As we think about parenting and the formation of the children, it is helpful to look at the places where Christ interacts with children and speaks about them in the Gospels. Really we find only a little bit here but because what He says and does sets up a principle for us, I think that we will find that it covers all circumstances.
What Does Christ Do?
In the midst of the disciples quarrel over who would be the greatest, He takes a child and sets him in their midst, telling them that they must be like the child and receive the child as they receive Him.
What Does Christ Say?
“Let the children come and do not hinder them….whoever offends one of these little ones it were better for him to have a millstone put about his neck and be thrown into the see…do not despise the children….”
So there is our model: to include and receive each of our children and to refrain from offending, despising, or hindering them.
What Does This Mean Practically?
When we hear the term “offend” we tend to think not of the action itself but of the emotional response of ruffled feelings and hurt that may or may not be a reasonable reaction. Offend is a verb first of all though, and it may be better understood here if we use the synonym of sin or transgress since the word translated as offend is one with a legal meaning in the original.
To offend in this sense means doing that which we should not or failing to do that which we should (sometimes called sins of omission and commission). Of course, this leads us into difficult territory right away, for we do not want to think of our parenting failures as sins against our children (and many of them are not intentionally so) and we may feel that it is impossible not to fail in these ways, and the children will be better off if we let them alone! We must not allow our own emotions to rule however, but in seeing ourselves and our children as Christ sees us we acknowledge our tendencies and seek to grow in holiness. And by seeing ourselves clearly we can be on guard and know when we must seek the forgiveness of our children for having offended them.
I think that the offense that comes because of doing something we shouldn’t will be related to our unique personhood and the things that stress us in ourselves and in our children and circumstances. I find that I am much more likely to deal crossly with the child who shares my weaknesses than with the one who shares my strengths especially when circumstances cause me to anticipate a stressful situation by pre-stressing about it! I am offending against myself by not acknowledging that a certain situation will be difficult and asking for needed help (omission) and against the children by snapping and snarling and not giving them the opportunity to be helpful (commission).
Similarly, the offense that comes from not doing something I should, is also first an offense against myself as I do not ask for grace to get up and do my duty of following up and parenting in the presence of my children – not hollering across the house but entering into the children’s presence as we grow in the family community. The children also suffer when I am inconsistent in habit formation and in noticing what they do well.
Mother Culture is our life itself- the things that we do that we have to do and that have great potential for filling us as we become more perfect image bearers of Christ. This is a growth time for us and we (and our children) are growing into the person whom we have been made to be and there is a joy in that growth which is often obscured by daily struggles. I think it is a joy that we must fight to hold onto, by seeing ourselves and our children and friends as Christ sees us and by noticing the small improvements and the taking joy in the mere fact of our children’s existence. I think too, that if we base our joy in our children in their being (personhood) and not in what they do (or don’t!) that it becomes easier for them to know that we like them and rejoice over them regardless of behaviors.
To joy is an action and we may choose it.