The other day I found myself sitting on the couch trying to read, but the sound of my four-year-old son crying on the floor distracted me. My wife and I had planned on making the one mile trip to the shore of Lake Ontario after dinner but had cancelled the outing because my son and five-year-old daughter refused to listen to us (a problem that we’ve been having lately). We clearly told the kids to stop their manic wrestling session, go to the bathroom, and get their shoes so that we could go to the lake. They weren’t doing anything wrong, but we simply could not get them out the door with the way they were acting. Upon hearing our request they decided to ignore us and keep wrestling. Rather than using my stern “daddy voice” or separate them ourselves, we repeated our instructions, told them we won’t go to the lake if they don’t listen, and then left them to their own devices. Since they were still wrestling fifteen minutes later, my wife left for a walk with the baby and the trip to the lake was effectively cancelled. My son’s crying began when he realized that we were not going to the lake. He then blamed me for not being able to go to the lake.
This brief story is not a statement about good parenting. When it comes to parenting the only thing that I am confident about is that I really don’t know what I am doing. It is, however, an interesting example of how clear directives and stated consequences lead to suffering and misplaced accusations towards the one with authority. I had the power to bring my son to the lake, but doing that would have been a disservice to him. My son cannot mature if he thinks that he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants. In my ever growing realization that parenting is teaching me a lot about God and my relationship with Christ, this incident reminded me how we often blame God for the positions we put ourselves in.
Granted we are not always the authors of our misery. The book of Job describes the suffering of a man who was blameless. Original sin gave way to illnesses, natural disasters, accidents, and the like. One should not be quick to equate bad events with personal discipline from God. Moreover, the Bible doesn’t promise prosperity to the faithful; suffering sometimes cultivates spiritual growth (Romans 5). Still, obedience is often connected to a wisdom that reduces some types of personal suffering in everyday life. Husbands who honor Ephesians 5 by self-sacrificially loving their wives will be more content and joyful in their marriage than those who try to change their wives for selfish gain. Men who succumb to extramarital temptation will suffer (see Proverbs 2:16-19 & 6:29-7:27). Gossip destroys churches and makes life generally miserable for all (Proverbs 16:28 & 26:20-22). Obedience frees us from the tyranny of consequences that sin often brings to our lives (Proverbs 2).
More importantly the role of father teaches one about the nature of grace. Disobedience leads to consequences but does not (or should not) sever a child from his father’s love. I cannot imagine an act that would reduce the love I have for my son. Only his outright rejection of me at a later age could create separation between us, and even then I will still love him and long for him to return. And so it is with God and us (Luke 15: 11-32). Christ’s sacrifice shields believers from God’s wrath, but through grace we are all on a path of progressive sanctification (Romans 6; Hebrews 10:14). The consequences (or pain) of sin in our lives should be a reminder that God disciplines his children so that we can mature (Hebrews 12: 4-12). Maturity reflects a greater awareness not only of what is righteous but also that we are unable to work our way out of our sinful state (Romans 7). The consequences of sin should bring us to our knees, make use realize Christ’s lordship in our lives, and produce thankfulness for grace.
Later in the evening we went on a walk through Youngstown, NY. As we were leaving the house, I told my daughter that she should put on her long-sleeved t-shirt because it was getting cold outside. She refused, choosing instead to wear a t-shirt and shorts. After all, she knows more about such things than her father. We had a good walk. The kids were cheerful. We raced from point to point, all taking turns as the rotten egg (loser in each contest). The sunset over the mouth of the Niagara River was a beautiful orange/pink that highlighted Toronto’s skyline on the horizon. My daughter did complain a few times that she was cold.