The Pharisee’s Guide to Parenting

The following two mundane moments are so revealing in my parenting journey. Both happened the day that we had parent-teacher meetings at my boys’ school. The first teacher looked at us and said, “Your son is so well mannered, so well behaved, whatever you are doing, keep doing it!” Ah, the deep pleasure of parenting arrogance overflowed in my life. I’m surprised I didn’t pull out a recording device and ask her to repeat it in to the little microphone. Well behaved! Well mannered! Keep it up, you are parent of the year! Just think of all those rude children causing havoc in the classroom… not my child, not under my watch.

The second meeting just deepened my Pharisaic heart. The teacher looked at his report card and said, “What a smart child you have, I honestly can’t say anything he should be doing differently, he just consistently improves and achieves to a high standard”. I’m surprised my pride could fit through the door as I walked out. I was floating on cloud nine of outward behaviour, outward accomplishment and outward manners.

Compare this to a situation I had afterwards. Now, I’ve documented my to-be-unamed son’s expertise in lying. Garett has a problem and its been a work in progress.

It was the end of the school day. As he walked out off the school grounds with me I said, “Did you give my note to your teacher?” “Yes I did Mom.” he smoothly replied. “Well, what did she say?” Without skipping a beat he said, “She will think about it and reply to you on Monday.”

Innocent conversation. Except my husband found the “note to the teacher” in his school bag over the weekend. And when confronted he admitted that the whole and entire conversation was a lie. He never gave her the note and “what the teacher said” was entirely made up.

You know what? When someone asked me how my day was I replied, “Rough! What a day, Garett lied to my face and we are trying to figure out what to do about it.”

Do you see what just happened there? Let me write it as a math equation.

Desired behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = Good parenting day.

Undesired outward behaviour by child+public knowledge of said behaviour = bad parenting day.

This isn’t the Jesus guide to parenting. Jesus shows to us parenting of the Kingdom.

Jesus seemed to revel in the moments of failure. When failure happened it’s like Jesus was given a treat. The exposure of failure and sin was to Jesus as a blank canvas was to Michelangelo.

Think of Peter. Peter covered up his black heart at the last supper (Who me? Never!) Jesus jumped right in there with Peter and didn’t sulk and say, “Have I taught you nothing?!” In fact he promised Peter it was about to get really bad! I imagine Jesus rolling up his sleeves at that moment and saying, “Great, now we’ve got something to work with, Peter!”

Jesus was seeking out the messy and sin-prone children. He could work with that. He couldn’t work with hiders, cover-up artists and those with a facade of outward behaviour, accomplishments and manners. The Pharisees, the perfect ones did not appeal to Jesus. The failures, misfits and mess-makers were right were Jesus wanted to be.

The only difference between the messes and the pharisees was one was socially acceptable and one was not. The inward heart was quite possibly the same. Jesus didn’t get too excited with outward success. He got very excited with outward failure.

Do I do that? Do I get excited when my I catch my child in a lie? Do I think, “Wonderful, now we’ve gotten to the good stuff!” I should.

If I make parenting about my reputation or my pride, then I can’t parent well.
If I make parenting about outward accomplishments and not inward heart change, I will not parent well.
If I make parenting about minimising problems and keeping life calm, I will not parent well.

Jesus never changed course when people said, “Look at your disciples, what bunch of failures!” He didn’t get defensive or hopeless. Jesus was going for the heart change and that takes time. It takes outward lies and sins to be exposed. It takes disciples fighting and threatening violence. It takes bad days when everything is going wrong.

Those are the teachable moments. That is when all the good stuff happens.

We all want grace and mercy for our children without them actually needing grace and mercy. Let me not be afraid to see clearly their need for grace and mercy. Let me not make it about myself and my parenting failures but rather about Jesus and his hope for them.

Parenting pharisees feel defeated by the failures, messes and disobedience. Jesus saw it an opportunity for the truth of the need to meet the answer of grace and new life.

Outward accomplishment is good. Outward success should be rejoiced in. But Jesus went for the heart and so should we. The quickest way there is the mess and moments of failure.

When my children succeed outwardly I rejoice. But I don’t let it blind me that all is necessarily fine. I want their hearts like Jesus wants mine. Lord, let it be so.

Give me Jesus.

“But it’s not my fault!” Words heard by parents around the world. Grating. Aggravating. True. So much of life is “not my fault.” It’s not just a phrase for kids, it’s true for adults also. Unfortunately the people who’s fault it is do not stick around for a cup of tea to discuss our emotional angst. So then what do we do?

I recently stepped back from many of my ministry responsibilities. I’d like to say it was simply in obedience to God (it mostly was). The fuller reality is that I was not able to cope with the sheer number of my commitments for much longer. If I didn’t choose to make changes then they would be forced upon me by my own inability to cope.

In these last few weeks, the fog of stress has been clearing. I’ve begun reflecting on the past years. I’ve looked at the glorious successes and the cringe-worthy failures.

When I reflect on the difficulties, failures and challenges of the recent past here are 3 things God has been teaching me. Especially in regards to things which I could say, “It’s not my fault!”.

More facts and information won’t help.

Very rarely does more information about a past situation help. It is so tempting that if only we truly understood what happened, then things would be different. This is a trap. We are trying to shuffle the facts of the situation to somehow come out with something other than what it is: a bad hand. Let a bad hand be what it is. I can’t be trapped into re-playing out each situation in my mind… trying to make the cards I was dealt into a full house.

It may not be my fault, but it’s now my responsibility.

Counsellors and authors Cloud and Townsend said,

This is the bad news in life: Even when we are unable to help ourselves, we still have a job to do. If you are hit by a car, you’re a victim- but you still have to hobble to the physical therapist and do the exercises. If your best friend moves away, it’s not your fault- but it’s your job to find other people of character in whom to entrust your heart. There are very few “boulders” in life in which you have no responsibility at all

These words both sting and bring comfort. They sting because what I want is to be a toddler who just dumps the blame on someone and walks away. I only hurt myself with this thinking. The comfort is that I am not stuck. Blame is a prison where my power is gone. The truth is I have power to deal with past and make changes towards the future.

I’m more deluded than I imagine.

The book of Isaiah get’s me every time. It is full of people falling down in front of idols saying, “You are so awesome!”. I feel deeply convicted of my own tendency to do this. In Isaiah 44, God hits gut level honesty about this tendency and says,

“Their deluded hearts led them to worship idols. Now they can’t get out of it by themselves. In fact, they have the idol in their right hand, they look right at it and say, ‘I don’t see a thing!'”
(My paraphrase)

This is me. I’m deluded about my own idols, sins, and flaws. I don’t see myself accurately in a situation. Even when I’m staring it in the face I declare, “I don’t see a thing!”

When reflecting on past situations and challenges I’ve been praying, “Lord, in what ways have I deluded myself? I need your light to see the light”.

Give me Jesus.

This is my biggest focus and prayer. When processing past challenges, stressful situations and hurts… Jesus is my biggest need.

  • I don’t ultimately need more information.
  • I don’t just need to take responsibility.
  • I don’t need to just own my junk.

I need to see Jesus more clearly

  • I need to know Him more deeply.
  • I need hear Him more clearly.
  • I need to know his grace beyond what I know.

That’s my prayer. “Give me Jesus.”

When I’ve let go of the details. When I’ve stepped up to the plate. When I’m ready to see things clearly.

Give me Jesus.

Let me see Him, know Him, and hear Him more deeply, clearly and truly. Just give me Jesus.