I sat at the farmhouse table with 2 of 3 boys. Bibles out, breakfast being consumed, ready to start the homeschool day. Boy 3 arrives on the scene with an apology for being late to the table. He opens the pantry, pours a bowl of cereal, opens the fridge, and….finds the milk empty.
He wheels around looking for the person who dared take the last of the milk. A brother offered a smile with a raise of the red dixie cup that housed the last drops of milk. The fuming brother stepped with pounding feet toward his spot at the table. I held my breath afraid to inhale the smoke exiting his ears. And then it happened.
The brother who drank the milk made eye contact with the brooding brother, he took a deliberately slow sip while winking from behind the tilted cup. Brooding brother bursts out in his anger. The fighting words start. I attempt to calm the boys down, and I make the mistake of walking away for a brief moment, long enough for brooding brother to push provoking brother to the point of spilling a cup of water.
I send angry brother to his room to calm down. And then I take a deep breath.
I’ve been listening to a book that is daily challenging me in how I parent. It’s revealing to me the sin in my heart that parents from a wrong perspective most days. It’s encouraging me to look at every single parenting moment as a gift from God. Every frustration. Every heartache. Every outburst. Every moment we have our kids is an opportunity to be used by God to live out the gospel, to be used by God to point them to their desperate need for the cross, and to fall madly and deeply in love with the One who is worthy of our everything.
The book I’m reading, or listening to, on Audible, is Parenting – 14 Gospel Principles that can radically change your family by Paul David Tripp.
My first reaction is NOT to point to the cross. I want that to be my first reaction. But it depends on my fatigue level, how many issues I’ve had to parent through when the next one strikes, how hungry I am. You get the picture. If you catch me fresh in the morning, I’m high on His new mercies and I can point away to the cross. But grab me at the end of the day, and you might think someone has replaced me.
On this particular morning, I’d enjoyed a long quiet time alone with the Lord. While showering I listened to the end of this book I’ve been savoring. I was fresh into my day, yet my first reaction to this situation was in my head, “Seriously??? Monday was great but Tuesday is now Monday??” Then I sent a vent text to my husband for good measure. (Good man he is just lets me vent away…then I think he prays for me)
I opened up my file box I keep in the kitchen drawer. It’s full of sacred. It holds God’s Word as I’ve stumbled upon it in my quiet times or at various points when God has spoken to me. I’ve jotted key verses on these index cards for years. If they fall into a particular category, like anger, I write the topic at the top of the card.
These cards aren’t beautifully created. I would never post them on Pinterest as they would be overlooked. They aren’t color coded, organized smartly, written with beautiful calligraphy, or doodled on for extra charm. But they hold God’s Word etched in paper.
When I began to read God’s Word every single day, not only did I find myself falling more in love with God, but I found myself shocked at how practical and alive God’s Word is. Each time I sat to read the Word, I’d find myself grabbing an index card out and writing down a verse that I knew I would need eventually.
I didn’t know God’s Word well enough in my early years of parenting to recall a verse and point my kids to Jesus with His Word. So when I discovered a passage of scripture, I’d write it down, labeling if possible and tucking into a file box that I kept near at hand in the kitchen.
When boys complained, I’d grab at my index cards and quickly pull out the verse about complaining. When boys argued, I’d reach for the cards and find scripture on loving others. When anger reigned, I’d find the verses on anger. When we found ourselves choosing not to watch movies that friends might be allowed to watch, we’d pull out the cards that talked about keeping pure hearts.
While there are books out there that give a topical index to finding scripture to use in parenting, I found that discovering it on my own held the most power. I was relying on God to show me Himself through my own study time. Taking the extra minute or two to write the Word on the card was an active step in hiding His Word in my own heart that I might not sin against Him. My kids actually seeing me reading, studying, writing, and relying on His Word has impacted them and their own reliance on God’s Word.
Back to the story. I grabbed my file cards and started thumbing through them before I sat with my incredibly angry child. Then I sat on his bed and we prayed. We thanked God that He is gracious, kind, compassionate, and forgiving. We thanked Him for His Word that lights our path. We asked Him to guide us in righteousness for His name’s sake.
I read the first card to him.
“Proverbs 19:20 says ‘Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.’ I hope you will listen to my instruction now. I’m going to read to you some scripture as it relates to what just took place.
Proverbs 19:11 ‘A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.’
Proverbs 17:19 ‘He who loves a quarrel loves sin; he who builds a high gate invites destruction.’
Proverbs 16:32 ‘Patience is better than power, and controlling one’s temper, than capturing a city.’
Proverbs 29:11 ‘A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.’
You know why I send you away to your room before I talk to you? This is why…
Psalm 4:4 ‘In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your heart and be silent.’
I want you to sit with your heart and let the Holy Spirit speak to you before I speak to you.
James 3:18 ‘Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness’
Proverbs 14:29 ‘A patient man has great understanding, but a quick tempered man displays folly.’
Ecc 7:9 ‘ Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.’
Ecc 7:8 ‘The end of a matter is better than its beginning and patience is better than pride.’
James 1:19-20 ‘Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.’
Psalm 37:8-9 ‘Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated it can only bring harm. For evildoers will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.’ ‘
After I read the scriptures jotted on index cards that have been used repeatedly over the years, I looked into his eyes. They’d softened. His shoulders had relaxed.
I continued, “I understand your feelings and thoughts from that incident, but I want to point out something you might not be aware of. Were you upset because your brother used the last of the milk?”
He nodded his head.
“That was selfish of him to think of himself right? He didn’t consider anyone else when he poured the last drops. I’ve done the same thing before. Thought of myself only.”
He kept listening.
“But who were you thinking of when you realized there was no milk?”
Quietly, he answered, “Myself.”
“Right. You thought of yourself first. You wanted cereal. You had no milk. So you see, both of you had selfishness in your hearts. The anger we experience is typically birthed from another sin hiding in our hearts. Something drives that anger out, and we need to identify the sin in our heart producing the anger. That anger then caused you to sin. That’s why I love the verse that says ‘in your anger, do not sin.’ We have a choice when we feel anger to NOT sin in the anger. It’s hard, but that is why I send you away. I’m trying to help protect you from sinning further in your anger. Then you can get into the quiet moments with God.”
I finished by praying with him showing how to ask God for forgiveness and asked him to go to his brother and ask forgiveness. I sat with the brother and shared words with him to show how selfishness hides in our hearts and we don’t even recognize it most days. I told him initially he wasn’t trying to hurt his brother, but he didn’t think of anyone other than himself when he took the last of the milk. And one step further, when seeing the brother fuming, continued to stoke the fire, provoking him to anger.
This process can be exhausting. It takes time, patience, and diligence. There was a season where we simply didn’t have time for an exercise like this. We were running from here to there. There was no time to sit and talk. However, we are in a season now where we have much greater margin in our days.
Do I handle every argument this way? No. Do I wish I did? Yes.
Many days I take the easy road. I simply slap a band aid on the injury and rush us onto the next item on the agenda. But I know deep down that this isn’t what my kids need most. Yes, I temporarily regain peace in the home, but their hearts were shaped, and they didn’t see Jesus at work.
Often in my parenting, I let my own selfishness rule my heart. I want peace. I want quiet. I want time. I want. I want. I want. Therefore, I don’t take the time needed to truly point my kids to Christ.
We have a small window of time to instruct our kids, to train them up, to shepherd them. We have limited time to influence them more than the world will. It’s our privilege to take every moment as a gift and use it to the glory of God.
Lord, I confess I parent selfishly many days. Forgive me for not taking every moment to point my kids to you. Grant me wisdom. Give me strength to parent well. Show me how to do this task You’ve called me to. Thank you for the gift of parenting.
****This post contains affiliate links*****