I believe all children come into this world with one primary job description: to figure out how God designed life to work. And He puts those children into the arms of parents to help them fulfill that job description.
Consider the following passage:
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
It’s a simple sentence that is packed with subtle meanings and life-changing truths.
Notice first of all that Paul is addressing Fathers. Not because they are the only parent that matters. Not at all. But they are ultimately responsible for the upbringing of the family. When Judy and I were raising our children, it was easy to think of her as the primary parent to our children since she had more time with them, but the reality was, God would hold me, the Dad, responsible for how our children were raised.
As Paul moves into how God wants us to raise children, he starts with what is not to happen. We are not to provoke our children to anger. Sounds simple enough. Now let’s move on…
Not so fast.
Do we really know what is involved with not provoking our children to anger?
Anger, as used in the New Testament of the Bible in particular, is a natural, God-given emotion meant to respond to injustice – when we perceive there is an injustice. But that last part is tricky. It means I perceive there is an injustice, but I often do not know there is an injustice, and I need to investigate further.
When our son Bryan was in about second grade, I walked into a room and saw him doing something that we forbade in our family. I can’t remember what it was now, but what I do recall is I perceived that it was seriously wrong, went over and immediately swatted him on the behind. He burst into tears and ran up the stairs to his room.
Then Judy said, “Rick, I don’t think you had all the facts before you swatted Bryan. He did nothing wrong.” She went on to explain what I should have found out before I reacted with a swat. I had gotten angry at something I perceived was wrong, as God designed, but I didn’t follow through and check out what I perceived to be an injustice before I acted.
That is one way we can provoke our children to anger: not listening, jumping to conclusions, not checking out what we perceive to be an injustice on their part.
But the verse says we shouldn’t provoke them to anger. What’s that all about?
As a father, a parent, I shouldn’t put my children into a position where they have no reasonable alternative but to be angry. In other words, I need to be careful not to put them into a position where the only natural response is to be angry. That’s what I did with Bryan when I swatted him unjustifiably, without all the facts.
There are other ways we can provoke our children to anger as well, including the extremes of over controlling them or abandoning them. Our children come into this world totally dependent on us, but designed to grow and eventually become arrows in the hand of us as warrior parents, where we then launch them out into a future world that we will not see (Psalm 127:3-4).
When we as parents continue to treat our growing children like they are babies, with us doing everything for them – including making every decision for them, telling them what to do, when to do it, how to do it – then we are over controlling them.
If we abuse our responsibilities to our children by over controlling them, we are putting them into a position of either fighting for their freedom or fleeing to get out from under our thumbs. Both scenarios will justifiably move them to anger.
But we can also fall into the trap of abandoning our children, either literally leaving them, or by never being there for them and just letting them live and learn all on their own.
If we abdicate our responsibilities by abandoning them, we are forcing them to learn about life somewhere else, and our actions will provoke them to anger, because that too is unjust.
To be continued…