Ever ask the question: how much of my past failures do I share with my children? I ask that question all the time and despite not have a clear answer to that question, I’ve done it. Sometimes it worked well. I was able to confront my child’s sin, by telling a story of my own failure. It helped take the edge off that confrontation and opened the door to some real dialog. Then there have been times where it has come back to bite. “Why can’t I _________, you used to do it!”  You’ve been there I’m sure.

So I have tried to be as honest as my courage would allow me.  I followed my gut, and to some degree we need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s direction in all aspects of parenting. You can’t raise children with a manual. You need wisdom. There are times when you need to take a risk. There are other times that you need to hold your tongue. I don’t want to overlook that. But I still wondered if there was any wisdom out there that would help me understand why, as a parent, I should reveal details of my life to my children.

I was reading Psalm 78 the other day and to my surprise I discovered that the Scriptures do speak to this question. The psalm opens with a challenge directed towards adults, parents, and the older generation.

What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from our children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord …  so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. (Psalm 78:3-6)

It’s quite a vision. We will share God’s story with the next generation so that they in turn will tell their children. I find that a compelling vision as we see the majority of children who grow up in the church, leave the church when they become adults.

But what sort of story do we tell them? This is where Psalm 78 gets interesting. It tells the story of God’s faithfulness peppered with scenes of Israel’s colossal failures. There is the time when God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt. The rescue is dramatic as God destroys the pursuing Egyptian army in the Red Sea, but days later when the food runs low ungrateful Israel snarls, “that’s great … but can God spread a table in the desert?” God strikes the rock and water flows out and Israel retorts, “can he also give us food?” God gives them manna from heaven, but Israel wants meat. Time after time a faithful God comes through for his people and each time Israel spurns his grace.

So God changes tactics. He sends judgment was a warning for his people to return to him. Those warnings go unheeded and so more judgment comes. Finally the people in desperation cry out to God and God forgives and saves his people each and every time. The story has a distinctive rhythm. A faithful God blesses his people. His unfaithful people spurn his grace. God sends judgment. The sinful people ignore God’s warnings until the suffering becomes unbearable and they are forced to cry out to God. The faithful God hears them and saves them. The story Israel told cast God as the hero and ourselves as the villain. Why? Because the Israelites wanted their children to learn from their failures and fall in love with the hero.

What if the gospel stories we told our children took the same shape? What if we shared family stories of God’s faithfulness and spoke of our failures?

I have a real problem with anger and low and behold some of my kids do too. I’m shocked. My wife isn’t. It is one of my most destructive sins and yet God has used it in some of the most powerful moments with my children. “I saw you lose it the other day, let me tell I have hurt other people with my anger.”  My child looks at me not as someone who is critical, but as a loving father who longs for them to be rid of this burden. The defenses come down and we’ve had a real opportunity to talk about the grace and mercy of God. Sometimes you can’t appreciate God’s love until you’ve really failed.

There was one moment when one of my children exclaimed through gritted teeth, “I can’t not be angry.” And I by the grace of God was able to say, “that is why we need Jesus.”

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