Over the years, I have discovered that the single most difficult aspect of parenting is that it forces you to look at yourself. Not just an occasional glance mind you, but those good hard looks right into the eye of your character. Whoa!
I’ve also discovered that good parenting is just plain hard work. Many times it rubs against the grain of your soul. It’s not just getting up at 3 a.m. to clean up vomit off your brand new off white carpet (you knew you shouldn’t have let them drink the grape Koolaid right before bed), but it is the continual series of seemly tiny sacrifices that make for a job well done. It’s stopping to listen to what’s troubling them when you have 10 minutes to finish dinner, get cleaned up and get to your tennis lesson. It’s listening to what their heart is saying, and not just their words. It’s missing your favorite show to pick them up from a youth activity. Or sometimes, it’s saying, “no” when it would have been easier to say, “yes.” Or, “yes,” when it would have been more convenient to say, “no.” In parenting, like any other endeavor in life, it is the little extra efforts that push you over the top from the realm of mediocrity into excellence.
I don’t often write in the front of my Bible, but a guest speaker made a comment once that I wrote on the front flap so I would never forget it. Sin will always take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay and cost you more than you can pay. This can apply to personal sin, but I think it can also apply to our parenting. From time to time I think we need to check out our internal motivations and evaluate our priorities.
For example, as parents it is so important that we emphasize spiritual qualities not physical attributes. Again we must examine our own lives through the mirror of God’s Word. Even though as Christians we know that God is our first priority, it pays to take a moment to evaluate our state now and then. In our hustle bustle society, it is so easy for wrong priorities to creep in. If our emphasis is on the physical, we will communicate this to our children. Let’s face it, our entire society worships beauty. The advertisers sell everything from cars to beer with beautiful faces and great bodies. Then our poor little pimple-faced teens look in the mirror and what do they see? Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with a flat chest. Let’s be real here, okay? How many of us could contend in the Miss America Pageant? But the media makes us feel like if we are less than the proverbial “10” we are somehow doomed to failure as a human being. God says to the contrary in 2 Corinthians 4:16 “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.”
It is vital, imperative, can’t be repeated enough times, urgently important that we in no way, act, word or deed communicate to our children that their worth as a human being is in anyway attached to the things that we can see with our outward eye. It is not our looks, our bodies, our intelligence, or even our talents that make us valuable as a human being. If we instill only one truth in them, it must be that it is their character that is of paramount importance. It is only the inward beauty that can endure and grow with time. If we encourage them to put all their time and energy into something that is doomed to wither with time, then we have robbed them. and they are at risk of becoming bitter, shallow and empty adults. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that if your daughter is running for Miss America that you are a bad parent, or that your daughter is going to grow into a nasty old hag. What I am saying is if your daughter is running for Miss America, emphasize the inward development of character that can be gained from the experience, and not her outward beauty.
1 Peter 3:3-4 “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
I have only one brief religious experience as a Freshman in High School. For a while, I attended a youth group at a Lutheran Church. I remember the youth pastor, a nice looking enthusiastic young guy who was really passionate about what he was doing. He had just recently gotten engaged and was so excited about the prospect of introducing us to his fiance. He was obviously smitten. Finally the day came that she arrived from out of state. The church gave a special Welcome Reception for her. When I saw her, I was more than a little shocked. The way he spoke of her, I thought she’d be drop dead gorgeous, but instead, she was plain, maybe even homely. I wondered what he could have possibly see in this Plain Jane. Then something strange happened, as I got to know her, she was so lovely on the inside that when I looked at her she actually started to look different to me. The longer I knew her, the more beautiful she became. Her inward beauty shone so brightly it obscured her plainness. That is what 1 Peter 3:3-4 is talking about.
I make it a habit not to praise my children for anything that they have no control over like their looks or talents. I do encourage them for great efforts, good attitudes, the making of right choices, and for no particular reason at all just because I love them for who they are.