Learning to be a Better Parent… from my Kids?

I was the speaker for the Spring Banquet for one of the other Protestant churches in DuBois in 2006. Here are my notes:

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My kids have been teaching me how to be a parent. I thought I knew, but bit by bit and day by day I encounter situations that I just have to learn some new parenting skill… whereas before I had any kids I was pretty sure I knew how children ought to be raised… Now I just hope that we all live through it. And we look for the memorable moments along the way. And I’m not alone in this either, am I?

Chuck Swindoll tells a story of when his son Curtis was 6 and his daughter Charissa was 4 when he found himself in one of those memorable moments. He says that he suggested before supper that Curtis serve his little sister before he served himself. Chuck says:

Naturally, [Curtis]wondered why, since the platter of chicken sat directly in front of him… and he was hungry as a lion. I explained it is polite for fellas to serve girls before they serve themselves. The rule sounded weird, but he was willing… as long as she didn’t take too long.

… After prayer, he picked up the huge platter, held it for his sister, and asked which piece of chicken she wanted.

She relished all this attention. Being quite young, however, she had no idea which piece to take. So, very seriously, she replied, “I’d like the foot.”

He glanced in my direction, frowned as the hunger pains shot through his stomach, then looked at her and said, “Uh… Charissa, Mother doesn’t cook the foot!”

To which she replied, “Where is it?”

With increased anxiety he answered ( a bit louder), “I don’t know! The foot is somewhere else, not on this platter. Look, choose a piece. Hurry up!”

She studied the platter and said, “OK, just give me the hand.”

By now their mother and father were biting their lips to refrain from laughing out loud. We would have intervened, but decided to let them work it out alone. That’s part of the training process.

“A chicken doesn’t have a hand, it has a wing, Charissa.”

“I hate the wing, Curtis… Oh, go ahead and give me the head.”

By then I was headed toward the bathroom. I couldn’t hold my laughter any longer. Curtis was beside himself. His sister was totally frustrated, not being able to get the piece she wanted.

Realizing his irritation with her and the absence of a foot or a hand or head, she finally said in an exasperated tone, “Oh, all right! I’ll take the belly button!”

That did it. He reached in, grabbed a piece, and said, “That’s the best I can do!” He gave her the breast, which was about as close to the belly button as he could get.”

We laugh… and Chuck Swindoll laughed. But it illustrates a really important point. Kids will try their best to face new situations, but they’ll still only understand as much as they’ve been able to see and hear. Little Charissa didn’t know much about anatomy… of a chicken, at least. But she knew a little bit about her own anatomy. There were feet, hands, head, and belly button.

She started with what knowledge she already had…

That’s part of what I think Jesus had in mind when he was talking to the disciples in Mark chapter 10, verses 13-16

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

The children that day started with the knowledge that Mommy or Daddy brought them to the nice preacher… and they learned that he was nice… Gently, and kindly, he held them and blessed them.

Can you imagine as the years went by and those parents talked to that child about that day?

When I’m in the middle of a frustrating parent/child lesson, sometimes it’s hard for me to hear Jesus’ words that I’m to learn from these kids… and if I want to even enter the kingdom of Heaven I have to do it like the little children. So what can my kids, and your kids, teach us about approaching God, approaching Christ, and entering into the kingdom of God?

I think they have two ways.

First, they listen and observe and watch and hear…

Our little children are always watching and listening aren’t they?

They are learning by watching and listening to us… their parents… their mentors… their Sunday School teachers…

A child cannot learn to do something new unless they have first heard what is expected… they need an example. They watch for what we do so that they can make sense out of what is being asked of them in the new situation.

My daughter Michele is in the process of getting ready for her learner’s permit for driving. But she had to start with watching her mother and I drive first… And a decision on her part that she, too, wanted to learn this new skill. She had to learn the basics and the rules from the driver’s manual before she even had the right to TRY to get the permission to learn to actually drive the car.

And that brings us to the second way that children learn. First they witness what ought to be, by watching, listening, reading, and questioning… and then they learn by doing.

I learned a whole lot more about driving the day my mother let me drive the family vehicle the one mile from our house to the high school… I had watched my grandparents and parents drive our standard shift cars for years… I knew one foot went on the pedal on the far left and one foot went on the pedal to the far right.

Except the truck I was driving that morning was an automatic… and there I was with one foot pushing on the brake and one foot pushing on the gas… Almost thirty years later and my mother still talks of the fear and panic I brought into her life that day. She never rode with me again until years and years later.

In the process of doing, I learned something new about driving…

I saw this again the other night at Gabbie’s birthday party over at Playtime Pizza. Gay was at IUP for classes and I was the parent on duty. Gabbie had invited Josh to the party so off the two of us went.

I watched him as he played… Alone at first, but trying everything. He played a little bit with some of the other smaller children in the toddler play section… but he saw the bigger kids playing on the jungle gym (or whatever that thing was called). He watched… he listened… he started to try and follow their example.  He tried to actually do what those other kids were doing… climbing the rope ramps and burrowing through the sea of little balls, crossing the webbed bridges and getting around the obstacles. He wasn’t as fast… but he was determined. He watched and listened and got a picture in his mind of what he ought to do… but then he did it!

But then he saw some of the bigger kids sliding down this huge tunnel. He followed them over to the top and looked… and ran away… then he climbed around some and went and looked again… and then ran away again. He finally got to the top alone and just looked. And at that point I got down on my hands and knees at the bottom so that he could see me and said Come on down, Buddy!

He smiled when he saw me, he laughed and down he came!

And he loved it! For 20 more minutes, he climbed and crossed, and crawled, so that he could slide down… to the point where I had to make him stop and get a drink because he was so hot and winded and sweat was rolling down his head.

Josh learned by watching… and then by doing…

That’s why we have toy refrigerators and toy stoves, toy building blocks and toy hammers and saws, toy cars and toy trucks, and even toy babies and toy children… So that our children can watch us and learn how to use those things and then, with their toy versions, they can learn by doing.

That’s how I think we’re to learn when it comes to the kingdom of God as well… we come like children, little children in fact, and we watch & listen, to the word that was written and the Word that was born and lived with us… and then, after seeing his example and hearing his call, we learn to be his disciples by doing… trying out the things we saw him do in the gospels and he told us in his word… Sometimes hesitatingly and sometimes not doing such a great job… but we learn to be his disciples as members of His kingdom just like little kids learn anything: we watch & listen… then we try to do on our own.

I think that’s part of what James is talking about when he says that we are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

Yes, we’re learning to follow Christ more completely, but it’s not enough to just read and study and listen and attend… there comes a point where we have to get around to the trying and doing… or else we are guilty of just being hearers only…

It would be like Josh at the top of that slide and watching how other kids do it and yet, him choosing not to ever try to slide down.

What an experience he would have missed… what fun he would have lost… and never even known what he was missing.

Folks, some of us in the church of Jesus Christ have watched our pastors and Sunday school leaders, our youth group directors and our small group mentors for years. We’ve read the Bible, we’ve heard the sermons and the lessons, and we’ve watched men and women of faith show us how to be a man or woman of integrity… being a follower of Jesus Christ.

And yet the church, especially in the United States, is still full of people who sit back and just watch and listen… but never try to put into practice what they’ve seen and heard. The American church is full of hearers… but not full of doers. Our churches are full of childish people… who cry when they don’t get their own way… but they’re not childlike… willing to be hearers and doers approaching God with an open, childlike, teachable spirit.

I don’t attend your church, I only know a few of the people who attend your church, I’ve only known your pastor for a couple of years and then only seen and talked to him a couple times a month…

But I know that God Almighty has tried to use the men and women of faith around you, including your pastor, to show you and teach you what God Himself wants in your lives…

I don’t know what He’s asking you for… I don’t know what He’s asking you to do… But I know that with so many rich examples and teaching and preaching, the Holy Spirit has been trying to get you to do something…

Now, will we just be hearers? Or like little children, will we be the hearer who then, with as mush gusto as they can muster, step into the trying and doing part of learning?

If we can trust that Jesus really knew what he was talking about, then our answer to that question determines our place in the kingdom of God.

What’s God trying to teach you? Have you seen His people give you the examples to follow? Are you listening to how His Word relates to Your own personal life situation? Or does Harold just preach to someone else?

And if you HAVE heard what God wants to teach you, are you stepping into it? Are you learning by doing?

How do you learn to worship? By starting to worship…

How do you learn to pray? By starting to pray…

For many of us, it’s how do we serve in the role of the mentor… giving our children and the new Christians in our life an example of what a Christian is like… Sometimes when I realize my kids are watching me, it scares me to death.

I’ve had the lessons and the teaching, the preaching and men and women of God showing me how to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ… Now, as I step out and try to do that which I’ve seen and heard, and do what I’ve been shown, now I learn even more…

How about you?

Little children learn by hearing and doing… and Jesus says we come into the kingdom of God that same way.

Are we doers? Or just hearers only?

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