24 June 2009

Little Fear, Big Lobotomy: A Parenting Repost

Double-mindedness is prevalent in the world of parenting. As parents, at least two things increase the temptation to turn off the brain.

First, children are our pride and joy and I don’t say that as a good thing. Much of our identity can be connected with our children. I would love to present my kids to the world as perfect because then, of course, I would be perfect by proxy.

Second, parenting requires my whole heart. Faith, prayer, time, resources, love, discipline and more are required of me (when it is lease convenient) and I’m not especially happy about that. The ideal situation would be to have perfect kids without the work. Would you like to hear some great (and deadly) news? I can achieve this logically inconsistent goal temporarily by simply turning off my brain.

My children's fear gets me all kinds of double-minded. Fear has its place in human life. I fear standing in a busy street and I fear being punished for stealing. That healthy fear is not what I am referring to. Israel was afraid to enter the Promised Land. Peter was afraid to align himself with Christ and denied knowing Him. This unholy fear is a lack of faith and is, consequently, sin.

There are times when I have asked my children to follow me into something that has aroused their fear. It is easy to look at scared little eyes and say, “Well they’re afraid, certainly they don’t need to obey me if they are afraid.” But that would deny the fact that the child has disobeyed me and, therefore, has disobeyed God (Eph 6:1, Col. 3:20). I am tempted with redefinition of obedience because, again, it allows me to avoid acting. Before I suspend my logical faculties, I should stop and address the situation for what it really is. The child does not trust me, they are questioning my authority and, if I allow it, I am training them to bring that tendency into their relationship with Christ. I am not furthering Christ’s instruction in their life:
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows." Luke 12:4-7
God calls us to recognize His supremacy over all things first and, in light of His supreme goodness, to not fear the things of this world. When I give allowances to my child’s fear of following me, I am giving them a predisposition to oppose Christ’s instruction as adults.

This does not mean that I address this disobedience coldly. There is a need for compassion (Matt 9:36,Hebrews 4:14-16) as I understand this sinful fear, but there should be no room for redefining the event, which allows me to remain passive. The child’s fear is rebellion and it needs to be addressed.
A practical example may provide some clarity. Several years ago my daughter, Ryene, was home with me while mom was in the hospital with our then new baby, Hudson. Ryene woke from her nap terrified from the noise of a couple hundred crows in the towering cottonwoods around our home. As I tried to console her and calm her fears, something dawned on me. I needed to address this fear. Something about the health of her femininity required an assurance of daddy’s protection.

Now to this point in the story, Ryene had done nothing wrong – this fear in and of itself was not a problem. The problem arose when I decided that we were going to actively address this fear.

Da crows, papa – dem crows scah-wee!” she sobbed.

Ry-Ry it is ok. Daddy is here and you are safe,” I insisted. “Now we are going outside to see that those crows are nothing to be afraid of and that daddy will protect you.

With that instruction, fear consumed her. “No papa, no!” she screamed and now we had a problem.

Her fear had led to a distrust of my instruction and to disobedience that must be addressed. Trust me, this little blond-haired, blue-eyed cherub has me wrapped around her finger and I was tempted to give up on this conviction. I saw the emotion and I saw the trouble we were heading into because of her disobedience and my excuses began to take form.

This was a defining moment.

A double-minded, non-thinking rationale would have allowed me to stay passive and still claim some success.
“I know she said ‘no’ but clearly she is scared and now is an opportunity to show grace. Surely I shouldn’t push her beyond her comfort that would be unfair. Yes, that’s it – this is a matter of justice to a little girl. She’s a good kid and I’m a good parent.”
Thankfully, God spurred me on to finish what I started and deal with her fear and subsequent rebellion. So I picked her up and we headed into the heart of her fear – the front yard under the cottonwoods. My mission was to deal with these crows and have Ryene see it. My arsenal consisted of two wooden pizza paddles.

The girl was terrified and begging to go in. I set her on the ground by my side and, while she had a death grip on my legs, I calmly told her we were staying. I began to slap those two paddles together. The first “crack” drove the majority of the crows away. Ryene’s countenance began to change. The second and third strikes left all but about 5 crows. As Ryene watched intently, I realized there were no alternatives now – every crow must be scared away.

These five crows seemed deaf. Slap after slap did nothing to unnerve them. The stakes were high and I was beginning to question how this was going to end. Finally, after a flurry of blows and one paddle shattering into splinters, every crow left. I will never forget the next 30 seconds. Ryene looked at me with peace and gratitude and proclaimed “Wow, papa! Ur bigga den dem crows!” As I picked her up, all her tension had left and she fell into my arms. Several sweet moments passed between father and daughter when I realized that we had an audience. Several neighbors watched the whole thing.

I am certain of two things. That day, my neighbors became convinced of my instability and, that day, my daughter’s soul was served. Ryene was not allowed to let fear reign in her heart and to disobey. She learned that she was safe to trust her dad. For months following, she would address any crow with a defiant “Go way cwows, my papa’s bigga den you!

Granted, these are small steps in the process of building her into a devoted follower of Christ, but I would have missed them had I rationalized her disobedience. It was critical that I saw the situation for what it was – rebellion. Sure it was driven by fear, but it was rebellion all the same and I needed to address it.

Reinterpreting my child’s defiance (whatever her motive) does her no good. She is a broken sinner in need of redemption and I must address that clearly regardless of the action it will require. If I check my brain at the door and ignore the obvious, her soul will suffer as my life temporarily experiences ease. Rest assured, the chickens will come home to roost and I will see my cute little cherub as a rebel.

May God give us strength to clearly, consistently and graciously deal with our children when it matters.


  1. Wow! We are certainly not taught that in HDFS. We'd be taught that the sensitive thing to do is to give in and not let her see the birds if she was afraid. But you showed her that you would protect her... that story made me cry & wished I had an early father like that. But I do have a heavenly Father who is greater than the best earthly one.

    I appreciate you posting this because we've talked about some parenting flaws that might affect the next generation before individually. I remember having fears of mine (rational) being dismissed in a non-compassionate way, and it's nice you addressed that.

    Keep on pressing for Jesus!

  2. Anonymous9:14 PM

    That is a great example, Mitch. It really helps to illustrate when fear is a sin, and when it's not. Thanks!