Philemon is a little, one-chapter letter nestled in between Titus and Hebrews in the New Testament. The apostle Paul (champion of New Testament letter-writing) wrote it during his imprisonment. He sought to reconcile a believer named Philemon with his runaway slave, Onesimus, who had come to faith in Jesus after his escape.
As I was reading this letter this morning (on Day #4 of Snowpocalypse 2019), verses 8 and 9 jumped out at me.
“Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…”
Do you ever have Scripture SLAP you across the face? That’s what these verses did for me this morning.
I can’t help but think that I need to apply this to my parenting.
I am certainly bold enough to COMMAND my children to do what is required. In fact, every day is a series of commands. I have six children at home 24/7 (ish), and it’s my job to structure their days. “Don’t forget your chore! Do your devos! Stop hitting/screaming/kicking/insulting/annoying/etc/etc/etc your sibling!” And on and on it goes.
For my babies, it’s true that I hold great control over their lives. I must control their lives; otherwise, they wouldn’t survive. Malachi might be able to rummage through cupboards enough to survive on crackers and chocolate chips, I suppose, but Lilah…nope. She’s not even toilet trained. I control almost everything about her life – what she wears, what she eats, when she goes to bed, and on and on.
As they age, however, there must be a natural transition from exerting CONTROL over my children to exerting INFLUENCE over them. And I think much of the time I’m floundering around in this area. My natural bent is to control. Control is much easier (well, it’s easier IF the children comply, that is…a big if). But influence requires a healthy relationship between parent and child. It requires understanding and patience and kindness.
Paul said, “…for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…” In other words, it’s better for our relationship if I appeal rather than command. What am I doing to my relationship with my pre-teens and teens if I always command (demand) instead of appeal?
I think back to the wildly crazy and exhausting days when my first four were all small (3 in diapers at a time – twice!). It was so satisfying to my pride when I would take my 4 little ducklings to a store and have them behave so beautifully that we’d receive compliments from strangers. I exerted much control over their outward behavior back then. It felt like constant correction much of the time, but it was rewarding when others noticed their good behavior.
Oh, my. The ugly pride. I was blissfully ignorant of the coming reality.
Don’t get me wrong. Laying a good foundation is SO important. I’m glad we worked hard in those young years to stay on top of correction and discipline, so that our kids would know that we expect obedience. I’m glad that our kids were required to obey. I’m glad they had a strict upbringing.
What I didn’t anticipate is the idea that my control over them is incredibly finite. As their brains developed reasoning skills, they also started questioning if compliance was worthwhile.
And isn’t this why Biblical-based parenting, focused on heart change instead of outward behavioral change, is SO important? Because let’s be honest – compliance with Mom’s rules just to please Mom is NOT always worth it. But compliance with Mom’s rules to please the Almighty God? Well, hopefully that is a more obvious YES.
We spend our days around here in close quarters. A small house + a big family + homeschooling = lots of family interactions. And when I say “interactions,” I mean, talking, laughing, discussing, arguing, screaming, studying, debating…We run the gamut. We try (OH DO WE TRY) to keep Jesus at the center of it all.
Can you see that I’m processing as I write? I want so badly to be a good, godly mother. I want to have the kind of relationships with my kids that allow me to influence their decisions in a good way. I want them to love Jesus above all.
But, oh, is this parenting thing impossible much of the time. I am so inadequate on my own. Only God can make it happen. Only Him.
For love’s sake, we press on.