Eugene Peterson has a book called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, whose basic premise is that becoming a disciple of Jesus is life-long pursuit rather than an instant gratification-style effort. Lately the title has been coming to mind as I pray into some of our parenting efforts for our four kids.
Somehow I had internalized the notion that, if my husband and I persevered in correcting misbehavior consistently and well, my children’s misbehavior would diminish to virtually nothing, and peace would reign in our household. Many childrearing books I’ve read indicate that this is exactly what should happen if the parents are consistent, fair, loving, and firm. And there’s truth in this… Loving and firm parenting is necessary and does produce fruit – in children’s heart and behavior, and in the household overall. But I think it’s only partially true. Some misbehaviors and bad attitudes are tied to character issues that children will possess and struggle with for their whole lives, and extinguishing them – even through the best parenting techniques – just ain’t in the cards.
The effect of believing that issues should become very minimal or disappear if correct parenting techniques are consistently applied can bring frustration and disillusionment to moms. This was true for me. Because some issues in my kids – some pretty big ones – have endured for a long time with very little improvement. The question, “What am I doing wrong?” has cropped up in my mind dozens of times. If it’s true that my intentional and consistent training toward those challenges should shrink them to near nothing, then I’m failing.
Lately, though, God’s been impressing on my heart the importance of adopting the long view. The ingredient that I’ve been missing in my conception, a huge one, is time. It takes nearly two decades for a child to grow from infant to adult, and surely part of the point of all those years is that growing up requires many days, months, and years. This is true physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Childishness is inborn and real, and even with the best parenting, some issues will require years for a child to get a handle on (or, ideally, grow out of altogether).
Just like me and my sin. Because doesn’t God bear lovingly with me when I revisit the same sins, bad attitudes, and poor choices over and over again in certain areas of my life? Yes. He doesn’t tolerate it, of course, but he doesn’t give up on me or stop bearing with me through it either. His love endures, even to “forever.”
Likewise God tells us: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” A life verse for a mom if ever there was one! God is the One into whose hands we entrust our children’s hearts and lives; He is the one who knows and reigns over the ‘proper time,’ not us. It’s not a sprint but a marathon, and part of our own job in “running with perseverance the race marked out for us” is bearing with our children throughout their many year-miles.
So if my child continues to become mired in the same sin over and over again, then a big part of my job is to continue on prayerfully in love and faith. Consider my parenting methods, yes, and perhaps try out some alternate strategies to see if different methods might be more effective in reaching his heart. But most of all I must simply persevere in love, correction, and taking the long view, trusting that child to Christ over and over again. This is obedience to Christ in the realm of parenting.
So here’s to long parenting in a Christ-ward direction! May we take the long view. And may God bless our efforts as we keep entrusting our childrearing efforts – and the hearts of these beloved children he’s gifted to us – to Him.