Andy Stanley - What Love Requires of Parenting?
One of the inevitable challenges of parenting, is that we love our stuff, right? And we love our kids. And from time to time, there is conflict between our love for our stuff and our love for our kids, or maybe that's just me I don't know. When our kids were seven, five and three all 20 months apart, I bought a used high mileage Infiniti, and it was the nicest car I'd ever owned. It was super dark green. In fact, it looked black at night. It was in pretty much mint condition, and I intended to keep it that way which was probably my first mistake. And unfortunately I was alone in that pursuit.
So one Saturday morning, I'm taking out the trash in the garage and I noticed there was something on the hood of my immaculate Infiniti. I walked over for a closer look, and to my utter dismay, discovered that someone had scratched a large capital letter A, into the hood of my car. And beside the A, were attempts at several other lowercase letters. So, needless to say, I was not happy. And within minutes, my two sons were standing on each side of me, as I demanded to know who scratched up my car, who messed up my stuff, silence. And then Garrett, our five-year-old piped up, he said this. He said, "Daddy, Allie did it. Allie did it with a wock", which rock. Allie did it with the rock. Allie as a whopping three years old.
So I called Allie out to the garage, I pointed to my hood and I said, "Allie, did you do this"? And she smiles at me. And she says, "Yes, sir, daddy, I practice my lettas". Her Letters. And yes, she had, she had been practicing her letters on the hood of my car with a wock. So what do you do, right? I mean, last time, last time we were together I told you that we disciplined our children for the 3Ds, dishonesty, disobedience, disrespect. I'd never told my kids specifically, don't practice your lettas on the hood of daddy's car with a wock, so it wasn't really disobedience. She admitted it with a smile, so she wasn't being dishonest. And she certainly didn't mean any disrespect.
So and then, you know, there's no way for me to explain to a three-year-old, the significance of what she done, and what it was gonna cost me in terms of dollars and time and hassle, you know, daddy's going to have to take the car to the shop. What's the shop, you know, I'm gonna have to rent a car you know, what's rent a car then I'm gonna have to pay for the repair. She has no context for any event. And of course it would have been absurd for me to require her to pay for the damage. So what do you do in a situation like that? I did the only thing I could do. I said, Allie, I actually, I knelt down and kind of got eye to eye, I said, "Allie, please don't do that anymore". She said, "Yes, sir daddy". Then she hugged me, went back inside and she never practiced her lettas with a wock on the hood of my car again.
Hey, today we're wrapping up our series, Parenting in the 21st Century. Parenting in the 21st century. If you're a parent, if you're about to be a parent, if you hope to be a parent, maybe you're helping another parent, parent or maybe you're watching your own kids, parent, this series is for you. It's actually for really anybody who feels the weight and responsibility of equipping an infant a child, a teenager, or even a high school student for life. Now, if you're joining us for the first time, or you missed any of the previous episodes in this series, this entire series is actually available on the site or app you are currently using.
Now, as I pointed out in the first episode of this series, when it comes to good examples of family and parenting, the Bible is not all that helpful. In fact, the Bible is not even all that encouraging. By modern standards, it's pretty much an encyclopedia, a family dysfunction, but, and this is the good news, Jesus and the authors of the New Testament, provide us with basically a North Star to guide and inform our parenting. And while Jesus never talked about parenting directly, he laid the foundation for New Testament parenting, when he laid the foundation for New Testament behavior. And he laid the foundations for New Testament behavior, when he issued his new covenant command, he called it his new command. He said, "A new command, I give you". And specifically the new command was for us to love others, the way that he, Jesus loved us.
And the way forward I believe, and this is what we've been talking about, the way forward for us as parents is actually embedded in this one, big, all encompassing command. And I say embedded because the implications for parenting, aren't all that apparent on the surface. But again, Jesus, wasn't talking specifically to parents. Fortunately, as we've said the apostle Paul came along and he gave us some handles, some love handles. Essentially, here's what he said. He said, "This is what the Jesus brand of love looks like. Here's how the Jesus brand of love behaves. Here's how it behaves under pressure. Here's how it behaves at home".
And while Paul scatters his applications throughout his new Testament letters, his most famous explanation, I think his most famous explanation of what the Jesus brand of love looks like, and behaves like, is also his must most instructive for us parents and is found in the 13th chapter of his first letter to Christians living in ancient Corinth. We call it 1st Corinthians.
Now in part two of this series, we began our journey through Paul's application list, but you'll remember we only got three words in that first time. We got to this, love is patient and we got kinda stuck there, because parenting often falls apart there.
Then last time we were together, we made it through three more of his applications. Love is kind. And we said that kindness is loaning someone your strength rather than reminding them of their weakness. It's loaning your children your strength, rather than constantly reminding them of their weakness. And then he says this, "Love does not envy, it does not boast, and it is not proud". And then if you'll remember, we spent a good bit of time on this next one. Love does not dishonor others. And we said that honor and mutual respect, are actually at the heart of every mutually satisfying relationship, in the home and outside the home. So honor, we said is a better goal for parenting than obedience. Obedience basically answers the question, how low can I go? Honor points us in an entirely different direction.
So, picking up where we left off last time, the apostle Paul follows the honor discussion with a similar idea when he writes this. So here we go. He writes, "Love is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. Love is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered". Love isn't selfish, love puts the interest and the needs of other people first, which would pretty much solve all relationship problems, I think. And then the most significant thing about these two phrases, is the Apostle Paul connects two important dots for us by addressing what is perhaps the most common expression of self-seeking within the context of relationships, and certainly within the context of parenting. Love is not easily angered. Love is not easily angered.
Now this is so interesting. The Greek term translated angered here, is actually a cooking term. In other literature, it's translated as stir or stirred up. So here's what he's saying, that love is not easily stirred up. Do your kids ever get you stirred up? Of course they do. This is such a great term, because when you're cooking, and you're stirring a pot, what happens?
Now, I'll be honest, I don't cook but I do stir the natural peanut butter that Sandra buys which I love, but you have to work for it, right? I mean the peanuts have all settled to the bottom of the jar, the peanut butter is on top of the peanuts, and then there's about an inch of oil on top of all of that, so when you open it up, you have to stir it all together for what feels like about 30 minutes, right? But I know I'm finished, when the peanuts that started at the bottom of the jar, are finally showing up on the top. Anybody else hungry?
Anyway, the point is simply this, when we stir a pot, or when we stir the natural peanut butter, we aren't creating or adding anything new to the mix. What are we doing? We're just surfacing, what was already there to begin with. And, I know you don't wanna hear this but speaking from personal experience, our children, our kids don't actually make us angry, our kids simply stir up or bring to the surface what's already in us, and they do it better than anybody else. In fact, it's in those moments that we finally understand our own parents, right? And what is it that's already in us, that they're so good at bringing to the surface?
Well, Paul already told us, it is our self-seekingness. It is our selfishness, our desire to have our own way, our desire for them to obey and then to go outside and play. Now, the truth is no one has ever made any of us angry. They just stirred us up. Now, having your emotions stirred is inevitable and chances are, you know in each stage of parenting, you're gonna have to figure out the new best way to regain perspective and recharge your emotional batteries. Parenting is emotional. It's emotional for two reasons. It's emotional because we care, and it's emotional because we're selfish. And while I'm on this, it's important for you to talk to your kids about the emotional side of life, right? Don't hide it, don't pretend. Being emotional isn't weakness, it's humanness.
As one child psychologist put it, I love this quote. He writes, it is scarier. This is so important. "It is scarier for a child to have a parent who is struggling and doesn't talk about it". A parent, who's going through something that's emotional and doesn't discuss it with the child versus a parent who is struggling and does talk about it. So age appropriate conversations about the emotional side of life, it's so healthy for our children. It's really healthy for everybody. And our kids learn. Our kids learn that it's okay to feel and it's okay to express those feelings. After all, like us, somebody is going to come along and stir their pot, probably you. And when that happens, they need to understand what's going on and they need to understand what to do. And if you haven't figured it out, it's gonna be difficult to help them figure it out.
So, this is such a big deal. I wanna press into this just a bit more and I wanna invite another author into the discussion. So before we continue with what the Apostle Paul had to say, I need to remind you of something, James the brother of Jesus had to say. And I say, remind, because we've discussed this passage on many occasions but it is worth repeating because honestly I think it's one of the most important practical relational insights you'll ever hear. It explains why we are so easily stirred up, by the people we love the most. And maybe most importantly for our discussion, it provides us, I think, with a handle for helping our kids understand why they get stirred up as well. And the way that James approaches this, he asked a question and then he answers it for us.
And here's the question, he says, "What causes fights and quarrels among you"? In other words, what is the source of all the conflict you're having in your home or wherever you're having conflict. And of course, when you read or hear a question like this, you know, we're all immediately tempted to point to someone, someone else's behavior, somebody else's words or maybe the tone of their words. And James and the apostle Paul say, "No, that behavior, those words even the tone, simply stirred up what is already in you". And then James answers the question, he says, "Isn't it true that these fights in these quarrels, come from your desires, that battle within you". He continues. He says, "You want something you desire, but you can't get it". You don't have it. "You covet it, but you cannot get what you want".
So what do you do? "You quarrel and you fight". This is so powerful. The source of our anger, the source of our arguments, the source of our conflict, the source of our quarrels, is we're not getting something that we want. Now, parents I'm pointing my finger, I'm speaking from personal experience. This is so true, but it is so difficult to see, especially when it involves our children. I know from my own experience when I would step back long enough from tension in our home, to remind myself of this simple but very powerful principle, I was and actually I continue to be a much better parent.
And my internal conversation would go something like this, "Andy, be honest, part of the problem is Andy, you're not getting what you want. You want them to do their best and they're not doing their best. You want them to pay attention and they're not paying attention. You want them to quit picking on each other and they keep picking on each other. But Andy, part of the reason, come on, part of the reason you're so stirred up, the reason you're about to say things you'll have to apologize for later, is you're not getting what you want. So admit it, own it".
And you know what when I did, when I do, when I own my slice of the conflict pie, the temperature comes down. James was right fights and quarrels erupt, when somebody isn't getting what they want, when somebody isn't getting what they deserve, when somebody isn't getting what they need. So parents, husbands, wives, own your slice of the conflict pie, and that's your slice. It's why I have suggested to you before that you should get in the habit when it's appropriate, of stopping mid conversation or mid argument and saying this, "Hey, do you know what part of the problem is? Do you know what part of the problem is right here? Part of the problem is I'm not getting what I want. Hey, let's just stop this for a minute. Do you know what you know, what part of the problem is? I'm not getting what I want".
Honestly, I'm not sure there is a more valuable relationship principle to teach and model for our kids than this one. I can't think of anything more important for them to understand. And there's probably nothing more important for us to model, to help them understand the reason behind every single conflict they're going to encounter. Because behind every single conflict they're going to encounter, is a someone or perhaps two someones who aren't getting their way. Love is not self-seeking. Love is not about me getting my way. Consequently, love is not easily angered. Love actually recognizes what's really going on.
And there's another reason we have to get this right in our roles as parents. Our words, we talked about this last time, our words weigh so much. And when we allow our emotions to take over, isn't this true? When we allow our emotions to take over our mouths, what do we do? We actually talk to and react to our children, as if they have the context and the capacity of an adult and they have neither. Worse, we wouldn't dream of talking to another adult the way we talk to our kids sometimes, right? Adults who actually have the capacity to chalk it up to us just having a bad day, adult friends who would just look at us and say, "What's wrong with you"? But our kids, they process our anger as, "What's wrong with me"?
So, are you easily stirred up? And are you willing to admit that the peanuts at the bottom of the jar and the vegetables at the bottom of the pot, were already there? And would you be willing to pause and acknowledge that your slice of the conflict pie, is that you aren't getting something you want and yes, I admit it. What you want from, and for your kids, is probably good for them. But the frustration, the emotion, the anger, stems from something you're not getting, you aren't getting what you want. So own it, that's good parenting. And, when you apologize to your kids, and so, you know, I apologized so much to my kids that I got good at apologizing, and for a while, I didn't connect these dots.
But one day I actually said to Sandra, I said, "Have you noticed how good our kids are at apologizing"? Thinking of course it had something to do with my sweet parenting skills. And she smiled and she said, "Well, Andy that's because you do it so often". True story. Anyway, when you apologize to your children, use that moment, use that moment to own the fact that you lost your temper, or you said things you shouldn't have said, because you weren't getting your way. Love is not self-seeking. Love is not easily angered or to put it another way. When love, when love is not self-seeking, it will not be easily angered. But of course, the Apostle Paul is still not through. Next step he says this. He says, love, this is so hard for us as parents, "Love keeps no record of wrongs".
Now this is so difficult in parenting, because the days are long and so are our memories, right? But remember, there is no win in reminding our kids of their past failures. They already know, besides it's a bit of a power play. Think about it, when somebody holds your past over you, who's in the elevated position? They are. But as a parent, you're already in the elevated position there is no need to open the file cabinet. And of course, that's true in marriage as well. Forgiving, think about it, forgiving and pretending to forget, forgiving and pretending to forget is always your best bet. Not to mention, it appears that that's exactly what God does for you and for me.
Paul continues, he says this, "Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth". In other words, love, loves to catch and celebrate people doing the right thing. And love does not delight in or feel a sense of victory, catching people doing the wrong thing. And again, I've had so many of those moments. So many of those moments of, "I've got them this time". And that's normal, but it's not love. That's just me trying to prove that I'm right to my children.
When love catches a child doing something wrong, love as we said last time, always sides with the offender. Love says, "Oh, no, Oh no, I hate that for you". Love doesn't open the filing cabinet. Love isn't constantly reminding anyone, especially our children of their failures in the past. And then there's this one, Paul continues and he writes this, he says, "Love always protects". "Love always protects". In other words, love, always defends. Love stands guard. Love keeps bad things out. And knowing how to protect our children is really hard. Especially as they get older, between social media and friends, it is hard to know how to protect our children without being overly protective. And I'll just tell you upfront, you're not gonna get this exactly right.
So here's what I would suggest, since you won't be perfect in this, I don't think it's possible to get this exactly right. Air on the side of too much protection rather than too little, relax your grip slowly because it is easy, it's always easier to grant more freedom, than to take freedom away once it's been given. Just trust your gut as a parent and know who their friends are. And one more thing on this, freedom, when it comes to giving our kids freedom, freedom should have very little to do with age and it should have a lot to do with their maturity and their ability to handle responsibility. And this is something your kids will never understand, just like we never understood it. Everybody think about it, everybody gets a learner's permit at 15 in our state, right? Whether they're ready for one or not, right? No, that's up to you.
So mom and dad stand your ground. It's okay for your kids to hate you temporarily. That does not mean you're a bad parent. It probably means, it probably means that you love son and you love your daughter more than you love the approval of your son or your daughter. This is so important. Parents who seek the approval of their children, over and above what's best for their children, they end up with neither approval nor what's best. It's in those fierce tests of wills that you discover what and who you value most. There is a fist size hole through the dry wall of a bedroom closet in our house and it wasn't my fist. And I never had it repaired. For me, it is actually a visual of what love looks like sometimes.
Sometimes, love looks like the enemy, and mom, dad, that is okay, because love always, always, always protects. And sometimes love protects fiercely. So wrapping up this discussion, wrapping up the series, remember this, there are no perfect parents. there are no perfect kids, and there are no perfect families. And honestly, you don't even want perfect kids, right? A perfect child would probably not enjoy spending much time with their imperfect parents, not to mention their imperfect brother or sister.
In fact, sometimes when we're talking to parents I ask this question, I say, "Hey, if you had to choose and you had the opportunity to choose between perfectly obedient children who never caused you a moment's trouble but who did not enjoy being with you or a typical child or typical children who got into typical trouble and kept you up at night for a season but who in the end enjoyed being with you, which would you choose"? And in the end, maybe not in this particular season but in the end you would choose a healthy relationship over perfect behavior. And here's something interesting. So did your heavenly father. The fact that God gave us the gift of free will and announced forgiveness ahead of time, says a lot about what's most important to our heavenly father, namely relationship. He made us relational beings.
So, if I had to boil everything in this series down to one thing, it would be this, parent toward, if you're gonna create a North Star for your parenting, parent toward a healthy adult relationship with your children. Set your sights on parenting toward a healthy adult relationship with your children. Now this concept or this goal, came into sharp focus for me personally when Andrew, our oldest was still an infant. We were driving to meet Sandra's family for vacation, and as we were driving, we decided to set some family goals. And we eventually did that. But as we began the conversation, something in that conversation crystallized for me what I ultimately wanted for our family. And I say me, because what I wanted for our family, was something that Sandra actually grew up with.
And honestly, she would tell you she thought it was normal, but it wasn't my normal, it wasn't my family normal. Her normal, her family with her brother and her sister, they always loved being together. They always look forward to being together and the older they got, the more they enjoyed being together. And I didn't experience that after about eighth grade. So as we were driving, I told her, I said, "I want our family to look like your family". So we established, and I think this was really for me. We established as our North Star, our objective to raise our kids in such a way that they would enjoy being with us and with each other when they no longer had to be, we wanted them to enjoy and look forward to being with us and with each other once they were old enough to decide for themselves.
And that became again our North Star, the sort of the organizing principle for our home, the framework for our parenting decisions. It created guardrails for our time, our scheduling, it determined how we discipline. And it's a big reason why honor and honor mom in particular, became a priority in her home. Obedience. Again, obedience is not at the heart of a mutually satisfying relationship, honor is. And don't get me wrong, I like obedience, we wanted our kids to behave, but we wanted something more than perfectly behaved children specifically, I wanted to maintain influence, not control but influence throughout my kids' lives. And as we've talked about, once your kids leave home, the health of your relationship with your kids, will determine the degree to which you have influence.
Now, our kids are all in their 20s and we enjoy being together. We enjoy their spouses. We did not parent perfectly, there were so many apologies along the way, but again, that's the point. What is an apology? An apology is a relationship builder. It's a relationship, restorer. Pride, self-centeredness, dad's always right, I'm your father, reputation protection, all those things, they just undermine the integrity of the relationship. And I can assure you, I assure you the potential for all of those things, reside at the bottom of my jar, the bottom of my pot. And from time to time, they would get stirred up. And from time to time, I would have to apologize.
Choosing to parent with our future relationships in mind, I think more than anything helped me, avoid a trap I've seen so many young parents fall into. They settle for what our friend, Adam Johnson refers to as NOT goals. Do you know what a NOT goal is? You may have some NOT goals. You don't even know you've set NOT goals, but a NOT goals sounds like this, I'm not gonna have the same kind of relationship with my daughter, that I had with my mom. I'm not gonna be like my dad. I'm not gonna parent like my parents. Ever said that? Ever thought that? Those are NOT goals.
But here's the problem with the NOT goal, a NOT goal is just not enough. They're not inspiring. They're not even relational. NOT goals are a reaction and you know what they do? They cause parents to over-correct, the pendulum swings way too far in the other direction. So, don't settle for NOT goals. And don't settle for obedience. Aim for future influence and aim for a future healthy relationship. And remember, just as your parent's behavior not their parenting skills, just as your parents behavior determined whether or not you wanna be like them or whether or not you even like them.
Your behavior, mom and dad, your behavior will determine if your kids like or want to be like you. This is why anchoring our parenting to Jesus all encompassing command to love as God through Christ has loved us. This is why that's so important. It's why, what the Apostle Paul left us with, in 1 Corinthians 13 is so important, because it instructs and it informs our behavior.
So, endeavor to love your children the way your heavenly father through Christ loves you. Be patient, their pace, not yours. Be kind, loan them your strength, don't constantly remind them of their weakness, they already know. Celebrate their successes, minimize their failure. Create a culture of mutual honor. Own your slice of the conflict pie, protect, trust, hope, and persevere. And last of all consider this, the most significant thing you do, the most significant thing you do, may not be something that you do. It may be someone that you raise.