person has to be you, the parent.
Yes, it’s hard and you will fail at times. The important thing is to keep working at it. The next time you don’t feel like it, stop and focus on the but.