Cigarettes, Parenting and Panic
My ten-year-old, Luke, is reading Unbroken. I told him that he should read it because there is a lot to learn about character, redemption and forgiveness from the life of Louie Zampereni. But, as is the case with all people, there is a lot that Louie Zampereni did and experienced that I would like my son to avoid.
According to the book, and to the amusement of Luke, Louie Zampereni began smoking at the age of five. When I condemned this nasty, expensive, disease-causing habit with: “That’s not good!” He quickly reminded me of the time when I was eight and smoked a whole pack of cigarettes with my five-year-old brother – a funny story 31 years later.
Uh-Oh! What have I done?
Immediately, I started second-guessing myself and hoping my good intentions don’t eventually back-fire on me. I hope my son doesn’t conclude, “Well, Louie and dad had a few rebellious moments and they turned out fine, so what’s the harm in trying? How bad could it be if dad and Louie did it?” Unwittingly, did my attempt to help my son see Godly and manly things, also open the door for harmful things?
Parenting can paralyze, causing us to second-guess every strategy, word and action. Parenting can also turn us into tyrants, causing us to try to control every detail of a child’s environment.
Both extremes are mistakes that will likely do far more damage than good.
As I was pondering the pitfalls of parenting and my own fears, I began recovering and articulating some core parenting convictions that I have used as guides. I think these are especially helpful when I encounter “Uh-oh moments”.
- I do not want to make self-righteous moralists. I do want to be used by God to make God-glorifying, Jesus-treasuring, local church-loving disciples. The first thing to say here is that a true disciple will want to glorify God, treasure Jesus and love His Church. The second thing to say is that my part is to be a willing and faithful vessel that the Holy Spirit uses to accomplish this. If I rely on myself and try to do the work of the Spirit and use Jesus so my children will be good little boys and girls that stay out of trouble and don’t use drugs, I will make behavior-driven pharisees. If I abdicate my responsibility as a willing vessel, I will produce narcissistic consumers. Churches are full of all three.
- I will embrace with urgency the privilege and responsibility to be the primary teacher of the whole will of God to my family. The relationships and programs of the local church are supplemental graces for equipping and training to do gospel ministry in the home, but I will not outsource and abdicate my God-ordained leadership as a man (Genesis 2:15-18; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalms 78:1-8; Ephesians 4:11-16 and 6:1-4). I will not singularly blame the youth ministry or the youth minister that my children don’t love God and the local church. When I critique and question, I will start with me.
- I will be committed to a long-term process of disciple-making. I will patiently and consistently sow the word of God in the lives of my children as a part of a long-term strategy. From the cradle to graduation, I will be diligent to consistently live what I teach. When I fail, I will repent and seek forgiveness. I cannot afford to squeeze years of missed opportunities into one talk because of a parenting crisis. I will be proactive, not reactive.
- I will not panic. When my children disappoint or rebel against God, I will not panic. That does not mean I won’t live with urgency and do hard things and have hard talks, but I will not act as though God is not faithful. I will not manipulate and use fear to control a situation that is beyond my control. I will pray and trust God to do what only He can do, and I will be ready to speak and act when it is clear I can glorify Him as a parent.
- I will value the importance of prayer. I will see the challenge of parenting as sanctifying grace from God, and pray to Him for wisdom and strength. I will trust God’s promises and believe that He is using all things, even a parenting crisis, to refine me and grow me for His glory. I will also never give up hope that God can reach my child. I recognize that if I ever stop praying, I have stopped believing. I determine to never quit praying for my children so that I am ready to speak to them when God gives me the opportunity.
- I will share my life with others. God has saved me to be a part of His Church through the local church. I will seek the wisdom of those who are ahead of me, and I will pass on what I can to those who are behind me. While my family is my primary responsibility, I also have a responsibility to share life with people to make God-glorifying disciples. The local church is not optional. I need others and they need me.