In early Spring, when the mulch is still soft and new plants have just emerged green and tender, I love to walk through my flower beds and breathe in the scent of fresh air. The seedlings are so bright and clean and hold the promise of Summer in their unfurling leaves. I step carefully and bend to touch the edge of a bright leaf when I notice an unwelcome sight. Weeds. Hundreds of them. The result of a million acorns and hickory nuts falling from our tall trees, overwintering successfully among the Hydrangeas and Hostas. As they break through the top layer of black mulch they drive me nuts. There are just so many. How will I ever have time to pull them all?
Years ago I would begin the frustrating task immediately, but the "weedlings" were so fragile they broke apart when I yanked on the stem...leaving the root intact. An intact root is highly capable of producing a new, stronger weed. One that is more difficult to pull up. But I learned after a couple of frustrating weeding sessions that if I wait, if I let the weeds continue, most of them will die off on their own. The ones that are left will be sturdy enough to withstand being pulled up in one piece...roots and all. I won't have to break out a shovel or throw out my back by digging because they will come up relatively easily.
With this in mind, read Matt. 13: 24-30 again. Though it originally refers to weeds within the Body of Christ I believe the principle is extremely applicable to our parenting!
God gives us babies and we pour ourselves into them. We teach them yes ma'am, please and thank-you and rejoice when they say "Jesus" for the first time.
Then one day, your precious 18 month old looks you right in the eye when you say "don't touch" and...they touch it. With joy.
Or your three year old, who has never given you a moment's trouble suddenly blames their little sibling for something you saw them do with your very own eyes. Without batting an eye they lie to you and you begin to fear they will end up in prison.
What has happened to your precious, innocent baby? It's called a sin nature. They were born with it. You will see much more of it in the days to come. Trust me.
For a long time I had the parenting philosophy I called "Nipping it." I dealt swiftly and decisively with behavior issues. I was determined my kids would not follow the patterns of the world. I wanted them to stand out and stand strong for Jesus from the time they were old enough to know right and wrong. It worked pretty well. Clear boundaries are very important. Our kids crave them. They feel safe with them. So I'm not saying "nipping it" didn't work. It did, for the most part...at least for a while.
But now I have teenagers. Nipping it? It has gone the way of pull-ups and special blankies. My kids have their own relationship with God. Sometimes it looks different than mine. Sometimes they disobey Him and do what they know they should not do. My gut response is to swoop in and "nip it." But teenage issues are different. If I (being the control freak I am) insist on dealing with every single misbehavior and making mountains out of molehills, I end up cutting off the "top" of the weed...but that root? The sin? It is still intact. Insisting on control creates pushback. It only makes things worse. My constant preaching begins to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher..."wah wah wah wah"...and they tune me out. This is dangerous, and here's why:
Jumping on every sin, insisting everything be dealt with, talked through, and confessed will damage good fruit. That is not grace. We are not and have never been asked to be our kids' Holy Spirit. If your child has accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior you can rest on this verse: John 14:26 says, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."
If your child has not yet accepted Jesus, then your efforts would best be spent in focused prayer for their salvation. Because, without the Holy Spirit, dealing with their everyday sinful behavior is only dealing with the surface issues. (Let me be clear...I'm talking the small stuff here.) Until their heart is transformed they are going to behave like a sinner because that is what they are. YES you set boundaries. NO you do not tolerate destructive or hurtful behaviors in your home. YES you establish clear consequences for poor choices. I am not talking about drugs/alchohol/sex. I'm talking about the day-to-day junk that weighs us down as our kids pass into the teen years. Like that song that is dumb but not immoral. (What does the Fox Say...can I get a witness??) The refusal to eat lettuce. (But they will at least eat green beans.) The whining, fighting, and tug-of-war between siblings. (Then half an hour later they are draped across each other watching a movie.) These are "weedlings." They will probably die off on their own.
It is not my job to fix my child's sin problem. It IS my job to model grace, to look upon them with love and approval for who they are and who I know God created them to be, to pick the important battles so that we stand a better chance of being heard by our children. As they grow up, there ARE some hills worth dying on-willful disobedience is one of them. Drugs/alchohol/sex...do I really need to clarify this? Those are TREES, not weeds. We don't just pull those, we chop them down and grind the STUMP for crying out loud.
Harping on every negative behavior, though, could choke off or even uproot the good fruit God is growing in my kids. They will not only grow deeper roots of disobedience, they will stop listening to us altogether. Not every sin/behavior issue/act of disrespect needs to be addressed by Mom and Dad. I am finding that, by resisting the urge to pull every.single.weed as soon as it surfaces, most of them die off on their own. The ones that are left? Those are the ones that demand my attention and prayers. Those are the biggies, and I can co-labor with Jesus as He works to refine my kids (AND ME!) into His image.
As you walk through the garden of your family, weed carefully. Nourish that tender fruit and trust God to reveal the weeds that need to be pulled. You will spend much more time enjoying your children and your Father in Heaven will have an easier time being heard (because you won't be constantly talking over him!)