I find that parenting can often be a lot about keeping up appearances. What I mean by that is it’s often easy to slip into the habit of dealing with skin-deep issues rather than prioritising the heart. In church this week we looked at Mark Chapter 7, where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for putting ceremony and tradition above God’s word:
He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teaching are merely human rules.
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’ vv 6-8.
It’s pretty strong stuff. Do you see Jesus is saying that by observing their own made-up rules, they’ve actually ‘let go’ of God’s word. He later says they’ve nullified God’s word. In their efforts to look and feel holy, they were actually rejecting the true and living God.
Of course, it’s not just the Pharisees’ problem. This tendency to want to look pure rather than actually having a pure heart is a habit of a lifetime for me, and it often affects the way I train my children.
Have you ever had that awkward (/mortifying) moment in the toddler group when your child resolutely refuses to say sorry? They’ve kicked/punched/bitten/snatched from little Bobby, but no matter how hard you try to get them to apologise, they just won’t – all under the watchful eye of Bobby’s mum. The problem is I think I’m more embarrassed than I am concerned about the fact my child isn’t genuinely sorry. If he does say ‘sorry’, then he’s done the socially acceptable thing and therefore I’m not really too bothered whether he is sorry or not. I can breathe a sigh of relief and move on.
Or sometimes I can have regularBible/praise/prayer routines in the home and I can sit back on my laurels and think that my children have the right attitude, but that isn’t always the case! If they’re singing a song of thanksgiving to God but fighting over who gets to sing ‘Amen’ at the end, then perhaps I need to go over with them (yet) again why they’re actually singing the song in the first place! Argh.
I can sometimes be more concerned about their behaviour than about their hearts. And I can be more encouraged by their achievements than about their characters.
I do this, for (at least) two reasons:
1. I’m a people-pleaser more than I’m a God-worshipper.
I care more about what other people think of me than what God thinks of me; I want to please people more than I want to please God.
2. I’m a box-ticker more than I’m a heart-surrenderer.
It’s much easier and more instantly satisfying to set an achievable goal and then achieve that goal, than it is to die to myself and give God my absolute everything every single day.
I recently read in Joel 2v13 God say to his people, ‘Rend your hearts and not your garments.’ Aside from being beautiful rhetoric (I’m always won over by a good metaphor), this is such a helpful admonition to me as a mum. Tearing garments was often a sign of repentance or mourning. God wanted them to repent and mourn with sincerity, not just for show. I’ve never actually torn my garments (on purpose), but I often think that by showing something on the outside I don’t need to bother with it in my heart. It’s a continuous battle:
Seeming on top of things Vs Showing complete dependence on God
Talking of dependence on God Vs Truly relying on God
Homemade Birthday cake + irritable mum Vs Tesco cake + kind mum
‘Quiet Time Slot’ Vs True repentance, praise and worship
Gourmet dinner + misery Vs Chicken nuggets + love and patience
I do have friends who are good at this heart-not-garment business. Which is encouraging! It is possible after all. Their children aren’t always the best behaved or the best turned-out and they don’t even know all of the answers in Bible time. But they know grace; they know God’s provision; they know Jesus is King. And in the Kingdom of God, those are the things that matter.
For more on this, I’d recommend ‘Shepherding a Child’s Heart’ by Tedd Tripp. If you’ve read it, you’ll be thinking ‘Yeah Catherine, tell me something I don’t already know!’ Sorry! But hopefully it’s still good to be reminded.