We’ve all heard the expression about missing the forest for all the trees. It’s easy to do in any area of life, but I’ve found it especially easy in parenting. At any given point in time there are so many issues that are pressing, so many different things you want to teach, and so many ways you want to express love for your children. How can you find time for it all?
The answer, to be sure, is ‘You can’t.’ There just isn’t enough time. No matter how much time I have with my kids, I find there’s always more I’d like to say, teach, discipline, instruct, encourage, rebuke, etc. And at the same time I don’t want to overwhelm them or frustrate them with too many words, too much instruction, too many demands. Fathers are specifically warned, after all, not to provoke their children to anger (Eph 6.4).
The key to this, as with so many things, is balance. I need to learn to not harp on every little thing I see in them, but to pick my spots, look for moments when little hearts are open and ready to receive instruction, and most of all, make sure I make the main thing the main thing–always.
Unfortunately, I fear that I do a bad job at that. I get so caught up in the presenting issues of the day-to-day that I sometimes lose sight of the big picture issues that my children so desperately need me to emphasize.
Here’s a case-in-point: The other night I was putting Susannah & Caitlyn to bed (Maddie had already gone down). I sang a song or two to them and Caitlyn was fast asleep; Susannah, however, was wide awake. I took the opportunity to kneel beside her bed and just chat with her alone in the few quiet minutes we had together. I asked her about her day and what she was happy about. Then I turned the conversation to spiritual things. I asked her, ‘What is the one, most important thing in all the world?’ She replied: ‘Christ died for our sins and was raised!’ (with the appropriate actions :)).
I was pretty pleased with that.
Then I asked her, ‘What is the one greatest commandment that God gives us?’ There was no answer; I could tell she was thinking. I decided to help her a little: ‘To llll…’. Her face lit up, she knew the answer: ‘To listen!’
My heart fell. In that instant my mind went back to family devotions that night after dinner, to the songs we’ve been teaching the kids, to the things I’ve been reminding them of lately… over and over and over again I’d been speaking about the trees, but neglecting the forest. In teaching my daughters about how to be wise and what it means to be ‘all ears’, the unspoken message I’d been communicating to them is that listening is the most important commandment. Somehow in the midst of all the issues I’d completely neglected the heart of the issue, which is ‘to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.’
All this ‘Christian parenting’, but my kids still haven’t heard clear, concise, convicting instruction about the one thing that matters more than anything else: their love for God. Sigh. Back to the parenting drawing board… and back to my knees to pray for my kids.
There is very little to be proud about in parenting. The mistakes are many and the painstakingly obvious need for God’s intervening grace humbles me continually. I’ve never been more aware of the fact that if my children will be saved, it will be all because of God’s grace in spite of me, rather than because of me.
But there is hope. The next morning at the breakfast table Stace and I spent some time explaining the greatest commandment to the children. I’ve been convicted of missing the forest and am aiming to make it more of an intentional push in my parenting repertoire. And the Lord loves to use broken, fallen, largely-pathetic humans for his good purposes: it’s his way of ensuring that he gets all the glory. And I’m okay with that. I’m just thankful for mercy and hopeful for future grace.