The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn which shines brighter and brighter until the full day. Proverbs 4:18 (Sarah, Joy, Joel and I on a Austrian path in the alps on a lovely spring day.)
Every once in a while, I reprint an old article that many people have requested! Here you go!
Obedience--first time or eventual?
Now, the secret is out--I do believe in obedience for me, for children, for all who want to love and serve God. But, I see now that the goal for my obedience is not behavioralism--performance--doing a task that I want done this instant because of fear of punishment. I do not measure my success as a parent by whether or not my children instantly obey.
I think that the goal is to teach our children to obey quickly, but search as I may, I cannot find that as a standard in scripture. And so I may find relief in the grace I have found in scripture.
I have loved the book by Eugene Peterson, "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction." ( Not a book about parenting, but a book on discipleship for adults) Even the title itself is about the process of discipleship--creating lives dedicated to the service and love of God by a life time of learning to make mature choices. Wisdom is little by little.
Instead, I want my children to learn to love God, to desire to serve Him out of their hearts of respect, awe, reverence, love. I look for growth, not perfection. Maturity, not instant holiness.
Now, it is in the process of having them learn to do my will, that they learn obedience. I must go against their wills to teach them to obey. But it is little by little, season by season. Personality and gender and exhaustion and wellness and life all go into the process.
Sometimes it is first time and sometimes it isn't. But, I am trying to train their hearts to learn and to value and honor obedience.
For me, this was best done over years and years of training, correcting, modeling, loving and doing it all again the next day.
The older I get, the more I reflect on Christianity from a long term perspective. It seems that God is a long-term process Father. He doesn't do things all at once. He is rarely on my timetable. I almost always have to wait much longer than I want to to see my prayers answered. He does not make my life easy or take away the difficult things, but teaches me in the midst. I am very grateful, though, that he is not pernicious or unnecessarily harsh. He is patient, compassionate, understanding, loving through the whole process.
His focus for me as a child is that I move from immaturity towards maturity. From self-absorption to self-sacrifice. His discipline for me is daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, training my appetites of life to His ways. Teaching me to love righteousness and to be sensitive to His heart. Learning in my real paths of life how to life my life his way, with His wisdom. It has taken me a whole lifetime to learn the ways of righteousness. And so it is with our children.
God's Fathering of me
When I was a young, single missionary in Eastern Europe, I thought I was so spiritual--and I probably was for my age. I had given my life to Christ and wanted to be "His girl", following Him to the ends of the earth and bringing His love and grace to bear. But, because I was young and I had not failed enough or come to my own limits, I did not even know how much I needed to depend on God. I did not know how very capable I was of sin. I did not clearly see my own immaturity. I was not humble. All of these areas were not because I did not want to please God, but because I was young, inexperienced and didn't know better.
But then when I got married and had children, I began to realize just how selfish I was and how little I had learned to work. For a while, I thought my problem was my children and marriage, and then I realized that my children were God's gift to me, but also His way of bringing training of righteousness into my own life, by teaching me what it really meant to serve Him, to give up my rights, to be humble.
The real giving of my life to Him was every day, every minute to the constant demands of my family and Clay. Parenting was for me His pathway of teaching me to obey, to love, to serve. Family life was His training grounds to build holiness into my life.
I am so very grateful that He did not show me all of my sinful, selfish ways at once. He gently took my hand and through the process of caring for my family, little by little I became aware of my need to mature, to love more, to give grace, to be loyal, to work harder, to serve, as He had done with His disciples.
He disciplines us that we may share in his holiness. Holiness is a long term process of development in our hearts, training our wills to want to obey out of a developed love and awe of God.
Path of Life Parenting
There are so many verses that speak of this. Clay calls it, "The Path of Life" parenting model.
The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn--it shines brighter and brighter, a little at a time.
Proverbs also tells us, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. It is a process--a little here, a little there, a little again. Giving our children the appetite for obedience, wisdom, love, and holiness.
I am so grateful in my own life, that God did not overwhelm me with all of my sin and selfishness at once. I would have quit if He had treated me harshly. I wanted to please God and I wanted to be righteous, but didn't even know that I was so very immature. My heart was right in my own eyes and was seeking to please Him, but my character and behavior lacked so much. it has taken me a life-time to understand just what it really means to be sacrificially loving, loyal in my faith, righteous and generous in my behavior. If God has treated me in such a way, shouldn't that be the way I treat my children.
Babies are made to be totally dependent so that they can live in their mother's arms, and be held and taken everywhere she goes to breathe in the reality of the life she herself lives in Christ.
First, they learn that they can depend on their mother to be comforted, touched, protected. They learn that when they are hungry, their mothers provide their needs, feed them, clothe them, sing to them. This loving connection is the first place babies must learn to look to their parent for their very life, but also for the cues of life.
The baby grows into a toddler, and then into a fully walking person, all gradually. And so the baby learns obedience this way as well.
Even nature itself teaches us so much about process and I find that God has hidden so many mysterious and wonderful answers within the art of His playground--creation. All seeds start small and take time to develop into a full plant. Same with trees. A small sapling in time can become a great, towering tree, but it takes years and years.
Same with baby animals. From puppy to dog. Calf to cow or bull. Chick to fully grown hen.
Sometimes I think it is because we have such small families that we micro-manage obedience and training of little children. When a mom has numerous children who are constantly in need of life, food, clothing and managing chores, and responsibilities, she is much more gradual about the training of her little babies--as she goes, as she can, as the baby lives and learns in the warp and woof of the family life.
Throughout centuries, families were large, and the "gang" all tended to lend themselves to a positive-peer pressure sort of influence on the development of the baby. I know that all of my children tended to learn things together, what the Clarkson values were, what the Clarkson manners were, what the Clarkson expectations were.
With asthmatics and ear-infected children, I had to teach my children to wait their turn. Life itself gave them ways to learn to be unselfish and to learn to serve-because I needed their help!
I have seen that my children went through normal growth patterns. None of them now suck a binky (pacifier), wear a diaper, want to sleep with me every night, etc. God has put maturity into their very dna and brain cells. It is ours to be patient with the process, to enjoy it and to learn from it.
If we just learn to patiently live with our children long enough and learn to look to God for guidance, and train them little by little, the mysterious life of God begins to work in and through their hearts and lives. Yet, we must remember that this is a natural and normal path from the beginning of time--to live into it, and not fight it, and to cultivate joy along the way.
I will be writing more about these areas soon as I have time. But just wanted to share a few thoughts that have been perking in my heart about obedience.