There are times when I’m reading God’s Word and a verse seems to literally jump off the page at me. Maybe a light bulb of understanding flashes on in my mind or a connection is made for the first time. Most often, the lamp of God’s Word shines deep within, and His Spirit pricks me with conviction as the true condition of my heart is revealed.
This happened recently as I came to the following verse in my reading through the book of Proverbs:
Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s emotions than capturing a city. (Prov 16:32)
As the long days of summer have worn on, I’ve found myself quick to lose patience and grasp for power, particularly in my relationships with my boys. Here’s the thing: Summer is really fun. I love having all three boys home all the time. I love getting to sleep later and have lazy mornings with nowhere to be. I love having time to swim, play with friends, travel, read and take the boys to lots of new places. I love having more opportunities to teach them all sorts of things as I seek to fill their minds with truth. I consider it a privilege and joy to be home with them each day.
But summer has its challenges too. While there are more opportunities to spend time together enjoying and loving each other, there are also more opportunities to rub each other wrong…to irritate each other…to sin against each other. Constant family togetherness means the shortcomings of four sinful human beings are highlighted and on display. Selfishness, pride, anger, fear, manipulation, sibling rivalry. In the summertime, more than in other seasons, I see my kids’ individual weaknesses and the sinfulness of their hearts.
And my natural tendency is to want to fix my kids by my own power. In other words, I want to say and do all the right things as a parent to produce the desired effect in their hearts and behavior. I find myself trying to smooth out their rough edges with solid biblical parenting–trying to somehow mend their flaws and melt away their fears and insecurities so that I can feel really good about my kind, obedient, well-adjusted and happy kids. And if none of this “good” power parenting works, it’s likely I’ll completely lose patience. I’ll let my own irritation, anxiety, and fear take the wheel, and in a final ditch effort yell, “WHY CAN YOU NOT DO____?!?! WHAT IS SO HARD ABOUT____?!?! JUST STOP IT! NOW!!!!!!”
Patience is better than Power.
When I read these words, I felt the Lord whisper to my heart, “They are not your projects, Sarah. They are gifts from my hand. They are blessings to steward, not burdens to shoulder. You will not give account for how you changed or healed or fixed them. That is not a job you can even do. It’s mine alone. You will give account for how you loved them. And my love is patient. It is not irritable. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. My love never ends. You can be faithful and rest in grace as you trust Me with the hearts of your boys.”
Loving my kids with a Christ-like love, doesn’t mean glossing over their sins and struggles with an “anything goes” mentality. The proverbs also repeatedly command parents to discipline their children in love: Discipline your son while there is hope; don’t set your heart on being the cause of his death (Prov 19:18). No, loving my kids with a Christ-like love means being faithful to raise them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4), being patient with the process rather than trying to force visible results that, in reality, I have no power to produce.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, he was telling them to raise their children in the Gospel. Paul’s Gentile audience (Greek believers) would have raised their children in the instruction of the philosophers. The Jews would have raised their children in the instruction of the Law. But Paul is calling followers of Christ to something new: Gospel-centered parenting. And the good news of the gospel is that “we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope” (Tim Keller). Loving my kids patiently and raising them in the instruction and discipline of the Lord means giving them the good news of grace as I rest in that grace myself.
Jesus Christ came to this world and lived the perfect, pure, and righteous life that my boys and I could never live. He died a horrific, unimaginable death in our place. He triumphed over death when he rose from the grave, and He lives to offer us forgiveness, His own righteousness and transformation through His Spirit. When I am resting in the gospel, I can stop grasping for power and love my boys with a patience that endures the process–rough sinful edges and all–because that is how Christ has loved me. I can discipline and teach in love rather than irritation and fear, extending the good news of grace that has been extended to me. I can parent in a way that hopes all things because my hope is grounded in the finished work of good, merciful and mighty Savior, not the way my kids behave on any particular day. My life can exhibit the truth that patience is better than power because God’s patient grace has changed me. . . and his patient grace will change them too.
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and His mercy is over all that he has made. Psalm 145:8