Parenting Your Children With Words of Hope and Vision - Pray, Speak & Listen (ThinkJump Journal #98 with Kim Gentes)
I don't know of a single topic that has challenged and scared me more than parenting. You might not understand this until you have become a parent yourself. The moment you hold your newborn child in your arms, you feel an inexplicable joy and care. It is a kind of love that isn't based on give and take- it is something more profound. Something much closer to the kind of love we hear about in the gospels and New Testament- agape. When you become a parent, you find yourself falling in love with a tiny person who, without any ability to reciprocate, has won your love. As the pure joy and peace of being in that kind of love lifts you, another kind of love comes to rest on your shoulders- responsibility.
I call parental responsibility of this kind- love. This is because love, above all other things, is action. Love does something, is something, and hopes for something that is always a little beyond the giver's current capacity. As parents, we love not because we have the resources, wisdom and ability to accomplish all that will be needed to raise a child, but because we know that we must actually change into new people if we are to care for and really love a human being from infancy into adulthood.
Some things work and some things don't. If you have been a parent for any length of time, you've probably discovered that. As with almost all aspects of life, in parenting, words matter. How and what you say can change the direction and impact of your child and their thinking. This is important because what your child hears and believes will become an overarching trajectory for their lives. Part of the responsibility of a parent is to help visioneer with your child- help them discover and begin to journey with them on a vision for their lives. This probably sounds like self-help or corporate entrepreneurialism, but actually, it has a much more focused goal- to help your child see a vision of their life in the purposes and family of God. One of the clearest ways to articulate any vision is through words. So, how can you help communicate and encourage your children in a truthful but hopeful way, as a parent?
Envisioning Your Children with Hope
In over 20 years of parenting, I've found that a "leading-the-witness" communication style has been one of the best methods of successful mentoring children across the years. From very young children just entering the world of conversation to teenagers who are heading towards independence, your words can help describe and discover how to have hope towards the future amidst a real world of challenges. Use your words to invite your child into a hopeful vision of reality. You can paint that vision with faith-filled encouragement, coloring it with words like:
"you have a wonderful [character trait God is growing in them]..."
"you have always been a person with such [positive personal attribute].."
It isn't a sham to see the future in your child and point it out. One points it out like the discovery of a flower in wilderness. You marvel at it for a moment, believing it has value, not only for its beauty, but its uniqueness. You don't start comparing it to all the other flowers one might find in a floral boutique. This one flower has come about in the unique real world, not the sterilized realm of a "for sale" production environment.
Being the parent, you might have real wisdom or insight into the specificity of your child's gifts, perhaps even their destiny. If you don't yet, pray and ask the Lord to show you the heart of His work in your children. I am convinced that He will show you, as the parent, His heart at work in their character. But ultimately this is your child, not an extension of your own desires. Speak them towards the goodness of God's future in them, without being presumptuous enough to push them into a mask of your own unfulfilled dreams. Even with the best intentions, be sure to invite them to the great hopes God has placed in them, don't presume that the outcome of their journey must look like your interpretation of those hopes.
I remember praying with each of my three sons from the time they were babies. Each night. I would speak and pray with them in a way which painted a picture for them of things that might not have been true 100% in the present, but which I knew was the destiny of anyone who continued to work on the kinds of character items they were dealing with.
What does this mean, practically?
Pray - regardless of how old they get, pray with them, for them and over them in their presence. Let them hear what you are asking God for in their lives. This isn't all you would do, but it is an important component to helping launch hope and vision in their hearts. Let them join in and articulate their own prayers for themselves and others. For example, I would pray for one of my sons "Father, continue to grow ----'s heart for the lost and lonely. Lord, give him insights and compassion at the moment when he needs it and when he encounters those people you place in his path each day."
Speak - tell them when you see Christlike character rising up in them. Point out moments that are examples they can know and look at to discover the good things growing in them. For example, I remember telling one of my sons, "---- what you did right there, when you included that kid and invited him along with your friends, you are showing God's welcoming heart. It may not seem like much, but that is an example of the kingdom of God breaking through when you did that. Son, keep listening to the kinds of thoughts and ideas that come to you in the day that lead to doing that kind of thing for and with others."
Listen - sincerely listen to your kids. You will find they have some very profound experiences in their lives. They aren't looking for wisdom in their day, most of the time. But their experiences are teaching them things, and often times you have a chance to help them process and interpret those experiences through a scriptural world view. But doing so begins with listening to them. Each day. As they share and you listen without being dismissive they will become convinced that you value their daily life. You won't have to ask how each day went. They will naturally begin sharing with you, because they know you value them and will listen. A sure sign that this is the case is that they will come up to you and want to tell you their stories each day, without prompting. If this is not happening, you can begin to develop that interest and trust by simply asking them what happened today. Then sincerely listen. Don't judge or jump in. Wait. Listen. Hear the story and their interpretation of it. Listen and understand how they are evaluating the world. The more you do this, the more they will invite you into their story, their lives- asking you what you think, what you would do, and what they should do.
Never Stop Learning
If you think that having adult age children means success, then you might be surprised to hear that I am still learning each day. My sons range from 17 to 23 years old. While we love being around them, and enjoy their company and character as young adults, we still have years to wait to see how the depth of their character develops. I believe that a measure of a person's character is not in their actions and life alone, but on the ability for those actions and life to be reproduced into the lives of others. Perhaps when my own sons have children who are showing the fruits of strong character, we will begin to see the impact of some of these ideas we've been sowing in their lives. As you and I are learning together, I offer up this prayer for us both.
A Prayer for Parents
Father, come to us with your tangible, powerful peace. Remind us that our children's real future lies with you, and it is in your grace and mercy that they are ultimately matured.
Show us how to love. How to love You. How to love our spouse. How to love our children. How to love our extended family and friends, and the community of Christ in a kind of self-giving offering that cares as much about others as it does about self.
Teach us how to teach. How to be the people we say we are, and to guide our children to have the thorough kind of character that actually is the same on the inside as it is on the outside.
Wrap us in your joy, Lord. That we may operate through the vantage of thankfulness and not the spirit of fear.
Lift us in generosity, God. That we can be the kind of people from whom giving is a daily way of life, not an unnatural divergence from the norm.
Help us to surrender, Jesus. That our lives, and our children are actually the offerings we give to you. That part of true daily worship is raising our children to be released to you, an offering of a life well-lived.
Thank you for being our Father, and for parenting us as we parent those you have given to us.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.