12.24.2006

To Parent

Becoming a parent necessarily focuses one's attention inward. Kids,
after all, are completely dependent on you for their survival and
development. Taking the time to be a good parent has its benefits,
but it comes at the cost of time and energy that could be spent for
other positive purposes.

As a Christian, I have known for a long time the apostle Paul's
teaching that it is the single person who can put the Kingdom first
and the married person who must tend to family matters. I struggle to
know how to simultaneously honor my responsibilities as a husband and
dad, and "hate" my wife and kids for the sake of the Kingdom.

It is easy to settle when you're a parent - to settle for a
comfortable, decent middle-class lifestyle, to put your time and
talents on the sideline and close ranks so that your kids are OK. I
don't think that's what the Bible or these times demand from us.

It is equally easy to neglect your family obligations in the pursuit
of ministry activity, as if being a bad husband and father becomes a
badge of honor, a demonstration that you are sold out for God. There
is nothing honorable or godly about that kind of approach.

I am guided in this dilemma by a former mentor of mine who regularly
prayed to God that she would not treat either her kids or her ministry
as a god, but that in fulfilling her responsibilities to both she
would treat God as God. This is a good word. For to be a parent is a
noble calling, but no matter how hard we work and study to be better
at it, it is God who is our God in our parenting. And it is the same
with whatever skills and opportunities and vocations we have.

I recently finished a book written by a child psychologist who quoted
two significant studies performed in the middle of last century. One
study found that during the bombing of London in World War II, those
kids who fled but were separated from their parents fared
significantly worse over time than those kids caught in the violence
but remaining with their parents. Another study found that orphans
cared for in a particular world-class institution did better than
orphans in other institutions but worse than normal kids who lived
with their parents.

I think of these two studies because they remind me that no matter how
good we are when it comes to looking out for kids, the best thing we
can hope for kids is that they have loving parents. In that sense, me
taking the time to be a good dad to my kids is more productive, in a
global sense, than me taking the time to do things for other kids.

On the other hand, part of me being a good dad is setting an example
for my kids, and part of being a good example is being charitable and
compassionate. Doing stuff outside my family, like working a
meaningful job and ministering in the church and performing community
service and giving to worthy causes, while it diverts time and
resources from my kids, also builds my kids by helping them see what
are the right expenditures of time and resources.

Again, though, I will return to the wise words of my mentor. It is
always good to expend time and resources in ways that are productive
both for the kids and for the Kingdom, but better still to do it in
ways that affirm that God is God of both and God of me. Easier said
than done, right, parents? Yet let us seek to do just that.

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