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Volume 11, Issue 4: Childer


Douglas Wilson

Children cry and that is the way it is. The problem confronting the parent seeking to establish a biblical pattern in the home is what, if anything, to do about it.

The first thing to deal with is the prejudice that some still have (even in these, our most therapeutic times) against any kind of crying at all. For those who want to maintain that crying is necessarily self-centered or unmanly, the only problem with their thesis is that it collides with the Bible at innumerable points. The psalmist watered his couch with tears (Ps. 6:6), God carefully and tenderly stores up our tears in a bottle (Ps. 56:8), the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians out of many tears (2 Cor. 2:4), Jesus of course wept (John 11:35), and on another occasion did so with “strong crying and tears” (Heb. 5:7). Anyone who wants to hold that crying is necessarily unbiblical is defending a position that is difficult to defend with any show of integrity. Still, for those who are attracted to the chiseled granite personality anyway, it should at least be known that they are setting aside the Word of God in order to meet their supposedly non-existent emotional needs.
But, on the other hand, we should be very concerned with the wholesale blubbing and gushing which confronts us these days at every turn. As we have seen, the fact of crying is certainly lawful, but the nature of the self-indulgent yowling we see so frequently should give us pause. Politicians feel our pain, telehypocrites weep for us on the teevee, analysts and clients bawl together, and our public life has become generally smarmy all over. Something is seriously wrong.
This all means that the issue for parents should not be whether their children cry, but rather why and under what conditions they do. Parents have a duty to learn how to recognize the difference between sinful and lawful crying. Contrary to the “no crying is acceptable” parent (a vanishing breed, but still around), some crying represents part of what it means to be created in the image of God. And contrary to the “all crying expresses an emotional need and therefore cannot be questioned” parent (and their name is Legion), most crying by children should be disciplined and directed in a godly way.
The discipline that parents apply here should be directed at the motive for crying, and not the crying itself. The crying is simply a marker that draws attention to something which may or may not be a problem. It is a symptom of something else, and that something else may be right or wrong. Without careful biblical oversight, it is usually wrong.
The key to godly tears is love. Jesus loved both Jerusalem and Lazarus, and so He wept over the death of each. Paul loved the gospel, and so he wept over the enemies of the cross of Christ. Parents who therefore cultivate an atmosphere of love in their homes—love for God, love for Christ, love for His Word, love for family, love for the Church, love for the nation—are bringing up children who are not ashamed to weep when the occasion is right for it.
In the meantime, ungodly crying is a distraction which warps a child’s perception of emotional realities. Dumping out the murky contents of our emotional lives does not necessarily clear up anything. When parents discipline their children in their crying, they are not creating warped and repressed head cases, but rather training and discipling the emotional lives of their children in a way that fits with the rest of their training. And this means certain kinds of crying should never be permitted.
Children should not be allowed to cry because of self-pity. If a child’s will has been crossed, and he bursts into tears as a result, not only should the child’s demands not be granted, but he should be disciplined for attempting to manipulate his parents through tears. This was known, in the old school, as “giving them something to cry about.”
Children should never be permitted to cry as a means of acquiring property. The child flipping out in WalMart in the Power Ranger section comes to mind.
Children, particularly boys, should not be allowed to cry as they please when they are hurt. Not surprisingly, this requires some qualification and explanation. Injuries fall into two categories—those which bring genuine, incapacitating pain, and those which do not. Of course, I am not saying that if a child comes in from the yard with a bone sticking out that the parent should send them back out to finish playing. There are always injuries that stop the proceedings. We all know what it is like to hear a thwack from the other room where the two-year-old is playing, and then count off the five seconds it takes for said child to fill his lungs with enough air to express his feelings adequately. Under such circumstances there should be nothing but sympathy until the child has recovered enough to resume his vocational station and duty, which in this case, involves his playing. As soon as he is able to resume, his parents should be patiently encouraging him to do so. The short rule here is that a child who can, should.
But we have a common problem of children who cry as though incapacitated when they are not. They need to be disciplined from the very beginning. How many of us have seen a child bite it on the swingset, get up, and run cheerfully off in order to find a cooperative adult to cry in front of?
The end result of careful, biblical teaching will not be children who are emotionally deadened, but rather children who grow to the point where they can laugh with those who laugh, and weep with those who weep. They are directed in this by the teaching of the Word, and not by the latest emotional tempest they may happen to feel within themselves.

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