Posts tagged ‘Parenting’

One Perfect Parent

Turpin House

The Turpin House / Credit: Reuters

One of their only contacts with the outside world was when four of the kids were allowed to step outside their house in Perris, California to install some sod in the front yard, with their mother coldly watching from inside the front window.  A neighbor who passed by and offered a friendly greeting to the children was surprised when none of them spoke a word in return to her.  But one of the children, a 17-year-old girl, had been plotting her escape from the family compound where her parents, David and Louise Turpin, had held her and her twelve siblings, who range in age from 2 to 29, captive for years.  She ran away and called the police using a cell phone she had found in the house.

As details of the children’s living arrangements have emerged, the picture that they paint is nothing short of horrifying.  To keep their abuse from being discovered, the Turpin parents made their children stay up all night and sleep all day.  They also tortured their children by feeding them next to nothing while they ate pies in front of them, by punishing them for getting water on their wrists while washing their hands, by allowing them to shower only once a year, and by tying them up with chains and padlocks.  The couple has pleaded not guilty to the accusations and are each being held on $9 million bail.

Obviously, it is difficult to deduce and decipher the pure evil that would move two parents to commit such heinous crimes against their own children.  Then again, it is also difficult to overestimate and over-celebrate the righteous bravery of a 17-year-old girl whose phone call to the police not only led to her own rescue, but to the rescue of her brothers and sisters.

It is at a time like this in the face of a story like this that we need to be reminded that, even as some earthly parents do their worst, we have a heavenly Father who loves us well.  The Turpin children were forced to stay up in the dark.  We have a heavenly Father who invites us to walk in His light (Isaiah 2:5).  The Turpin children were deliberately starved.  We have a heavenly Father who gives us food at just the right times (Psalm 104:27).  The Turpin children were denied basic hygiene needs and baths.  We have a heavenly Father who invites us to joyfully bathe in the waters of baptism (1 Peter 3:21).  The Turpin children were tied up.  We have a heavenly Father who sent His Son to untie us from that which binds us (Luke 13:15-16).

As a pastor, I have heard story after story of people who have been hurt by their parents.  Though, thankfully, none of the stories I have encountered have been nearly as horrific as the story of the Turpins, there are many children – both young and grown – who carry around deep scars.  There are many children who need the Father to fill what their father, or mother, would not or could not give to them.  There are many children who need the Father to love them like their father, or mother, would not or could not love them.

Our Father in heaven has the love that we need.  He loves us so much, the Scriptures say, that even our worst sins need not incur His eternal wrath.  In the book of Hosea, the nation of Israel is repeatedly betraying the one true God by chasing after many false gods.  Yet, even in the midst of their deep sin, while the Father declares His displeasure, He nevertheless promises, “I will show love…and I will save them…they will be called ‘children of the living God’” (Hosea 1:7, 10).

While some earthly parents may abuse their children for no apparent reason, we have a heavenly Father who loves us in spite of our sin for just one reason – the reason of His grace.  His grace is a grace so strong that it makes us His children through His Son.

Now that’s some awesome parenting.

January 22, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Christianity ≠ Morality

One of the topics I address often on this blog is that of morality.  With a collapsing cultural consensus on what morality looks like around issues like human sexuality, childbearing, childrearing, gender, justice, and political discourse – to name only a few examples – offering a Christian perspective on what it means to be moral is, I believe, important and needed.

There is an implicit danger, however, in spending all of one’s energy arguing for a Christian morality in a secular society.  Far too often, when we, as Christians, do nothing more than argue for a Christian morality in the public square, it can begin to appear that Christianity itself is nothing more than a set of moral propositions on controversial questions.  Like in the 1980s, during the height of the Christian Moral Majority, Christianity can be perceived to be conterminous with a particular system of morality.

A couple of years ago, an op-ed piece appeared in the LA Times titled, “How secular family values stack up.”  In it, Phil Zuckerman, a professor of sociology and secular studies at Pitzer College, argues that godless parents do a better job raising their children than do godly parents.  He writes:

Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

Much of what these kids raised in secular homes grow up to be is good.  A resistance to peer pressure, an eschewing of racism, a willingness to forgive, a measured sobriety about the positives and negatives of one’s country, a desire to avoid violence, a willingness to serve instead of to command, and a charitable tolerance toward all people are certainly all noble traits.  Professor Zuckerman argues that since secular parenting has a statistically higher probability than does Christian parenting of producing children who act morally in these categories, Christian parenting serves no real purpose.  But it is here that he misunderstands the goal of Christian parenting.  The goal of Christian parenting is not to make your kids moral.  It is to share with your kids faith in Christ.  Morality is wonderful, but, in Christianity, faith comes first.

James, the brother of Jesus, describes the proper relationship between Christian morality and Christian faith when he writes:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  (James 2:14-18)

James here explains the absurdity of claiming to have faith apart from any sort of moral deeds.  He says that if someone claims to have faith and no moral deeds, he really has no faith at all.  He even goes so far as to challenge his readers to show him someone who has faith, but no moral deeds.  This, in James’ mind, is an impossibility.  Why?  Because James knows that faith inevitably produces some sort of moral action.  The real danger is not so much that someone will have faith and no moral action, but that someone will have plenty of moral action and no faith!  Indeed, this is the problem Jesus has with the religious leaders when He says of them, “These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me” (Matthew 15:8).  The religious leaders were supremely moral.  But they did not have faith in Christ.

In our crusade to argue for a Christian morality in the midst of a morally relativistic secular society, let us be careful not to spend so much time trying to make people moral that we forget to share with them faith in Christ.  For a Christianity that only makes people moral, ultimately, leads them the to same place that a secular moral relativism does – it leads to death.  Morality, no matter what type of morality it is, cannot offer life.  Only Christ can do that.

We are not here just to try to make people good.  We are here to show people the One who is perfectly good.  Let’s not forget what our real mission really is.

June 26, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why Children Are More Than a Drag

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 10.55.54 AM

In our household, I am the one who usually gives our kids their baths.  And last week, while I had them both in the bath one evening, my daughter decided it would be fun to start hitting her daddy – playfully, but strangely forcefully – while my son was fussing loudly in his infant tub because he had just filled his diaper.

Ah, the perils of parenting.  Yes, it is tiring.  Yes, it can be dizzying and overwhelming.  Yes, it is ridiculously time consuming.  And yes, I am very much aware – and a bit fearful – that, as my kids grow older and begin to assert their independence in sometimes dangerous and derelict ways, parenting can also grow to be heartbreaking.  And yet, parenting is nevertheless wonderful.  I would not trade my vocation as a father any more than I would trade my vocation as a husband or my identity as a child of God.

As it turns out, however, not everyone feels the same way I do.

A revealing article appeared in the National Post last month featuring Calum and Tina Marsh, a married couple who is repulsed by the idea of having children.  In fact, “repulsed” is probably too weak a word to describe their loathing.  Calum, the author of this piece, writes:

A few weeks ago one of my oldest and closest friends told me that she planned to have children. Or rather she mentioned it, almost in passing, with the idle nonchalance of a remark about the midday heat: she planned to have children – and she planned to have them soon. I was dumbfounded. Children? Those fleshy barnacles of snot and mutiny? Those extortionate burdens? Those shrieking, dribbling, bawling horrors? Not for me, thank you. And not – I rashly assumed – for anyone else in my peer group. That my friend could want a child seemed to me unthinkable. It was as if she’d said she planned to invade Poland.[1]

It used to be a given that, barring some radically extenuating circumstance, having children was considered to be a generally natural outcome of marriage.  But according to Mr. Marsh, children are nothing short of “extortionate burdens” and “shrieking, dribbling, bawling horrors.”  Wow.  What kind of trouble could any child possibly cause to earn such an awful reputation?  Mr. Marsh explains:

I value my lifestyle, and I like having the means to maintain it. I value my free time. I’d like to re-read the complete works of Shakespeare, and get around to tackling Proust; I’m keen to learn Latin and modern dance; I wouldn’t mind visiting Locarno, Ankara and Bucharest. I also enjoy the freedom from responsibility childlessness affords me.

Let me try to sum up Mr. Marsh’s explanation as to why he does not want to have children and why he thinks they are “shrieking, dribbling, bawling horrors” in two words: he’s selfish.  In other words, Mr. Marsh has things he wants to do, money he wants to spend, and places he wants to go, and kids would throw a wrench into his plans and desires.  For Mr. Marsh, the most important thing in life is, well, Mr. Marsh.  Mr. Marsh is extolling selfishness, not as a vice, but as a virtue – a posture toward yourself that allows you to enjoy life more fully.

Don’t misunderstand me.  There are good reasons why a couple may not have children.  Sometimes, it is a heartbreaking medical condition that prevents a couple from having children, even when the couple may desire them.  Other times, a couple may not have the means to provide for a child.  In certain instances, foregoing the raising of children may even serve a spiritual purpose.  Both the apostle Paul and Jesus Himself did not marry and did not raise children because of particular calls God had placed on their lives.  There are plenty of good reasons not to have children.  Mr. Marsh, however, does not provide us with any of these reasons.  He simply wants to live his life for himself unencumbered by anyone who would ask much of anything from him.

One of the paradoxical principles of Christianity is that it is selflessness – not selfishness – that leads to a fulfilling life.  Indeed, this is the very pattern of the cross.  Christ emptied Himself in His death for us so that we could be called, coincidentally enough, His children (Galatians 3:26), and through that emptiness was exalted to the Father’s right hand as One equal to God (Philippians 2:6-11).

The apostle Paul is clear that Christ’s way of emptying Himself should be reflected in our lives as well:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:3-5)

Children offer a unique opportunity to practice ruthless selflessness because they demand so much more than a passing act of a service – giving a donation here, or joining a relief effort for a couple of days there.  They demand that one places his own priorities aside daily for the sake of someone else.  This is not an easy way to live, but it is a good way to live.  Indeed, one of the more troubling questions raised in my mind by Mr. Marsh’s article was this:  if Mr. Marsh doesn’t want kids because they are an inconvenience to and an inhibitor of his preferred lifestyle, how would Mr. Marsh react if Mrs. Marsh were to become an inconvenience and a drag on his dreams?  Selfishness, you see, has a funny way not only of preventing relationships – like the relationship you could have with a son or daughter – but of destroying the relationships you already have.

Mr. Marsh concludes his article by saying:

I can’t begin to imagine the burden not only of time and money but of authority and influence – of being accountable for a human life. It’s lunacy that so many people are comfortable with it.

I have news for Mr. Marsh:  no parent is ever comfortable with being responsible for his child’s life.  Just ask any parent who has reached over to his daughter’s basinet in the middle of the night and put his hand on her chest just to make sure she was still breathing.  Being comfortable isn’t the point when you’re raising children.  Loving and caring for a life that God has given you is.  And that’s a privilege I’ll take over comfort any day.

_______________________

[1] Calum Marsh, “‘Children? Those shrieking, dribbling, bawling horrors? Not for me, thank you’: Why fatherhood is not for everyone and shouldn’t have to be,” National Post (7.15.2016).

August 22, 2016 at 5:15 am 1 comment

For Fathers Only

Father and Son“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

These famous words from the apostle Paul are meant to call fathers to Godliness as they raise their children.  Negatively, fathers are not to “exasperate,” or anger, their children needlessly or vindictively.  Positively, they are to “bring them up,” or rear them, in the Lord.  The Greek word for “bring them up” is ektrepho, meaning, “to feed.”  Fathers are to feed their children.  But this means much more than simply “bringing home the bacon,” as it were.  This also means feeding children’s souls with time, affection, discipline, and grace.

Sadly, this call to fatherhood is lost on far too many men in our society.  And the effects are devastating.

Kay Hymowitz, writing for the City Journal, a quarterly affairs journal for Manhattan, recently published an article titled “Boy Trouble”[1] in which she attributes much of the dismal performance in school, in jobs, and in life of a great number of boys to absentee fathers.  In other words, fathers who fail to bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord because of their non-presence have a profoundly negative impact on their children.  Hymowitz expounds:

By the 1970s and eighties, family researchers following the children of the divorce revolution noticed that, while both girls and boys showed distress when their parents split up, they had different ways of showing it. Girls tended to “internalize” their unhappiness: they became depressed and anxious, and many cut themselves, or got into drugs or alcohol. Boys, on the other hand, “externalized” or “acted out”: they became more impulsive, aggressive, and “antisocial.” Both reactions were worrisome, but boys’ behavior had the disadvantage of annoying and even frightening classmates, teachers, and neighbors. Boys from broken homes were more likely than their peers to get suspended and arrested. Girls’ unhappiness also seemed to ease within a year or two after their parents’ divorce; boys’ didn’t.

Since then, externalizing by boys has been a persistent finding in the literature about the children of single-parent families. In one well-known longitudinal study of children of teen mothers (almost all of them unmarried), University of Pennsylvania sociologist Frank Furstenberg, a dean of family research, found “alarmingly high levels of pathology among the males.” They had more substance abuse, criminal activity, and prison time than the few boys in the study who had grown up in married-couple families.

Hymowitz goes on to consider some of the ways in which societies have sought to compensate for absentee fathers.  Some societies have tried to provide robust social support programs, ensuring single mothers have all the financial resources they need to give their sons opportunities that will serve them well.  But these social support programs have not stemmed the tide of troubled, fatherless boys.  Others have tried to encourage male role modeling in the form of coaches, teachers, and even stepfathers.  But the problem remains.  Indeed, Hymowitz cites one study done on boys who were raised by their stepfathers and notes that these boys were “even more at risk of incarceration than the single-mom cohort.”

Finally, Hymowitz reaches an inevitable, even if unsurprising, conclusion:  “Girls and boys have a better chance at thriving when their own father lives with them and their mother throughout their childhood—and for boys, this is especially the case.”  A household needs a father.

Please understand that I do not mean to belittle or disparage the contributions that mothers – and especially single mothers – make to a household.  Indeed, I know and have known many faithful single mothers who do all they can to raise their children faithfully, compassionately, and evangelically with great success.  To them, I say, “Thank you.”  I am saying to men, however:  You are needed.  The stakes are high.  You cannot afford you to be derelict in your duties toward your families. 

So get with it.  Heed the call of the apostle Paul.  You have more influence than you may ever know.  Which means you have more responsibility than you could ever dream.  Take that responsibility seriously. Little eyes are watching.


[1] Kay Hymowitz, “Boy Trouble,” City Journal 23, no. 4 (Autumn 2013).

January 6, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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