We have just returned from our family vacation in the arctic tundra of Florida. Our visit with family was wonderful despite the icy conditions that accompanied the 25 year historic low temperatures. My children marveled at the strange customs of this exotic land where they put blankets on their bushes and small trees to keep them warm and where automatic sprinkler systems left icicles in their wake!
Many of you have been visiting with family and friends over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Although these times are enjoyable they can also be taxing. If you have children, and if you are anything like our family, you probably have some kind of behavior checklist that you run through immediately prior to arrival and the moment of smiles and greetings. For some of you, this moment of smiles and greetings may be preceded a moment of snarls and warnings (I am admitting no guilt here!).
There is nothing new under the sun. Throughout history, there has been concern expressed by parents at how their children ought to behave when in public, or at a gathering, or at a shared meal of some sort. Consider, for instance, the counsel given by Francis Hawkins in the book, Youth’s Behavior (1663):
“Being set at the table, scratch not thyself, and take thou heed as much as thou canst not to spit, cough and blow at thy nose; but if it be needful, do it dexterously, without much noise, turning thy face sidelong.”
I think we might all agree that following this counsel would dramatically improve conditions at the dinner table. But surely, this should not exhaust our concerns for our children!
I am again reminded of the need to be gospel-centered in our parenting. Gospel-centered parenting is invariably different than behavior-centered parenting in both its motivations and goals. It is our responsibility to teach our children the elementary principles of manners and respectful behavior, but I think the problem comes when the drive to have our children act in socially acceptable ways supersedes our drive to have them instructed in godliness. It is often easier to squash inappropriate behavior than to thoughtfully engage inappropriate behavior with biblical truth and a redemptive mindset.
It can be a real challenge and temptation to maintain a proper perspective in this area. I don’t want my kids acting like raving lunatics when every one else’s kids are models of sanity and good behavior. It takes a clear vision of gospel priorities to consistently take the time to address the heart of my child instead of impulsively snuffing out the awkward, annoying or embarrassing behavior.
The Lord Jesus said, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet loses his own soul.” Maybe you would permit me to adapt this statement to the issue at hand. What does it profit our children to excel in social graces while they are utterly devoid of saving graces?
Paul could also say to Timothy: “Rather, train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:7b-8). There is great value in practical life-transforming godliness. Let your child-rearing motivations and goals be crucified with Christ and remember the priorities the Lord Jesus has given us. May God grant renewed vision and grace to this end.