One of the sobering things about marriage is that it images Christ and the church. You would think that there are enough difficulties in the institution without this particularity. But then you read Ephesians 5 and come across this high calling, this enlisting to a particular job. The Father says, “Your marriage is to tell the truth about Christ and His bride.” A man who takes this seriously and honestly may well try to decline the job, “Lord, I have considered the offer and frankly I know when a promotion is above my pay grade. I simply can’t do the job. I have to pass up the position.”
Then, he discovers that God is not asking.
If you read the Bible long enough, you realize that you’re doing this imaging thing all of the time—”So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27). This imaging principle is not lost on the parental department, “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him” (Psalm 103:13). But what if a father shows no pity to his children? Yes, therein lies the trouble and the stakes are high.
If we would image the Father well, then we must follow His lead. When He created His world, He said it was good. When He planted His garden, He planted trees for His image bearers to enjoy, lots of them—”And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat” (Genesis 2:16). Adam was not only to eat of every tree of the garden. But he was to do so freely.
God did draw one hard line, one no in a sea of yes. And God’s no wasn’t a wet-noodle—”But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
Here is Parental Horse Sense Lesson 6: Give your children a world of yes and a no that doesn’t budge.
Now let’s go ahead and face it, we have come to yet another parenting principle that requires more strength than we can muster. That’s OK. Just let this fact remind you that if you parent according to the flesh, you will die (Romans 8:13). But if you parent by the Spirit, you will live.
The problem is we want the parenting without the sacrifice. So we hedge our bets on the yes. To stay with the garden motif, if the kids go to eating from all of the trees in your garden, then you’re going to have to tend those trees. You can guarantee the little cute one is going to leave her apple core lying around somewhere. You will likely find it a week later, brown, shriveled, and peeking out of the couch cushions while guests are over.
This world of yes thing—and for that matter, holding the line on the clear-cut no—just feels like too much. Too much driving to soccer practice. Too much money spent on their education. Too many walks to the park to throw the football. Too many wrong notes struck on the piano while they’re figuring out how to tickle the ivories. Too many trips to the grocery store. Too many questions,
“Dad, how old is the oldest living NBA player?” – “You know, I don’t know.”
“Dad, do you think Themistocles was a good guy or a bad guy?” – “Well, I’m not sure about that.”
“Dad, can we have a movie night tonight?” – “Hmmm. Maybe.”
“Dad, is there anything that you do know?” – “Yes, yes there is, I know when my superiors are not in the mood for any more questions.”
We live by the strength that God supplies. And He really does supply it. We must trust him for it. When you sense that you have reached your capacity, you must remember that God enlarges your capacity. In fact, that heartburn you are feeling—you may feel it is a heart attack—is often what it feels like when God enlarges your heart: “I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart” (Psalm 119:32).
Parenting is a full speed kind of thing. Not frantic. Not frazzled. But parenting involves running in the way of God’s commandments. Your goal is for your children to pass you one day. By God’s grace, they will go farther and faster than we have gone. But while they’re young enough to be under your roof, you raise them up by running in the way of God’s commandments with them coming fast and furious behind you. They’re following you. The little buggers have more energy than you do it seems so they may well be right on your heels. So ask the LORD to enlarge your heart. He will do this for you and your children.
This enlargement is a promise we have in the New Covenant, which is far better than the Old. Isaiah prophesied of the New Covenant, saying, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break for into singing . . . Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes” (Isaiah 54:2).
Paul cites this section of Isaiah when he reminds the Galatian Christians that they are not children of the bondwoman, but children of the freewoman. We will pass on one attitude or another to our children. The only fitting attitude to pass on is that of freeborn children of the freewoman, that glorious new covenant which is marked by the Spirit’s power.