About six months ago, my publisher sent me an orchid. I opened the front door to find a tall box standing on the welcome mat. When I opened it, I was blown away by its beauty, with its raspberry-colored blooms and bright green leaves. I immediately thought, “Oh, no! There’s no way this will last under my care.” After all, I’ve killed every plant I’ve owned, even succulents—now that takes talent!
The orchid came with instructions, and I’ve faithfully followed them since. I water it with ice water weekly and place it in a well-lit area. And to my surprise, it still lives! In fact, it thrives. The other day I noticed new buds forming and a new leaf about to unfurl. As it turns out, following the directions for orchid care works.
If only children came with such clear instructions! Have you ever thought that? I remember clearly the day we brought our first child home from the hospital. I thought for sure a nurse would chase us down as we approached the elevator. I thought someone would stop us and say, “You’re not ready yet. There’s more you need to know.”
I wanted a step-by-step parenting guide.
That isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of books on the market that seek to provide such a guide. But we all know how challenging it is to apply one parent’s wisdom in raising their own children to that of raising ours. There’s also the challenge of weeding out what doesn’t line up with Scripture or translating medical jargon into everyday language. And when we turn to the Bible for parenting instructions, we find little in the way of “how-to’s” in raising children. There are no steps to follow—no list of “3 Ways to Get Your Child to Take a Nap” or “5 Steps to Smooth Mealtimes” or “How to Get Your Teen to Remember to Set His Alarm.” This makes sense, since the Bible isn’t a manual to follow, but a story of God’s redemptive love for his people.
So, what’s a parent to do?
May I suggest that instead of looking to the Bible with questions of “how?” we instead look to it with the question of “who?”
Who Is God to Us?
Knowing who God is helps shape how we parent our children.
Since the Bible tells us the story of God and of his love for his people, there is much we can learn from how God interacts with his people, of how he relates to them. The Bible teaches that God is a Father to us. Father is more than a metaphor or illustration for God; it is who he is to us. In love, God chose us to be his own before time began. He then made us his own through the death of his Son on our behalf. Upon our salvation we are brought into a relationship with him through adoption where we become part of his family (John 1:12). God is our Father, we are his children, and Christ is our elder brother.
Consider all the ways God relates to you as Father. He is your provider and meets your daily needs. He comforts you when you are hurt and shelters you from evil. He teaches and shows you the way of righteousness and what it looks like to be a member of his family. He is patient when you forget and fail and reminds you once again of who he is and who you are. When you stumble into sin, he disciplines you and helps you return to the path of life again. And above all, he loves you with an unconditional, never-ending love.
As image-bearers, we image the one who made us. One of the ways we image God is in our own parenting. With his help, we image the Father to our children in the ways we relate to them. When our children outgrow their sneakers and we purchase new ones, we provide for them as our Father provides for us. When our children are sad or fearful or lonely and we comfort them, we show them the love our Father has for us. When they break the same house rule over and over and we re-teach them once again how to pick up after themselves, we show them the patience of the Father. When we set rules and consequences and follow through on discipline, we show them the Father who disciplines us for our good. In all these ways and more, we parent like our Father parents us. And in doing so, we introduce our children to their Father in heaven.
While we would all love to have a step-by-step parenting guide in raising our children, we have something better than a guide. We have someone better. We have the God of the universe as our own Father. We can look to how the Father parents us to help us parent our own children. Parents, consider and dwell on all the ways your Father parents you and then show your children the Father as you reflect his image. Show your children the one who loves them best.