© Marcelo A. Tolopilo
Discipleship: God’s Plan for Parenting
“Why should I should read yet another book on the family?”
Some will ask, “Why another book on the family? Hasn’t enough ink been spilled over the subject? How many more pens must run their lives dry before the final exclamation mark spears through this copious and tired theme? Enough already!” If these concerns have flitted through your questioning mind, let me assure you that I am using a word processor, and no pens have been harmed in the writing of this book.
Yes, plenteous offerings have been penned about the Christian family and no doubt many more will be written in years to come; however, there are four reasons why I feel compelled to write this book, and why I think you ought to read it.
1. What does God say…
First, some Christian authors have primarily approached this subject from a behavioral or psychological angle, but in my humble opinion more needs to be written about the matter from a “biblical” point of view. We need to see God’s plan to shepherd the family through the lens of Scripture.
Let’s face it, God designed and created the family. He is the Divine architect of the home; therefore, His instructions regarding this beloved institution should energize our powers of discernment. My chief goal in writing this book is to ask the simple yet all-important question, “What does God say about the family?” and especially, “How would God have us raise (disciple) our children and grandchildren?” To do justice to these queries, we must go to God’s own testimony, the scriptures.
2. “Say again?”
Secondly, I am compelled to address this critical issue because important truths bear repeating, and they bear repeating because all Christians suffer from a measure of B.A.D.D. (Biblical Attention Deficit Disorder – I just made that up, but hey, it works!). We easily get distracted from God’s precepts or forget what God has said, and unless we are reminded of God’s truth, we lose our way in a sea of opinions and worldly wisdom. The old hymn sums up our tendency and struggle with a simple phrase: you and I are “prone to wander.” We need to be reminded of what God has said so that we may walk by the light of His wisdom, not man’s (Psalm 119:105).
Because of our spiritually wayward, listing tendencies, reminding Christians of what they already know has been a staple of faithful shepherds since the days of the early church. The apostle Peter, for example, wrote his general epistles to encourage the church at large toward holiness in the midst of a wicked antagonistic world. In doing so, he employed the important principle of biblical redundancy to get his message across. In the span of six short verses in Second Peter (2 Peter 1:12-15; 3:1-2), Simon reminds his readers five times of their desperate need to be reminded of core truths for Christian living [… shortened from the original].
Truly, repetition – stirring the memory to recall truth – is the thrust of biblical, pastoral instruction. As a pastor and Bible teacher, my exhortation is spent not on teaching God’s people new things but in reminding believers of what God has already said, and much of the time, what they already know. In fact, if I ever teach something new, some new interpretation of Scripture that has somehow escaped the careful scrutiny of the great divines of the last two thousand years, do me a favor, put a sock in my mouth, secure it with duct tape, fit me with a nice snug straight jacket, and book me a room at Happy Acres where I may occupy myself with something more productive than speaking fantasies, something like stringing beads. I assure you, that would be more productive and far less harmful than teaching “new doctrine.”
Pastors and teachers may find creative ways of communicating biblical propositions, but deep, expositional, biblical truth is what faithful men of God will proclaim. Why? Because we need to recall God’s proven words so that we may remember His ways and thereby walk in them. Otherwise my friends, we simply forget the way of the Lord and merrily go off the beaten path. And when we forget and stray from God’s truth, we stumble into dangerous terrain and put ourselves and others in harm’s way.
I believe it is in our fallen human nature to forget or neglect truth, not because we’re stupid, but because living by God’s truth is harder than doing what we want or living by what feels right to us. In a sense, maturity in the Christian life (sanctification, becoming more like Jesus Christ) comes through the process by which we live less and less by our clouded intuition (what feels right to us, the thoughts and behaviors that come naturally from our flesh) and more and more by our biblically enlightened volition. For that process to be sustained, we need to be reminded of God’s truth often. Again, I’m not saying we’re a congregation of dull dolts, but repetition of the truth is necessary to conform and transform our often reluctant will.
Repetition is not only the essence of faithful pastoral ministry, but it is also at the core of effective parenting. Good parenting involves a lot of tireless repetition. Take for instance the not-so-critical, yet socially valuable art of proper table manners. Parents spend 80% of their early years at the dinner table cutting everyone else’s meat and reinforcing good table etiquette. That’s why we don’t put on as much weight when our children are young. Who has time to eat when you’re constantly on Polite Patrol! Good manners take vigilant repetition.
If I were to dine in your home, I would probably walk away impressed by how your older children conduct themselves at the table, remarking to my lovely wife, “My, those kids are so polite! It’s always ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ with them. Did you notice they don’t hold their utensils like cave men, and they eat with their mouths closed too! Lovely family!” Hopefully you would say the same thing after eating with my kids, hopefully.
If your children are teens and they have good table manners, that’s wonderful! However, the larger question is, “How often did you have to instruct your kids on proper table etiquette?” Once they progressed beyond the pureed-mystery-food-in-a-jar stage when the food gets more on the baby then in the baby, once your children were introduced to the civilized world of real food, how often did you have to teach your kids how to conduct themselves at the table?
How many times did you tell your son, “Now Billy-Bob eat with your mouth closed, son. I don’t want to hear your squishy, smacky noises! You sound like a lion gnawing on a carcass. I feel like I’m watching an episode of Animal Planet when I watch you eat.” How often did you remind your daughter, “Beulah, honey, sit up straight at the table. You don’t want your profile to look like a banana. We’ve read The Hunchback of Notre Dame. You’ve seen the artist’s rendering of Quasi Motto. How do you think he got that awful hump? That’s right he had terrible table manners; he refused to listen to his parents and then one day, BAM! He looked like a question mark for the rest of his life! His life I tell you! Now sit up straight before you get locked in that position. What? It could happen!”
How many times did you admonish and encourage your children with those instructions – well, maybe not those instructions but a boatload of others like them … kind of like them? Once, twice, a dozen times? If your children are anything like mine, table etiquette was part of the daily menu. “What are we having for dinner, Mom?” “Good nutritious food and assorted corrections, now go wash your hands.” At times I remember growing discouraged by the daily grind of the corrective routine at the table.
Raised by Wolves
I recall one frustrating evening when the repetitive instruction was flowing from my mouth like promises from a politician’s lips. Finally in frustration, I told my children, “You know what guys? Someday I’m going to write a book, and I am going to entitle it, My Children Were Raised By Wolves! because no matter how many times we instruct you on proper table manners, you often resort to behavior that’s the very opposite of what your mother and I are asking you to do. Hence, I have a theory. I think this happens because at nighttime, when your mother and I are asleep, wolves come into this house. Yes, that’s right, not harmful but wild, ill-mannered wolves!”
“I’m talking big wolves who can speak English and sound like they’re from Brooklyn. They sneak into this house and whisk you away to their den, and there these rude ruffians teach you the ways of the uncivilized wolf. They growl their instructions at you, ‘Eat with your mouth open. Don’t use a fork! Push the food around on your plate with your paw. Yeah, that’s it. You got it! Good! Now tussle with your siblings over that last piece of garlic bread. Go ahead, snarl. Pretend it’s still alive. You guys learn pretty fast for humans! Now let’s get you back to bed before your parents find out what you’ve been up to.’ That‘s what happens at nighttime when your mother and I are asleep, right? And you kids thought I would never find out, didn’t you? Well, I know all about your nocturnal insurrection!”
The initial wide-eyed stares on my kids’ faces gave way to a puzzled concern for their father and eventually to reluctant laughter as they got my point. Their father, in a rather delusional, frustrated sort of way was trying to remind them of how to properly conduct themselves at the dinner table. What’s more, it’s not that my children were being disobedient or disrespectful to their mother and I, it’s just that they would temporarily forget what they knew to do and then resort to what came naturally.
They would simply forget, and so it fell to my wife and I to remind them of how to conduct themselves at the table, just as the duty fell to my parents and to their parents before them, and their parent’s parents, reaching all the way back to that first Passover meal. “Kids, I know we have to leave Egypt in a hurry, but that’s no excuse for poor table manners. Please sit up straight and chew your matzah with your mouth closed – but eat quickly we have to plunder the Egyptians and it’s getting late.”
You see, the responsibility fell to my wife and I to constantly help our children recall what they knew until it became ingrained in their behavior. For the most part, now that my four children are older (28, 24, 22, 17) they have abandoned the ways of the wolf – and it only took about two plus decades.
All of us, like our children, need frequent reminders of the truth so that it may become ingrained in our thinking and expressed in our behavior. This is certainly true of parental discipleship, a.k.a. biblical parenting. In my travels throughout this country, it has been my observation that many have either forgotten or simply don’t understand what God prescribes for the Christian family, and especially that God has called Christian parents to biblically shepherd their children. Sadly, as the church progressively abandons biblical preaching, I fear that many have never been taught God’s pattern for the home.
And so, I am writing this book in large measure to remind and instruct – myself, my maturing children, and my fellow pilgrim parents in Christ – of the Lord’s design for this supremely important institution that He has created, this training ground for disciples, this stage for the gospel, this pillar of society, this marvelous entity which we call the Christian family. Biblical repetition is a good remedy for Biblical Attention Deficit Disorder so I encourage you to read on. [when the book comes out that is …]