It's already happened. We're just a little over two weeks into the school year and one of my children has already expressed anxiety over the results of a test that didn't go quite like she'd hoped. I'm not sure what they've even had time to learn in that short span of time, but clearly this is information that this particular teacher believes their students are now accountable for.
Exams and quizzes are intended to be measuring sticks of how we are doing at retaining and applying the information that's been entrusted to us. While the vast majority of us are not stressing over an upcoming math exam these days, the challenges of parenting can often feel like a relentless barrage of pop quizzes on material we're not sure we've even had a lesson on.
Lamentations 3:40 says, "Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!" While we may not feel equipped for every parenting pop quiz, as followers of Christ, we must constantly be subjecting ourselves to the test laid out in this verse. More than that, we must constantly be ready with a humble heart to "return to the Lord" when our examination reveals rebellion, passivity, disobedience, and/or apathy.
As we think about parents here at Watermark, there are two primary truths that we keep coming back to.
How then can we "test and examine" our faithfulness as disciple-making parents? We use 4 simple words to focus our attention on what faithfulness in this area looks like: MODEL, TRAIN, PRAY, TRUST.
The first step of the test of your faithfulness as a parent is a simple examination of the example that you are setting before them. Kids are more likely to do what you do than they are to do what you say. Discipleship in its simplest form is 1 Corinthians 11:1, "Follow me as I follow Christ."
For all of us, there are areas of our life where we need to "return to the Lord" whether that be how we handle conflict, how we respond to stress, where we invest our time, or how compassionate we are towards the lost or the poor. Examine the model you are setting before your children. Praise God for the things He has done in your life that are worth celebrating. Pray for grace for the areas of your life that are still works in progress. Along the way, remember Philippians 1:6 that says, "And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."
The second area that we want to examine is how we are doing at training our kids in the truth of God's Word. While discipleship is often more caught than taught, we are commanded to teach. Jesus instructed his disciples to teach their disciples "to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20) and the Old Testament mandate to families in Deuteronomy 6 commands us to "teach [the commands of God] diligently to your children" (vs. 7).
How are you doing at finding times to open your Bible together as a family? Are you answering questions or challenges your kids or family may face with the Word of God or just opinion? How are you utilizing the Watermark Kids resources made available on the our website every week to reinforce what your kids are learning at church? How could you capitalize on car time, meal time, bed time, and morning routines for the purpose of training your children? Faithfulness for parents looks like a purposeful, diligent approach to training our kids in the truth of God's Word.
A third area for examination is to examine our prayers for and with our children. John Piper once referred to prayer as "a wartime walkie talkie for spiritual warfare" and warned against using it as a "domestic intercom" used to ask for increasing comforts for ourselves. It is essential that we remember often that we and our children are in a battle daily, not against flesh and blood but against "the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (see Ephesians 6:12).
Since we know this to be true, one of the most important parenting weapons we wield is prayer. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most overlooked. One important examination question here is this: When faced with a parenting challenge, is your desperation to find wisdom in books, podcasts, blog posts, or the advice of friends/mentors matched by your desperation to ask for wisdom from the God of the universe who "gives [wisdom] generously to all without reproach" (James 1:5)? Remember that you are at war and your Commander longs to hear from you and counsel you in the way you should go.
"Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." Psalm 127:1-2 (ESV)
I firmly believe that one of the distinctive marks of Christian parents should be the peace, joy, courage, and hope with which we approach parenting. Sadly, too often I find Christian parents "eating the bread of anxious toil" -- or at least I find that to be true of the guy I see in the mirror every morning.
Trust in the Lord can be a hallmark of our parenting when we remember rightly that we are stewards of the lives of our children, not owners. The Lord is the builder. He is the watchman. He loves our children more than we do and He is not surprised or shocked by the trials they face, the behavior they demonstrate or the rebellion they run to. How are you doing at resting in His strength, power and sovereignty as you face the challenges of today?
As we finish up our "Model, Train, Pray, Trust" examination, the final commandment of Lamentations 3:40 is the most important. Every one of us will walk away from this exam with an awareness of our shortcomings. No one gets a 100% on this test, but as the writer of Lamentations reminds us earlier in chapter 3, "[God's] mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning" (Lamentations 3:22-23). With that in mind, we can return to the Lord, confess our sins and failures, receive His grace and forgiveness, and walk forward in the confidence and freedom of His steadfast love for us. When we do this, we will see how "great is [His] faithfulness" to those He loves.