The last few weeks at our house have been insanely busy. Major decisions and life choices have taken a back seat to children’s play practice, the air conditioning going out in mid-July, and babies with ear infections. Beth and I became aware of just how little margin we had for “error” in our daily routines. Sometimes it’s tough to keep your cool in those times. I sure didn’t. By the end of it all, I was raising my voice at my kids and barreling past every insight and principle of parenting I had gleaned in the past few years.
I read a book about…well…bad parenting a few weeks ago. The book spends most of his time talking about the psychological impact of corporal punishment. And I think the book probably ends up unbalanced in its final conclusions. But the more interesting aspect of the book involves where Christianity and parenting intersect. And that was really fascinating to me. It tells a marvelous story about nineteenth century evangelist Dwight L. Moody:
In [Moody's] home, grace was the ruling principle and not the law, and the sorest punishment of a child was the sense that the father’s loving heart had been grieved by waywardness and folly.
Moody’s son, Paul, relayed an incident where he had been caught directly disobeying his father by inviting a friend over to play after his normal bedtime hour. Moody lost his cool and raised his voice:
…I immediately retreated and in tears, for it was an almost unheard-of-thing that [Moody] should speak with such directness or give an order unaccompanied by a smile. But I had barely gotten into my bed before he was kneeling beside it in tears and seeking my forgiveness for having spoken so harshly…Half a century must have passed…and I can still see that room in the twilight and that large bearded figure with great shoulders bowed above me and hear his broken voice. I like best to think of him that way. I had seen him hold the attention of thousands of people, but asking the forgiveness of a disobedient little boy for having spoken harshly seems to me now a finer and greater thing, and to it I owe more than I owe to any of his sermons. For to this I am indebted for an understanding of the meaning of the Fatherhood of God and a belief in the love of God had its beginnings that night in my childish mind (emphasis mine).
Horace Bushnell is one of my theological “heroes.” In his book Christian Nurture (1861), he writes some of the most piercing words ever regarding parents reflecting the character of God:
[Harsh treatment by a parent] is a great discouragement of piety in children…Anything that puts the child aloof from the parent…will be a wall to shut him away from God. If his Christian father is felt only as a tyrant, he will seem to have a tyrant in God’s name to bear…But there is a kind of virtue which is not in the rod – the virtue of a truly good and sanctified life. So much easier it is to be violent than to be holy, that [parents often] substitute force for goodness and grace and are wholly unconscious of the posture (emphasis mine).
These quotes cut me to the core. I passionately desire to be this father but often times find that I am not. Yet quotes like the ones above don’t condemn me – they give me a glimpse of what the Holy Spirit can do in my heart as I continue to seek him. They are not hollow or shallow objectives to meet; that won’t change my behavior or impact my children. But they are examples of what “Spirit-led” parenting can look like. Each scenario is always different, but the love of God can be found in everyday interactions with children. Hopefully, my children will look back fondly on a particular memory and be able to say, “I like best to think of him that way.”