Parental Horse Sense: Lesson 5 — Left-Handed Parenting

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These lessons on Parental Horse Sense are worthy of the name because they are not difficult concepts. But don’t let the title of this series fool you. These lessons may not be difficult to grasp, but they border on impossible to implement. Fret not, though, we serve the God who puts the camel through the needle’s eye, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). 

In lesson 5 here, I commend to you Left-Handed Parenting. I should say at the outset, that Right-Handed Parenting has its place. Parents really need to be ambidextrous. But we often forget the left hand, thus lesson 5: Left-Handed Parenting. I’m applying the principles of right and left-handed power to parenting so we should start with the principles themselves.

Right-handed power is the power of “Because I said so.” This power is not bad or corrupt; it is direct and straightforward, however. Jesus told the wind and the waves to be still, and still they were. The centurion was a man under authority who had soldiers under him. He told them to come and they came, to do and they did (Matthew 8:9). But this right-handed power has its limits. And moreover, it is not the only power the Lord has given us.

Robert Capon makes a good point—”Suppose [a son] makes unauthorized use of your car, and you use a little straight-line verbal power to scare him out of doing it again. Well and good. But suppose further that he does it again anyway—and again and again and again. What do you do next if you are committed to straight-line power? You raise your voice a little more nastily each time till you can’t shout any louder. And then you beat him (if you are stronger than he is) until you can’t beat any harder. Then you chain him to a radiator . . .”

You may have many thoughts that spring from Capon’s illustration. But his main point holds. You can’t lock the kids up forever. Right-handed power has its place, particularly in the little years. But you soon find that the kids have brains. They pay attention. They are persuaded, or they are not persuaded. They see your godly life, your good life lived wisely, and it compels them, or it doesn’t. 

Left-handed power is seen in Elisha following Elijah around. Elisha longed for a double portion of Elijah’s blessing. He saw something attractive. Elijah was no slouch. Left-handed power is not about being a limp noodle. But it is about praying for those who are wrong, bad wrong, like Moses did for rebellious Israel over and over again. 

There is a priestly nature to left-handed power. It moves things by use of the angels. It breaks bones with a soft tongue (Proverbs 25:15). Priests pray. And priests offer sacrifice. So this left-handed parenting is in the business of sacrificing. But the sacrifice offered follows in the footsteps of our Great High Priest. That is, the sacrifice offered is oneself. The distortion of this principle is a father and mother being walked on by the children, and I don’t commend that practice in the least. But I do commend sacrificial parenting that doesn’t use the children like pawns while dad and mom live it up off of the back of the little slaves in the home. Think about all of the wicked step-mothers lifting themselves up by stepping on Cinderella and the like. Mark and avoid. 

The goal is to lay your life down for the children. And the glory is that there is power, left-handed power, bound up in such a sacrifice. The wonder is that such a sacrifice returns to you ten-fold and you find that the children have been moved to sacrifice themselves. The apple ends up falling not that far from the tree.

Left-handed parenting is straight up the middle stuff. You have authority. And Jesus has said, “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28)

So there is nothing too flashy here. But, we are aiming to follow the Son of man who gave his life. So in that regard, this is the kind of parental horse sense that leaves us helpless apart from divine intervention. There we are like Elijah himself pouring water on the sacrifice three times in a row saying, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and of Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God” (1 Kings 18:36-37).

God has been known to answer that left-handed prayer with fire, the kind that leaves no water left in the trench.