In a recent post I described a stressed mom talking to her son, Joshua. This mother was correcting Joshua for complaining. and it was essential that his mom give him both correction and direction. Let's take another look at that example and consider in detail how a mom could respond more helpfully.
For this illustration we will assume that remedial verbal discipline was the appropriate response. Just saying that phrase—remedial verbal discipline—sounds heavy and confrontational, invoking memories of lectures and sharp tones. Correcting Joshua about complaining was not a pleasant task, but one of heaviness and duty. Complaining is not good; it is not trusting God, and it is not making Mom’s life any easier. The other siblings heard Josh’s complaints and Mom was sure the entire household would soon shift into complaint mode. Mom feared that this season of complaining might last for several years so she knew she had to take decisive action! So she said these words:
Joshua, you know the Bible says in Philippians 2 that you must not complain about doing what Mommy asks you to do. Now, stop your complaining and get to work. Remember, children should obey their parents. I don’t want to hear any more complaining! Is that clear?
Confident that she has firmly and biblically addressed the matter, Mom heads on to the next thing. From the comments the blog received about this post, it is clear that readers want to know how to talk to Joshua in a way that will correct the complaining effectively, but at the same time, encourage him. Based upon the words used above, it is safe to assume that the “word of God” is not bringing much light to Joshua’s eyes. Why is there a disconnect? How do you, as a parent, help your child make the connection successfully?
First, let’s take a big step back and gain some perspective. Is Joshua’s presence in the family the product of a random series of events? The answer is no, obviously, this family is not the result of random occurrences. He is here, in this particular home, because that is what God planned and accomplished. Ephesians 6:4 commands that this boy be raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord. So there is nothing random about following God’s direction. However, even in homes with the best of intentions and biblical resources, powerful forces conspire against parents and children to make following God’s direction anything but easy. Sin blinds judgment and corrupts the flesh. The world is cursed and at war with the Christian home. Life is difficult and challenging. It is demanding and draining. But, you see, God has determined that he will use the challenges of raising children to drive parents to Christ. Because it is not easy we are forced to turn to Christ, the good Shepherd. What a blessing for us!
Once this perspective has been gained (or regained), it is vital to realize that God has given us everything needed for life and godliness in his precious Word. You need God’s Word. It is designed and inspired by God and illumined by his Spirit to precisely meet the need in every situation. But that is not the same as learning formulas to simply plug into behavioral problems as they occur. The Bible is first of all about relationship. So, as you have heard and known, simply changing behavior is not the focus; building a heart relationship with Jesus Christ is the focus. This is true for both parent and child. You do not want to bring your children to where you are; you want to take them to where you are going—the cross!
Okay, back to world of Joshua, complaints, schedules and struggles. What I am about to say may seem idealistic. I assure you, it is not. It is possible. I have seen this in my own life and in the lives of parents I have had the privilege of knowing for the last 30 years.
Joshua has been complaining . At first it was so infrequent that it was easy to miss, but it has started to become a pattern. Mom has seen this. She and her husband have talked about this and have been praying and planning and preparing to address this pattern. They know that a complaining spirit is most basically a complaint against God, rather than against them. They know that pleasant words promote instruction (Proverbs 16:20-24). So she is prepared for the moment when Joshua complains about having to clean up in the living room. In a warm and understanding tone, she says,
Josh, come over here and sit down with me for a minute. You've been having kind of a tough time lately, haven’t you? Having to pick up for company tonight seems just like one more hard, boring thing to do, doesn't it?
Josh, somewhat taken aback, but glad to be understood, nods his head tentatively.
I have been talking with Dad, and we noticed that you have been kind of down since your friend David’s family moved away. Has that been kind of hard for you?
Again Josh nods his head, and his eyes are just a bit moist.
Oh, Josh, I know it's really hard to have your best friend move away. I know you miss him, and it makes you sad. Lots of sad things happen in this fallen, sinful world. But you know who else knows it's hard? That’s right, God knows. When Jesus became a man, he left his own home—heaven—so he could be here to help us. That must have been really hard for him, but he did it because he wanted to fix the whole problem of sin. And then, he had friends here, but they weren't always very good friends to him. They let him down a lot of the time. Jesus was probably tempted to feel lonely a lot of times. So he knows, and he wants you to trust him. He will bring another friend for you at the right time. Did God know that David’s family would move? That’s right, he planned it that way! So right now, God wants you to be friends with your family, and even more, with God himself. God wants you to trust Jesus to be your friend. We can talk more about that later, but for now, let me read a couple of Bible verses to you.
Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16holding fast to the word of life, ….
I think that Dad is going to talk about these verses in family worship tonight. But I thought I would give you a head start thinking about them. God doesn't want you to complain or grumble even when—or especially when—things are difficult. God wants you to know him and his Word so that you will be comforted when things are hard. Lots of difficult things will happen to you in this life, and having David move is one of them. But God wants you to know that he is able to help you now. Remember, God planned for David to move. Now, does God do bad things? No, you know he doesn’t. Even when it seems bad, like this, you can trust that it's not bad, even though it's really hard.
God has something special for you to learn right now, to help you be more grown up. One important lesson of growing up is that we have to keep doing our responsibilities even when things are hard and we don't want to do them. God wants you to be so different from the world around you, different from people who don't love God, that you are actually kind of like a light. No, silly, I'm not talking about putting a light on your head! I'm talking about your attitude—about being thankful that God is taking caring of you—so that you are like a bright light of joy and contentment, even when things are hard, like now.
Now, about picking things up in here. Is it helpful to complain about doing this? I know you don’t feel like doing it. It's okay to be sad about David moving, but it's not okay to complain. Complaining is really saying that you don't want to accept what God decided, isn’t it? You want what YOU want, and you're kind of angry that you can't have David here. Is that a good attitude? No, we should accept what God does and trust that his way is always best. So how does God want you to respond now? Right, he wants you to respond with a willing attitude, and to be happy that you can help mom get ready for tonight. What you are really doing is putting God first before your feelings, and THAT is a big deal! Come on, let’s pray for God's help, and then get started.
This mother is taking time to understand her son. (In the actual event, there would probably be more back-and-forth interaction, and the conversation might take quite a bit longer; good parenting requires a major time investment!) I realize that every situation of discipline may not have this much background, but always remember—missing issues that are causing pain or unsettledness in our children will lead to more difficult times. And, always having the "right" rebuke will provoke anger if the instruction is not given with kindness and compassion. You know the command, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Before you deliver correction to your child, pause to ask yourself what words and attitude would most effectively encourage you to please God, if you were in your child's place.
Take some time to think about this exchange and how Josh’s mom handled it this time. Ask some questions. We will get back to this in the next post.