God is not a philosophy.
But here’s the thing – in our modern version of parenting, that is exactly how we present Him to our children when we take the Christian life – a life that is meant to be an adventurous high thrill ride of twists and turns – and reduce it to a list of do’s and don’ts. A reduction to rules is a poor counterfeit for “life more abundantly.”
Let me make it clear. I’m not against principles. I’m not even against guiding principles that sometimes lead to rules. I’m not against doing the right thing. But what I am against is parenting from a place of fear.
A few Saturdays ago I was at my dining room table, sitting with God. I was just hanging out in listening mode – no requests or agenda – and I heard him say: “Heidi, I don’t parent from a place of fear.” “Um, ok,” I replied. “Do you want to tell me about that?” (Because our Heavenly Father has invited you into a relationship, I believe you can learn to hear His voice like this too – but that’s another blog post.)
He continued, “I don’t parent from fear. Because of that, I am not afraid of what you do. I am not afraid of what you will do. I am not afraid of what you have done, or even what you haven’t done. I don’t parent you from a place of fear because I don’t find my identity in what you do.”
This was so totally out of the blue and not at all germane to our conversation. But He’s God, so I am listening.
I asked “Would you like to show me some times when I have parented from a place of fear?” Among other examples, God reminded me of the time I refused to publicly celebrate my own child’s success because I was worried about not offending another mother whose child did not have the same. I wasn’t being courteous. It was straight-up “fear of man” (see Proverbs 29:25).
Some of the best examples of parenting from a place of fear are described in the short parenting book Helicopters, Drill Sergeants and Consultants: Parenting Styles and the Messages they Send. Believe me, I have been all three of these types of parents. On my not so great days, I have hovered like a helicopter because of worry and anxiety. I have commanded because I felt dissed and ignored (“Oh no, you did NOT just say that to me!”). And I have consulted because I swore that I would NEVER be that mother who made her son wear a coat because she was cold.
Fearful parenting takes on many forms:
- fear that our children won’t thrive and be healthy
- fear that they will not become successful in the world’s eyes
- fear that they will embarrass us in front of other people
- fear that they will not live up to their potential
- fear that they will curse in Sunday school (ha ha)
- fear that they will fall away and choose not to follow Jesus
- fear that we have failed as parents
- fear of what others will think of us because of them
And, and, and – fill in the blanks with your own list.
What I have learned over the years is that parenting from fear does not foster the proper discipleship and healthy development of a child. What happens when we are motivated by fear is that we begin to create lists of do’s and don’ts and we force our children to live in-authentic Christian lives by measuring their performance instead of shepherding their hearts.
When I lead from fear, I lead like a Pharisee: all I really care about is that my kids look good on the outside. But of course that’s the least important part of their development. What’s the solution to fear based parenting? In the world’s eyes, the opposite of fear is courage. But in the Kingdom, the opposite of fear is love. The apostle John writes in 1 John 4:18 “perfect love casts out fear.” So our primary challenge as parents is to show our children the real deep love of God.
Here are a couple of practical ways to model the heart of our heavenly Father:
- Celebrate who your children are instead of stumbling over who they are not. In Luke 19, Jesus sees that Zacchaeus has run ahead to the next town to wait to see Jesus. Instead of calling him out as a sinner Jesus rewards him with His presence at dinner. He doesn’t stumble over who he is (a tax collector) but celebrates that He pursued the Savior.
- Put a crown on their heads and watch them grow into it. In other words, prophesy who they are to meant to be. Romans 4:17 says God “calls things that are not as though they were.” Imitate your heavenly Father in that.
- Look for the glory deposited in them and call it to the surface. Jesus models this beautifully in Luke 7:37 with the woman with the alabaster jar.
- Give them kingdom values. If you have a bossy child, sit them down and tell them what a great leader they are going to be one day and then show them how to lead like Jesus – with the heart of a servant. Maybe wash their feet to drive the point home in a memorable way (John 13:1-7).
To press our kids into the mold of human perfection does not present our children with the heart of our heavenly Father. It doesn’t shape them from the inside out. Graham Cooke says, “The true nature of God’s Fatherhood is redemptive. He doesn’t stumble over who we are not. He’s not embarrassed by our shortcomings or sins.” Parenting from love reveals the character and nature of who God is: He’s just like the prodigal’s father – He’s standing on the end of the driveway of our lives always looking for us with His arms opened wide waiting for us to run to Him.
A native Georgian (and intense SEC fan), Heidi leads prayer at NCC, where she oversees the prayer teams, directs leadership and prayer ministry trainings, and serves on a weekly rotation with various NCC prayer teams. Believing that “history belongs to the intercessors,” Heidi is passionate about raising up a generation of intercessors who will pray for NCC, our city and the nations. She lives in Georgetown with her favorite person on the planet – her husband of 27 years, John Scanlon. She is mother to the fabulous Anna and Andrew Scanlon. With an always full house, she’s fortunate to call many others her “children” as well.