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Volume 17, Issue 1: Virga

Parent Sacrifice

Matt Whitling

On either side of the road lounged apathetic dirt-clods looking like stale peanut butter, spread thick across California's central valley. Acres of light brown, lonely clods on display for the sun to kiln and fire until one by one they eventually died, cracked, and split—they didn't care. Each tire on our car diligently held its breath as we sped down the long sun-scorched highway. There's nothing quite so diligent as a tire with its air still inside. Tires are the antithesis to dirt-clods, the very gods of vigor and anticipation. My right arm was sticking out the open window, palm flat and forward fighting against the storm that blew past our station wagon. Down flopped my hand allowing me to slice through the air momentarily, only to be blown back into tension again after grabbing a handful of wind. The warm metal of the car felt good against my sunburnt skin, the power of the air was exhilarating. Mom was driving.

In earlier articles we have explored the paradigm of imitation in child-rearing, seeking to turn parents' heads toward God as they strive to understand how to bring up their children. We have seen how God creates His children, teaches them, trains them, and even blesses and curses them, but we would fail to understand faithful parenting if we ignored Calvary. One of the foundational elements in the way that God raises his covenant people is that He dies for them.
God the Son gave Himself away for His people. He did not just create and then assume the position of CEO who issues decrees. Instead, He created, provided unmerited blessings, taught and trained; and when His children sinned, along with the sanctions of the covenant (indeed as part of the sanctions of the covenant) He sent His Son to die on behalf of His children. He was nailed to the cross to purchase faithful offspring. In other words, God was crucified so that His bad kids would become good. In this we see another facet of Trinitarian living. God is not simply a Father who commands; He is also a Son who comes and dies, and a Spirit who indwells as helper and comforter. And so our goal of imitation must broaden to match the One who is Three that we seek to imitate.
This means that imitating God in how you raise your children necessarily includes your own death. You must be willing in principle to give up all your goals and aspirations and yourself in order to love your children the way that God loves His (Mt. 8:35). Parents who die for their kids live differently. They consider their children better than themselves, pouring out time, energy, money, affection, and kindness upon their children. Fathers who die for their kids are patient. They know that training always takes longer than jumping in and "just getting it done." They understand that it's better for a child to be well-trained than for the job to be completed a few minutes earlier. Fathers who die for their children aren't perfectionists. They know that when young hands are learning something for the first time there will be flaws in workmanship, many of which do not need to be nitpicked or even noticed at first. So, the wood pile is not perfectly straight, the invention is a bit far-fetched and could "never work," or the Christian worldview was awkwardly applied. These things are mere bumps in the road for a father who takes the long view. He is thinking about his kids and what direction they are headed, not his wood pile. Parents who die for their kids don't wimp out when their kids need to be disciplined. They do not euphemize laziness and call it kindness for the sake of their present convenience. Too tired? Too busy? Too difficult? Too expensive? Too much work? None of this holds up if the whole point is for you to be the sacrifice, instead of simply being willing to make a few.
Trinity provides balance. The parent who sets out to die for his children and absolutizes this facet of parenting falls down. Certainly, you should consider your children as more important than yourself. That is why you must go to all the work of teaching them to respect you, to hold the door for their mother, to shovel snow off of the driveway, and to do the dishes. Kids should be taught to be faithful, obedient, respectful, diligent, and gracious for their own good. And of course this is what we find in Proverbs: "He who spares his rod, hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly." The parent who loves his child, lays down his life and serves his child by bringing him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Imitating God includes imitating Him as He is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is why a parent who is dead to himself can give a command to his son and expect it to be obeyed cheerfully, immediately, and completely.
Kthump, kthump, kthump, kthump. As Mom eased the car off the highway, the rear passenger-side tire lost its last breath of air and came to rest on the rim. The back of the station wagon slouched and became quiet. Some of us, unaware of the tire, were madly wondering what kind of trouble we had gotten ourselves into this time. Between the kids and Mom the process of changing the dead tire was somewhat extended. Finally, the car was jacked up, the flat tire removed, and just as my brother was partway under the fender awkwardly wrestling the spare onto the rusty threaded studs, the car groaned and rolled forward. Our metal jack twanged and slapped against the station wagon as dirt and gravel kicked high into the air. Before any of us kids realized that the car was crashing down, Mom had grabbed hold of the bumper.

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