Last Sunday Phil preached particularly to parents. During his first point, he listed off seven ways we can exasperate our children, which means to sinfully or unnecessarily provoke them to anger. Here are the seven:
- Excessive or harsh discipline. Whenever our punishment doesn't fit the crime, our children can get exasperated. When they sense that we are angry more because we have been inconvenienced than they have been wrong, we can provoke them to get angry or simply give up.
- Unrealistic expectations. Do they feel like the bar we've set is simply too high for them? Are we missing the fact that they aren't perfect, and they are sinners just like us? Are we missing the fact that they are only children and not adults?
- Cruel or harsh words. Is our speech angry or biting or condescending or overly sarcastic?
- Poor or inconsistent discipline. Are we constantly changing the rules on them? Is something wrong when we're tired that isn't wrong when we're fresh? Is something wrong after a parenting seminar that isn't wrong a month later?
- Lack of appreciation, respect, or approval. Do we show little appreciation of our children? Do we lack respect for their opinions? Do we fail to treat them as people made in the image of God? Do we express real approval for them, not because they have 'earned it' but because we simply love them? In other words, do we approve of them in the way God approves of us?
- Blatant hypocrisy. Another way to tempt our children is to be hypocrites. Do we forbid them behaviors that we indulge in ourselves? Do we call them to seek the Lord in ways we aren't? Of course, we are sinners, too. We will always be calling them to a standard we haven't achieved, but sometimes it's clear we aren't living the Christian life we are demanding of them. Few things are as provocative as hypocrisy.
- Failure to listen. Do we simply fail to stop and listen to our children? Their dreams and fears and ideas and opinions? Are we too busy to engage in a real conversation with them, or too distracted?
God help us. No one is immune to these temptations. We've all done it. But it's important to acknowledge it if it's affecting our relationship with our children or is causing them to turn away from the Lord. We might need to humble ourselves and confess our sin to the Lord and to our children.
In the end, the only perfect Father is God himself. Jesus said, "Your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). He is infinitely holy, perfectly gracious, endlessly merciful, untiring in his attention to us, patient with our faults, sacrificial in his love, unfailing in his power, and we could add a hundred more superlatives. He is...perfect. But through the forgiveness and power we receive in the gospel, through relying on his grace and through his Holy Spirit, we can be the parents he is calling us to be. Again, God help us.