If you’ve been a parent for anytime at all, you know it requires every ounce of physical, mental, emotional and, yes, spiritual energy. Like a drill sergeant in the army, parenting requires training.
Sleep training, potty training, safety training, school training, manners and behavior training, chore training, organizational training ... The list goes on and on.
No matter where you fall on the grace to discipline spectrum, training is required. The biggest training field, however, is the ever-necessary and all-important heart training.
If you don’t have a strategy and long-term goal in place, it can be easy to grow discouraged, feel aimless or confused, or like you are doing it all wrong and the person down the road is doing it way better.
Parenting is exhausting work. It starts with juggling feedings and nap schedules, then quickly shifts to shuttling kids to activities, then calming the storms of adolescence, and then - once they can drive - staying up late to make sure they made it home safely and on time. I've been told that even when your children have children, your role as a parent still isn't over. (Mom, can you watch the kids?)
No matter the age of the child or whether you are in the caregiver, cop, coach or consultant stage, parenting is a 24-hour job.
Being a parent for 12 years and having four children certainly does not make me an expert. Rather, I’m a mom still very much in the trenches of preschool, clingy kids and tween attitude. There is still a lot of life (and likely drama) to be lived out under my roof.
But I do understand being tired from training my children, especially when progress seems elusive. I understand reaching my limits and needing a break. I understand the temptation to pour a glass of wine at the witching hour instead of pouring out my heart to the Way Maker.
I understand growing weary from doing good.
God’s good warning
But the Bible warns against growing weary. This warning is present in Scripture specifically because God knows our flesh will fail us when it's most important. It warns about passive parenting. It urges us to press into Him and pass on His commands and promises to our children and their children.
God beckons us to make an investment for future generations by training our kids in the Way of the Word. It also tells us how often we should be discipling them (teaching and training in real time on how to apply what Scripture says to their lives).
But in a hard season, this can seem like banging your head against a brick wall.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These words I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:5-8).
That sounds like we are supposed to be talking to our kids about Jesus and His Word all the time. At the dinner table? Yes! In the car? Yes! Before bedtime and early in the morning? Yes! While on vacation? Yes!
Does that overwhelm you or make you feel like you've missed the mark? Don't let it!
God has given us His playbook. He has given us the best Book for raising our wonderfully unique and (sometimes) difficult children. He has graciously included promises in the Bible for the weary and exhausted parent.
Parenting promises from God to pump you up
Here are my top three promises from Scripture to encourage us in the lifetime enlistment called parenting:
1. “Let us not get tired of doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
We will reap the good that we’ve sown into our children’s hearts IF we do not give up. What an encouragement! Yet, that is a big if. It is easier, in the short-term, to plunk the kids in front of an iPad than to make an investment in their soul. Don't get me wrong - there is a place for technology, and I gladly use it at times - but it can't disciple our kids.
Parenting is a long-term commitment. It's making investments today that may not pay out for years. But when you do have short-term gains (obeying the first time you ask, showing kindness to a friend, reading the Bible unprompted, confessing sin and asking for forgiveness) celebrate them like it's a gold medal!
The preciousness of this promise is that if we plant good seeds of Biblical truth rooted in the Gospel – the foundation of God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace through Jesus - we will see the fruit of the Holy Spirit manifested in our children’s lives.
However, if we sow society's seeds of laziness, criticism, perfectionism, performance mentality (I love you more when you score a goal or make an A), comparison to others, materialism, or significance from busyness (your activity or friend's birthday party is more important than church or the family's schedule), then we can be sure that the corresponding fruit will come forth. And it will be rotten.
Passive parenting pays in thorns.
The choices we make communicate to our children what we deem important. You must know that the Enemy doesn't grow tired of roaming, prowling, and pouncing on our children (I Peter 5:8). He is shameless. We must not grow tired either of arming them with the right spiritual weapons to combat attack.
2. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).
To train in Hebrew means to dedicate, discipline, consecrate or set apart, to make experienced, and to make submissive - as one does a horse by a rope in its mouth. (Yes, our children are expected to submit to our God-given authority).
To train a child is like training up a soldier for war.
While that may seem extreme, the world for which we are preparing our kids is very much a battlefield. Everything good and righteous that we are teaching them will be challenged, down to the most fundamental, basic biology of who they are.
Training a child is teaching them how to put on the full armor of God, so that they can stand firm against the schemes of the Enemy (Ephesians 6:11-17). In a generation that is riddled with incomparable depression, anxiety and loneliness, often times the greatest battlefield is inside their own mind.
We must teach them how to fight with the Truth of God's Word. Click on this Christ-confident cheat sheet for combatting feelings and circumstances with Scripture.
Proverbs 22:6 seems like such a simple verse that should be easy to execute. We train, children obey. Yet, as parents who were once children ourselves, we know this is hardly the case. We are all born sinful and defiant. Show me a toddler, and I’ll show you original sin.
There is a great unspoken middle ground in this verse: the years of independence from the time young adults leave your home until the time they are “old”. Maybe you are in that dicey middle ground right now, not yet seeing God's promises come to fruition.
Proverbs 22:6 doesn’t say your child won’t ever be rebellious or fearful or anxious or doubtful or discontent. It isn’t a full-proof insurance policy to protect against the prodigal or the prideful or the promiscuous.
It is, instead, a battlecry that the scars of sin will be few on our children.
It says that when we train up a child in the way of Scripture and the goodness of the Gospel, that child will not depart from it when he is old. You might wait decades to see this promise fulfilled or maybe you won't live to see it at all.
But God is faithful and we must trust that His Word is true, no matter what we see in the present with our parenting.
Be encouraged by God's promises when discouragement rests heavy on your shoulders, when you feel as though you have missed opportunities with your children or are passing on your own sins to them. God will fill in the gaps and will strengthen us to train and not grow weary of doing good - if we only abide in Him.
“Be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength” (Ephesians 6:10).
3) “My Word that goes out from My mouth: it will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve for the purpose which I sent” (Isaiah 55:11).
Do you see how powerful and resolute God’s Word is? He stands behind every promise and assures that when we bathe our children in Scripture and prayer, they will eventually bear the fruit of His Holy Spirit – the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.
While there are no guarantees and no formulas for producing a Jesus-following child, this is a promise that we can depend on because it’s from the mouth of God. Although our participation is absolutely vital to the process, we can breathe a sigh of relief because it doesn’t all depend on us. Can I get a hallelujah?
Notice that God also doesn't say you have to be a Bible scholar or Sunday school teacher to disciple your child. You just need to make the time and be intentional about reading and reinforcing what His Word says. You can learn together. Trust and believe in the power of God's promises.
Tactics for training your child’s heart
So how do you go about heart training? There are thousands of books and opinions on this, but here are some quick and easy tips that work for my family that you can implement today:
- Plaster verses on their bathroom mirror, especially ones that correspond to their life stage or current struggle.
- Slip Scripture in their backpacks.
- Serve them soul food during breakfast and/or dinner. Read a devotional or Scripture to them as they are shoving down a Pop Tart and pray over their day before heading out the door.
- Be consistent and authentic. The old adage, more is caught than taught, is true. The greatest impact on your children will be when they see you reading your Bible, praying, serving and loving Jesus by being a doer of His Word.
- Send a care package to their college dorm room that includes a devotional or notecard package of Scriptures you have written and prayed over by hand. College kids still need discipling and encouragement to self-feed!
- PRAY! Pray for your child by name, daily and specifically. Pray for their current and future friends, situations, teachers, and spouse. Pray for their character, not just for an outcome on a test or an athletic event. It is amazing how prayer can persuade hearts and bring peace to your own mind.
One prayer prompt I have used that is easy, yet deeply effective, is to use the alphabet to pray for them. It may sound elementary, but praying from A - Z will cover at least 26 areas in their life that you might never have thought to pray before. You can fill in the words that best fit their life stage and season:
A = I pray that she would know that you, Lord, are the ALMIGHTY, her refuge and fortress. I pray that she would ASK you for all things, Lord. I pray that she would know that the Holy Spirit is her ADVOCATE, an ever-present help in times of trouble, and that because she is indwelled by you, she is never ALONE. I pray that she would ABIDE in you Jesus all the days long.
B = I pray that You would BEND his heart to align with Yours. I pray that he would know your BOUNTY, Lord. That he would taste and see that you - not the world - are good. I pray that you would bring the BLESSING of revelation to him as he hears and reads your Word.
C = I pray that she would know that you are the CREATOR and, therefore, she is fearfully and wonderfully made. I pray that she would CHOOSE you, Jesus, as her Savior (for any age until salvation comes). I pray that You would be the CENTER of her life, her reason for all that she does and the basis for all her decisions. I pray that the Holy Spirit would bring CONVICTION when she is being tempted to do or has done wrong.
G = I pray that he would use his GOD-GIVEN GIFTS to GLORIFY you, Lord, and not himself.
Some of the letters will challenge you to think - Q, X and Z can be doozies, but it's getting you to pray for your child longer than 15 seconds and that is always a good thing!
X = I pray that she would be EXCITED about serving you and living a life that pleases you.
Z = I pray that she would have a ZEALOUS heart for the things that are important to you, Jesus.
It's amazing what the Lord will bring to mind when you use the framework of the alphabet (or any other framework for that matter) that keeps you praying for an extended period of time. If you have trouble thinking of a word, turn to the Bible. The best prayers are the ones that God has already spoken into existence.
Never doubt that the power of prayer is profound, because of the One who hears our prayers.
Never too late
If you are sending your young adult off to college or are already a grandparent and are wishing you had a do-over, don't despair. God can always restore what the locusts have eaten, meaning that nothing is irredeemable on God's timeline (Joel 2:25). While you can't get back years that have passed, you can still make an impact on the days you have left.
The only way you will be able to parent even a fragment of the way God parents us is by abiding in Jesus daily. None of us will parent perfectly. We’ll need to ask for grace and guidance and forgiveness often.
But when we believe the promises of God and parent from them (not our own sin or way), we will be able to send our children out into this troubled world dressed as a warrior for battle, with God’s full armor guarding their hearts, minds and souls. We will teach them through word and deed the most important commandment in Scripture, to love the Lord their God with everything they've got and to love their neighbors as themselves.
Do not grow weary from doing good, friend. Train up your child in the way he should go. Believe that God’s Word will not return void. Be encouraged as you fulfill your calling to parent well as you abide in Jesus.