Adversary or Advocate? Reaching the Heart of Your Child

  Do your children see you as an adversary or an advocate? Are you waiting to point out their mistakes or are you cheering them back to the race of life?

Severin Nilson

"The One who knew said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Happy, that is are those people who know that their spiritual power is small, that their creeds are imperfect, that their instruction concerning God and man is incomplete. Happy are those who know that they do not know all of the truth,. For only those who admit their spiritual poverty are willing to learn. Agnes Sanford, 1897-1982

Always with a basket of books by my comfy chair, I have been reading a wonderful book called Spiritual Classics, a renovare resource edited by Richard Foster and Emilie Griffin. I have read most of the books Foster has written.

What Agnes wrote so expresses my heart. How very grateful I am for the grace and patience of God as He leads me, his child. He is so committed to my own holiness and sanctification, but so wise and patient with me as I make progress. I am grateful He sees my heart. I try so hard, I fail so miserably and so often. Yet, He does not embarrass me or demean me, He simply walks this road with me, by my side. At every juncture, He teaches me something new. He opens my eyes to wisdom, love, an eternal perspective. I know I am needy and weak.  I listen to His voice because he has been trustworthy. He loves me. He leads me in truth. He is my Father.


In the past couple of years here where I live, a couple of new laws have been enacted on the highways. We have had numerous police cars added to our stretch of the highway and at certain times of the year, we can see multiple cars stopped on the highway many places in a two mile stretch, to "help people start obeying the laws."

One is that if one is driving on the freeway, he must move into the left lane as soon as possible if there is a police car or any other car on the side of the road. Last year, I was taking Joy and her friend to a meeting. As I eased onto the freeway, I just had a feeling in my heart that I needed to be careful. Sure enough, after a couple of miles, a police woman pulled me over. "You did not pull into the left lane when you passed my car on the side of the shoulder."

I replied, "Did you see the truck pulling a trailer that was passing me on the left?" I asked. "Well, yes I did, but I just thought maybe you could have passed it. But I guess you couldn't. Well, maybe I should check your insurance card in case it is delinquent." I asked, "Are there quotas in our little town now for tickets?"

"Not exactly quotas, but as a new officer, I am expected to find about 4 people an hour who are breaking the law."

By this time, my heart was beating quickly and I felt that she was going to find something wrong. But, all was in order, and I was allowed to go, without a ticket.

The next day, a friend was pulled over because the officer told him that he had stayed in the left lane 10 seconds too long as it was only to be a passing lane but not a traveling lane. This time, my friend was ticketed.

Just after that, Joy started to learn to drive. A policeman was hiding behind a road sign on the highway. "Oh, no, mom, it's a policeman. I just know he is going to find something wrong with my driving if he looks hard enough. It makes me sick at my stomach just to see him because the police have been stopping so many people lately. I'm doing all I can just to drive in a straight line, going the right speed without causing a wreck, but I am not experienced so I know I will do something wrong. I wish there could just be grace for young drivers. I feel like giving you the wheel, because he scares me."

This feeling of being afraid of those in authority is familiar to all of us. Now if we speed or drive wildly out of control or run a red light, we should feel guilty and are worthy of being caught. We are happy and so grateful  there are policeman to keep us protected and safe.

But when laws are many and there are police eyes everywhere looking for a person to make a mistake, we all feel relieved to get out of the eye view of such potential judgment. And so young children will feel--afraid of their authorities--their parents-- if they are atwitter in their hearts just wondering what they will do wrong or how they will disappoint or how they will be punished.

The analogy is not perfect and please know that I am very appreciative of our police force. But I was trying to think of a story that would help parents understand the heart issues at stake in young children. They should be able to learn that they can trust their parents to help them, instruct them, take care of them, protect them, without the baggage of feeling that impending doom and dissatisfaction is hovering over them whenever their parents are near--just waiting for the paddle to hit one more time.

What I have observed is that when children just learn to obey when their parents are nearby, but their hearts have not been reached, then when their parents are out of sight or they are away from their parents, they feel they are free to do anything they wish, because their obedience is external, not internal. Just like all drivers will slow down if they see a police car, but may be much more likely to speed when they think no one is looking.

And so we must ask ourselves the question, "Does my child see me as an adversary, waiting for him to fail? To do something wrong? to sin? That I may be in his face every moment, reminding him of these failures and punishing every act of immaturity as well as sin?"

"My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world."

An advocate is someone who is for you, who defends you, who works for you.

Does my child see me as an advocate, one who comes along beside him, to love and correct gently, to keep him on the path of righteousness, to motivate him in his heart to holiness, to encourage when he is discouraged, to paint a vision for his life and to give him a heart to want to be righteous.

When we look at scripture from Genesis to Revelation, we see God, compelled by his love, to seek our best. He created the garden. He was walking in the garden in the middle of the day to have companionship with his creatures, Adam and Eve. He was even in the garden when they were tempted--he was not surprised when he could not find them as God is omnipresent. But still He came to them and said, "Where are you and what have you done?" though he knew it all. He provided them with garments for clothing. He made them a people, gave them a land, provided them with food and guided them by day and night in the desert.

Finally, He came to redeem, to restore, to love and serve and heal and then to give up His life. Jesus is the one who said, "I have longed to gather them as a hen gathers her chicks."  His heart reflects that of a mother, to love, protect, pull close.

We hear from Jesus' mouth over and over again, "Love one another. Serve one another. They will know you are my disciples by your love for one another."

And so we see the principle of servant- love. Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend.

So, Jesus modeled servant, sacrificial, patient love. He gave his all to redeem his own.

Observing his leadership with his own disciples gave me much food for thought as a parent. (It is the theme of my book Ministry of Motherhood.) Though the disciples were a motley crew--they lived, laughed, loved, gave opinions. Peter was loud but failed in the moment of Jesus' crucifixion, yet Jesus encouraged him, said, "I have prayed for you. After you return, strengthen the brethren."

Thomas doubted. Others wanted first position. They were a normal group of men, immature, growing, learning, yet following Him with a willing heart. And it was these imperfect men, who so felt the love and compelling spirit of Jesus, that they were all willing to give their lives for his cause.

And so my goal is not to have "good" children, but passionate children, given to His kingdom and His cause--even as the disciples gave their lives for Jesus' kingdom and cause.

And so, I must model Jesus' kind of love. Giving of my life, instructing, correcting, certainly. But also modeling, laughing, living, sharing meals. Words of life--"Peter, you are the rock!" "Thomas, you are a man in whom there is no guile." "Mary, your story will be told all over the world."

And he washed their feet. It struck me one day as I was having a quiet time, he washed one hundred and twenty dirty toes on the very night he was going to live his life--much like a mother, giving baths, wiping noses, touching her children, blessing them. And so He became my model.

And so, as we ponder our role, we must decide what we will model to reach the hearts of our children. The specifics will come, but the heart has to be right from the beginning. Our culture wants our job to be easy, quick, just give me the formula and answer. But even as it cost Jesus, his time, effort, love, patience, life, so if we truly want to see our children become not just Christians who will make it into heaven, but mature believers who will have an impact on their world, then we must serve as Jesus served and become an advocate for our own.