Our freshman came home from college for the summer. For those of you who have never experienced this, I’ve got to tell you, it’s weird. It’s not like you get back your kid; you get back this semi-adult, kind of independent, yet still on the “payroll.” I mean, this kid is now used to staying out until whenever she wants, eating whatever she wants, ordering her life the way she wants. Even when she makes good decisions, like she does for the most part, they’re her decisions. Then, she comes back into your world, the “house of rules” she left 9 months ago. And, you find that the old rules no longer apply. You have to negotiate a whole new way of living together without killing each other.
They’ve been mostly independent for a year now, making their own decisions; to the extent they were ever fooled into thinking they had to do what you told them to, your Jedi parent powers no longer work on them. Even though you still hold the ultimate “control of the purse,” most of your positive impact in their lives is limited to persuasion and prayer. Mostly prayer. So, you watch, you suggest, you coach, you model, and you pray. And, you pray. And, you pray.
And, in these feelings of relentless powerless, you learn how to parent your younger kids better. You learn that you never actually had control over the little ones, either. It was all illusory, and to the extent you tried to dominate, to cajole, to manipulate, all you were really doing is jacking them up, or leaving a mess that a loving, patient God would later have to come in and untangle. At times, I have such a perfect picture in my mind of what my kids should look like: where they should go to college, who they should marry, what sports they should play, what classes they should excel in, what their careers should be. While hopes and dreams for my kids are not a bad thing, when I try to manipulate them or the circumstances surrounding their lives to achieve my “perfect” script, I’m doing a really harmful, sometimes evil thing. I’m trying to play God in their lives.
Paul Miller says that, “until we become convinced we can’t change our child’s heart, we will not take prayer seriously.” When I realize that only God can mold and shape and change my child’s heart, and that my manipulation and cajoling does nothing but exasperate her towards me, I actually become broken to the point where I can do something loving and effective for her. I can pray. I can ask the God that I love, who radically transformed my life, and who loves her more than I even have the capacity to love, to mold and shape her as only He can.
As I begin to pray, I keep in mind two things. First, God uses my prayers to first change me. If I’m asking God to eliminate selfishness, or laziness, or pride in the heart of my child, the Holy Spirit in me starts convicting me of all the ways I’m prideful, or lazy, or selfish. I begin to realize that many of the things I don’t like in my kids are probably there because I’m modeling them in our household. Monkey see, monkey do. So, I repent. I ask God’s Spirit to change me, to make me new, to create in me a clean heart.
The second thing is that I start looking for God’s Hand in the life of my child. God usually uses trial and heartache to mold and shape us. That’s how it works with me, and that’s how it works with my kids. When I see that coming into my kid’s life, I become more attuned, more discerning, more sensitive to seeing it, not as some horrible thing happening to my child that I have to protect, but as the loving, healing, disciplining hand of a good God who is answering my prayer if I will just shut up, stand back, butt out, and let Him do His work. It frees me up to love, to coach, to guide, to give her perspective on how the Lord is using the trials in her life to make her into the amazing young lady God is calling her to be. I no longer have to be God in her life.
I wish I had learned to manipulate and cajole less, and pray more, when my oldest was younger. I would have been a better dad to her then. Her sisters are the beneficiaries. Hopefully, so are you.