You’re [sic] little kids may not feel like a blessing right now. That’s okay. Parent them in such a way that they become a blessing. (A tweet from Mark Driscoll.)
I could take Mr. Driscoll’s tweet a couple different ways.
One is as encouragement to be faithful in raising your children even if you don’t see the fruit of your faithfulness in their lives. That would be good advice, because the Bible is full of instances where people kept serving God despite not knowing whether they were making a difference or not.
The second way to take his advice is truer to the context, and not at all as good as the advice in the first way to take it.
You see, he didn’t say “Parent them in such a way that you are faithful to the task God has given you as their parents.” He said “Parent them in such a way that they become a blessing.” In saying so, he places a huge burden of unreasonable expectations on those parents, the unspoken expectations that go like this:
If your children do not grow up to be blessings, you did something wrong. You didn’t parent them in such a way that they became a blessing. You knew they weren’t blessings when they were young and now that they’re older they still aren’t blessings. You failed.
That’s not how parenting works, though, and it’s not the burden God places on us in the Bible. Sure the Book of Proverbs has verses (e.g., 22:6) that say children raised well will grow up to be good people, but these verses aren’t given as promises or guarantees, merely as observations of general principles. Difficult children who grow up to be difficult adults sometimes end up that way despite the best parenting in the world.
Let’s take a look at another verse or two from Proverbs:
Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. (Proverbs 13:24.)
Whoever disregards discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored. (Proverbs 13:18.)
Disciplining children is a responsibility of parenthood, and being willing to impose discipline is a loving act. It’s not that parents have to beat their kids with rods to be biblical parents; it’s that parents are supposed to exercise care in how they raise their children.
Yet that next verse says some people simply disregard discipline, and let me tell you I see plenty of those people in the courtroom all the time. You’d think that once the discipline became severe enough, a person would stop doing wrong things. Not so. That’s why the English language includes the phrase “repeat offender”.
In fact, Paul wrote that rules can tend to push people to more lawless behavior, not lawful lifestyles. (Romans 7:5 – “sinful passions aroused by the law.”) For these people good parenting will not cause them to become blessings. Only the work of Jesus, the will of the Father, and the power of the Spirit lead to people truly being blessings to others.
So is there any guidance for parents in the Bible? Yes, and I would expect Mr. Driscoll is very familiar with it:
Parents, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4.)
Proverbs said discipline is to be carefully exercised, and Paul specified that we should concentrate on the training and instruction of the Lord. Neither of these passages say that if parents don’t see their children as blessings (which is a whole ‘nother can of worms worth a blog post of its own), then they need to work harder and make them into blessings.
Training and instruction of the Lord means we should follow the example of Jesus, the one who is meek, whose burden is easy, who says the weary can come to him and find rest. If you want to exercise careful discipline with your children, that’s what it will look like.
As I said in the title, Mr. Driscoll gave almost good parenting advice. But as Mark Twain put it:
The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.
I’d say the same for almost right parenting advice and right parenting advice. Unfortunately, all Mr. Driscoll tweeted – despite the best of intentions – was a lightning bug.
Some claim – rightly on occasion – that Mr. Driscoll is criticized unfairly by those who take his words out of context. I’ve given you the entire context in the quoted tweet at the top of this page. He said it, and that’s exactly how and where he said it.
For those who point out that it is difficult to be precise when limited to 140 character tweets, I completely agree. But when a mega-pastor, author, speaker and pundit desires to give advice on something as important as raising children, either say it well or don’t say it at all. There’s too much damage that can be done through this type of sloppy communication.