Does your child consider you an adversary or an advocate?

Severin Nilson

Child discipline--how to, how much, when, how old, is the question I receive most in my mail. Formulas are so easy and so promising, yet God did not give any formulas--only men define the formulas. He wanted us to walk by faith. How our children perceive our role in their lives will very much influence their understanding of what God is like.

How does your child perceive you--as an adversary ready to catch them doing wrong at any moment or as an advocate, the one on their team who always believes in them and draws out the best.

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."

We have had numerous friends who have been stopped, as there have been new directives enacted in our area  to help raise the funds in our area to rebuild the highway. But the addition of police cars and the numerous tickets has actually created a ground swell of people complaining and talking to the city councilmen.

Let me be clear. I am not saying that the officers are wrong. They are just enforcing the laws that have been passed.But there have been some

Yet, every time I enter the freeway and see a police car, my heart was beats quickly and I panic a little feeling as though  must be doing something wrong. 

First let me say, I am so very grateful for our policemen and women who protect us, risk their lives for us and help in so many ways. Yet, what I wanted to communicate is that unreasonable fear we all sometimes feel. This feeling of being afraid of those in authority is familiar to all of us. Of course, if we speed or drive wildly out of control or run a red light, we should feel guilty and are worthy of being caught and fined. We are happy and so grateful  there are policeman to keep us protected and safe.

But when laws are too 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. I am speaking more of laws--some are good and protect, some are too much and invasive. I do not pretend to be the judge of the good laws and the ill-conceived ones..

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.