Pastor Richard's Blog

The Need For Approval from Children Isn't The Same As Love

Several years ago, when I was pastoring in Chicago, I was talking with a couple whose son had just been sent to prison for the second time.  In reflecting on their childrearing and what they had done right and wrong during their son’s formative years, they finally concluded, “I guess we just loved him too much.”  I didn’t say anything in response because I didn’t want to add to the already heavy load of guilt they were carrying.  I knew, however, that the problem was not that they had loved their son too much.  It’s impossible to love someone too much.  True love is freeing.  True love is empowering.  True love gives us the foundation of confidence and security we need to face all that life will throw at us.

No, the problem was not that this couple had loved their child too much.  The problem was that they hadn’t love him enough—at least not in the right away.  Had this couple had the insight needed for real reflection, they would have realized that the real problem had nothing to do with love but, rather, insecurity.  The problem was that they feared putting limits on their child.  They feared their child’s anger, their child’s disapproval, their child’s rejection.  So, rather than put limits on their son, they continually gave in to him thus preventing him from learning to put limits on himself.  This is not the pure love of a parent but a parent’s insecure need for approval masquerading as love.  In an article entitled, “Can We Love Our Children Too Much?”  Kenny Vaughan has said: “The reason we don’t want to hurt another’s feelings is rarely if ever about the other person.  Too many times parents fear getting hurt themselves by drawing their child’s disfavour.  We want to be our child’s good friend instead of the parent they need us to be.”  How true this is.  Our kids have enough friends but only (at most) two parents.  Be a parent to your kids, not a friend.

In his article, Vaughn suggests principles to help us love our children in healthy ways:

Be consistent; but let them win . . . sometimes.  Our kids need to know the boundaries of appropriate behaviour.  And there needs to be consistent consequences for crossing those boundaries.  This gives kids a sense of security.  It’s incredibly frustrating for a child to have no clear understanding of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.  This does not mean that we never make exceptions to rules.  A good parent always takes extenuating circumstances into consideration.  A teenage daughter missing a curfew because of unavoidable circumstances may need to be shown grace not judgment.  Still, boundaries need to be maintained and exceptions should be just that—exceptions.  

Discipline . . . with love.  We should never disciple our children out of anger.  Now, I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it.  We’re at our wit’s end and our child has just made one smart-alecky comment too many and we blow up.  This shows that even parents are human.  We’re human and we make mistakes.  Still, the goal of discipline should be to teach more than to punish.  The goal of discipline is to teach our children to do the right thing even when it hurts.  And this kind of teaching, this kind of discipline can never take place in a fit of anger.

Don’t do everything for your kids.  Vaughan writes: “The hardest part of parenting for me is wanting to do everything for my kids instead of making them get their own hands dirty.  It’s impossible for our children to grow emotionally and spiritually and to learn, if we do everything for them.”  This is a lesson my father taught me.  When I was a teenager, my dad owned a cottage on a piece of land which was partly surrounded by water.  One day, a big storm swept over this piece of land, leaving behind what looked like a thousand little stones and pebbles.  The morning after the storm Dad took me down there and asked me to pick up the rocks.  “But Dad,” I said, “there are so many; I don’t know where to begin.”   Dad’s succinct response has never left me: “Son,” he said, “start with one rock.”  I did and several hours later all the stones were picked up.  I’ve never forgotten this lesson and it has served me well in pastoral ministry.

The Bible speaks of the kind of love we’ve been talking about: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a).

There are never any guarantees when it comes to raising children.  I have seen the most dysfunctional families produce amazingly balanced children and absolutely wonderful parents raise troubled children.  When, however, we put our kids’ long-term best interests over our own insecurities and need for approval, we stand the best chance of raising children who will grow into balanced adults and contributing members of society.  And isn’t that the goal of parenting?

We Should Never Have To Apologize For Helping Others

Why is it that evangelical Christians (of which I am one) are often so apologetic about meeting the physical needs of people?  Why is it that we think we have to justify social ministries by appealing to something I presume is thought to be higher or more noble?   How often have I heard Christians say, “Well, yes, we’re running a soup kitchen but we’re trying to use it as a bridge to evangelism.”  Or, “Yes, we’re supporting the food bank; after all, people can’t hear the gospel on an empty stomach.”  Or, “Our church has opened a clothing depot for homeless people; we hope to let them know we care about them so we can share the Gospel.”   It’s as if meeting the physical needs of people is not a valid mission of the church; somehow, we have to justify social ministries by appealing to evangelism.

Where did we ever get this idea into our heads?  It certainly didn’t come from Scripture!   Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m all for evangelism.  There is nothing more wondrous than seeing people turn their lives over to Jesus Christ.  Churches need to take advantage of every opportunity to share the Gospel.  I’m not against evangelism—I’m simply challenging the idea that social ministry can only be justified by appealing to evangelism.  

Let me elaborate.  In fact, let’s try a little experiment with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John).   Find an old Bible and a pair of scissors.  Now, cut out every reference in the Gospels to the Kingdom of God.  It’ll take you awhile and, when you’re done, you’ll find holes on just about every page.  Why?  Because Jesus’ entire ministry was intricately connected with the Kingdom of God.  When Jesus began His ministry, we’re told that He came into Galilee preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus, Himself, described the preaching of the Kingdom as the reason He entered the world: “I must preach the good news of the Kingdom, for I was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).  Over and over again, Jesus talked about the Kingdom, saying, “The Kingdom of God is like this . . .” or “The Kingdom of God is like that . . ..”  As I said, references to the Kingdom of God are on virtually every page of the Gospels.

So, what is the Kingdom of God?  The key to understanding what Jesus meant by the Kingdom is found in, of all places, the Lord’s Prayer.  In this prayer, Jesus actually defines the Kingdom of God.  Do you remember how the prayer begins?  “Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.”  Now, note the next part: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”  There you have it!  In a nutshell, that is a definition of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God exists wherever God’s will is done!  So, Jesus came to bring in His Kingdom and, as His followers, we are called to make His agenda our own.  We are called to seek to bring in God’s Kingdom—that is, to bring about God’s will in this world.

So, what is God’s will?  The answer to that question is found on every page of the Scriptures.  Is it God’s will that people live their lives alienated from God and lost in their sins?  Of course not, so evangelism is part of our mission.  Is it God’s will that men and women and children go to bed on empty stomachs?  Of course not, so feeding the hungry is part of our mission.  Is it God’s will that people wallow in poverty or drug addiction?  No!  So, helping the needy and the addicted is part of our mission.  Is it God’s will that people spend years languishing alone and isolated in prisons?  No, so ministering to the incarcerated is part of our mission.

Do you see where I’m going with this?  Both evangelism and social ministry are part of building God’s Kingdom.  They are both parts of bringing about God’s will “on earth as it is in Heaven.”  Each is valid.  Each stands on its own.  Neither needs the other to justify its existence.  Let’s not fall into the trap that so many churches do of prioritizing one over the other.  Let’s recognize them both for what they are—equally important and valid expressions of God’s Kingdom.