“With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love”
“Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.”
“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way. It would be better for a millstone to be tied around his neck than for him to cause one of my little ones to stumble.”
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.”
One of my all-time favorite literary characters is Nellie Oleson from the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Being the daughter of a well-to-do storekeeper, Nellie, in her fancy store-bought dresses, made the most of every opportunity to let the Ingalls girls know that she thought they were beneath her. In nearly every situation, Nellie made her wishes known, made choices for the group without considering them, and always did so in a manner that conveyed her belief that she was better than the Ingalls girls.
Ma Ingalls, ever the voice of Christian piety, encouraged her daughters to always consider others as better than themselves, but Laura struggled with this during all her school years in Walnut Grove. Even though Laura became quite accomplished, no matter what she did, she always felt that, somehow, she was not as good as Nellie Oleson.
Esteeming or valuing someone as better than yourself is difficult. As a matter of fact, it is really difficult but it is a command that I believe applies in all relationships within the body of Christ, including how we treat our children.
Several years ago I read a quote from a young adult who had lived under the authoritarian attitudes of parents who were part of a very stringent homeschooling group, a group that teaches and promotes a hierarchical, chain-of-command structure within the home, family, and church. This young woman said that, while she is now a Christian and is married with a family of her own, one day she intends to homeschool her own children but in an entirely different context than the way she was raised. She talked about how difficult it was for her during her teen years because, while she didn’t seek to be rebellious, she constantly lived under the scrutiny of parents who had a certain vision for her life without taking into consideration any of her own convictions or desires. In describing her life she admitted, “There have been several times where I contemplated taking my own life, so dark was the cloud of judgment and a sense of overwhelming failure because I could not live up to the standards set by those over me.”
I was broken hearted as I read those words and wept as I asked God to forgive me for the many times that I had expectations on my children that were based on my own preferences and convictions, without taking into consideration their own feelings or even all that God might have planned for their own lives, apart from me. This is hard to swallow, painful, and sometimes, downright scary, because this is where faith in God’s sovereignty meets our own pitiful attempts to control other people.
I want to be very clear that I am not talking about what the Bible defines as sin. I already addressed this in the “iron sharpening iron” commands article. We are most definitely called to instruct, teach, admonish, etc. as we grow in grace with our children.
What I am talking about are the behaviors that children make or ideas that they have that can’t be as easily defined as “sinful behavior,” but in some circles are defined as such. Small children, for example, often struggle with sleeping at night. Is it right that we demand a good night’s sleep at the expense of a child’s physical or emotional needs? Older children might question reasons for certain family standards and they deserve to be given a hearing rather than told that even asking questions is rebellion.
You see, children are not stupid. And, especially if you have trained them to measure all things by the standard of the Bible, they will read and be confused when things we have labeled as “sinful” never appear in that light on the pages of God’s word. Then what our children see in us is an attitude of superiority, of esteeming ourselves more highly than them, of placing our choices on a higher plane than their choices, and, worst of all, of placing our own standards over Scripture.
I recently read the blog of a well-known homeschooling leader that referred to a certain couple as a “home education legend.” Now, when I think of a legend within Christian circles, I think of Jim Elliot or Jonathan and Elizabeth Goforth, or Willian Carey, men and women who have followed Christ and obeyed the Word of God, forsaking man’s ways. Doing a little research on this “home education legend,” I soon discovered why they were legendary: they had purposed to follow the preferences of this homeschooling leader in establishing standards in their homes! You see, the message was sent, loud and clear, that to be a home education star, a family of legendary proportions, you must do things a certain way. Dear sisters, this is not right. No home education family ought to be placed on a pedestal or esteemed more highly than another, especially because they have followed the teachings of one particular man!
I would encourage you today to gently listen to your own children, to find out what they believe the Lord is doing in their lives, to welcome their ideas and thoughts. And while you do, remember that the Holy Spirit is working in each of them for His own pleasure and to do His own will. That, itself, makes them worthy of our esteem!
Next we will consider what it might mean to submit to our children!