One of the unique ways that married people can serve the Lord is by choosing to grow their family by adding children. Not all married couples will have children, and we would do well to pay attention to the couples who want to have children but wrestle with infertility. We reach out to them with the fruit of the Spirit, walking alongside of them, as infertility can be a very frustrating reality. But when parents have children, whether through childbirth, adoption, guardianship or fostering, the Bible has important teaching for those parents.
When you think of parents and children, perhaps the most famous Biblical teaching is “Honor your father and mother” which is found in Exodus 20:12, the fifth of the ten commandments. This one gets quoted a lot in the New Testament. (Jesus in Matthew 15:4, 19:19, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, Paul in Romans 13:9; Ephesians 6:1-2, and James in 2:11.) What does it mean to honor your parents? It can take on many forms. Honor is to prize highly, to care for, to show respect, and finally, honor is to obey.
As Paul writes, in Ephesians 6:1-4 and Colossians 3:20 “Children obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” As we grow older, what it means to “honor our parents” will change. It looks different for an 8 year old than it does for a 40 year old then it does for a 65 year old who is now caring for their aging parents. It can get very complicated as elderly parents’ health declines, and then need advanced care. For example, how do you honor your parents when that parent can no longer safely operate a car, but they refuse to give up the keys? Sometimes, at certain ages or in difficult situations, boundaries are needed in a parental relationship, even as you still (with the nurturing of the Fruit of the Spirit) choose to not dishonor them, but to show honor and care and respect.
Though parents are to be the nurturers of their children, the biblical writers have a caution for parents, “Do not embitter your children, or they will be come discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21) Parents, there is no doubt parenting can be extremely joyful and extremely difficult. In those dark phases of parenting, we can get so frustrated, so worn thin, so tired, that we can feel like failures. In the moment, in the darkness what can sometimes feel overwhelmed; we can grow a sense of failure and bitterness in our hearts. What this verse reminds us is that we must guard our hearts and minds that we don’t allow that bitterness to grow in us because we parents can embitter our kids, not only toward us, but toward others and God.
We parents need the Fruit of the Spirit in our lives so that we can be the parents God wants us to be, that our kids need us to be. Finally, parents you might also need to repent and confess to your kids when you have misbehaved toward them. Take the initiative, the first step and reach out to them. This is all a part of having the Fruit of the Spirit be an active growing part of our lives. Patience. Self-control. Goodness.
We parents also need help. If you are a person who is beyond the parenting years, we younger parents need you. I know that parents are always parents, but there comes a time when your child grow up, move up and start their own families. When your children reach that stage, your active parenting years are over, and that means you have an opportunity. Is it an opportunity to revel in the empty nest? In part, yes. My wife and I are excited for the empty nest. Our third son starts his freshman year in college next month, and that means we’ll have only our daughter at home, starting her junior year in high school. The empty nest is oh-so-close, and we are looking forward to it. But our plan is not to turn our gaze inward and self-indulge in our newly found free time. We’ve got a grandson now, and it’s highly likely that more grandkids will be born in the coming years. We also have a church family and an extended family. So do you.
Reach out to the younger parents, the single parents, and support them, help them, give them a break. Be in prayer for them. Encourage them when you see good things happening, as well as when you see them struggling. Grandparents can certainly do this, but so can the older ones in the church family.
But there are not just parent/child relationships in a family, there are also siblings. And we’ll talk about how the Fruit of the Spirit can bring health to sibling relationships in the next post.