“Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children. Now I have six children and no theories.”
This quip supposedly comes from 17th century author John Wilmot, but most any parent could echo its sentiment. Parenting is complicated. Every child is made in the image of God, unique, and multi-faceted. The complexity grows as each additional child enters the family. And complications multiply as the relationship between each child and every other family member also requires attention. No wonder parenting is one of the most demanding pursuits on the planet.
In the face of the undeniable challenges that parenting presents, God's Word guides us through the thicket of complexity. Surprisingly brief, there are less than a dozen passages in Scripture that directly address how a parent should rear a child. One of these is Deuteronomy 6:20-25.
“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’
Did you notice anything unexpected in the parent's reply to the son's question? The child asks about the meaning of God's commands. In reply, the parent recounts a story. If one of my kids asked me about why he could or couldn't do something in our house, I might give several kinds of answers. I might provide pros and cons of a particular course of action, explain how it's unloving or unbiblical, or just drop back and punt: "Because I said so."
Yet in this passage God reminds us that the meaning for rules is found in a story, a narrative story line, a reality in which we live. In other words, the simplicity in parenting complexity is this: we must help our children live in reality.
Reality comes in all shapes and sizes. We want our children to be aware of the realities of life on planet earth. Often this happens gradually. Toddlers need to be reminded about simple realities like: "If you come close to the stove, you might get burned." Or "If you play near the top of the stairs, you might fall." While teenagers will need to live in the grittier realities (among others) that foolish choices about friends, drugs, drinking, and sex will likely lead them into great harm.
But children of all ages also need to be reminded of the realities of God. There is a God. He made everything, including them. We all live in a good, but fallen world. This Creator sent His Son into the world to live and die in the place of sinners who turn from sin and trust in Him. And one day God will set everything right once more.
All these (and much more!) are realities which actually exist. They provide the often-unseen contours and substance of our existence. This is God's universe, and we are living in it. So we would do well to know what He and His world are like, lest we run at cross purposes to reality itself. As pastor and author Eugene Peterson has written (quoting H. H. Farmer), "If you go against the grain of the universe, you get splinters.”
And so our straightforward mission as parents is to one day deploy our children into the world, children who are aware and ready to live in the realities of God and the world He has created. Help your children live in reality. For my wife and me, this aim has clarified our parenting—not straightening the twists and turns of the path, but providing a north star to guide our steps.