“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
My favorite definition of being “poor in spirit” is understanding our complete bankruptcy in anything of spiritual value. Parenting seems to bring this bankruptcy to light on a daily basis! The enormity of the task of training up eternal souls, each with unique strengths, weaknesses, and personalities, for life now and for life in heaven, is overwhelming.
But I should remember that when I feel weak, inadequate, and perhaps even like a failure at this amazing job of motherhood, I am blessed. The very knowledge of my weakness qualifies me for an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
One day I was asked by a visitor how I could keep a candy bowl on my table in easy reach. “Don’t your children get into it?” she asked.
While my family certainly has its own areas of weakness, we’ve never had any trouble with our children sneaking sweets. Their dad and I enjoy a piece after dinner, but having it around doesn’t tempt us to overindulge, and our children have followed suit. But as I thought about my friend, I realized that she’s always had a weakness for sweets, and her question indicated to me that her children had inherited this weakness.
While this is a small, almost silly example of how parents unconsciously pass on traits to their children, we see a more serious example in the pages of Scripture. Genesis 12 and 20 record two incidences of Abraham lying because he was afraid he would be killed by pagan kings so they could take his wife, Sarah. Frighteningly, we witness Abraham’s son Isaac perjuring himself in exactly the same way to a pagan king (Genesis 26), even though he was not yet born when his father did so.
Either Isaac witnessed other acts of dishonesty in his father that are not recorded and picked up the tendency to protect himself with lies that way, or there is a spiritual sowing and reaping taking place here that is very sobering. The truth of the adage, “Like father, like son,” should lead us to mourn for our sins for the sake of protecting our children from repeating our mistakes.
Sometimes the amount of mourning I’m required to do can be discouraging. I sometimes think that if I could only be a perfect parent, my children would turn out well. Constantly making mistakes and apologizing to my children seems far from perfection! But I was taken aback one day when I heard the head of a family I greatly admire declare that he walks before his family in daily repentance. I would have thought this family had achieved perfection, but the dad admitted that he makes mistakes all the time that he has to apologize for and then correct.
It struck me that repenting and mourning for my sin in front of my children is more important than perfection. I will never achieve perfection in this lifetime, but if I can show my children an example of humility and brokenness before them and before God, and if I can model for them how to mourn for their sin, I will have given them spiritual training that will serve them well throughout their lives.
“Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.”
The most popular definition of meekness I’ve heard is “strength under control.” Jesus was an example of this. As God, He could have ordered all of humanity to bow before Him—and forced them to comply. Instead, He was meek and always submitted His power and authority to God.
As parents, we have a certain amount of power over our children’s lives. We are blessed when we consciously avoid abusing that power. Fenelon, the French educator from the 1600s, said adults should never put unnecessary restraints on their children (the key word here is “unnecessary”; there are plenty of restraints that are necessary). This advice has made me very careful what I ask my children to do or refrain from doing. It is easy to try to control their lives for my own convenience rather than for their good. Frighteningly, I can abuse the authority God has given me and be a tyrant to my children. But I am blessed and will inherit the earth when meekness reigns in my parenting.
The Psalms also give us a definition of meekness. Psalm 37:9 says that they who “wait upon the Lord” shall inherit the earth. When I see a problem in my children’s lives, I often try to rush in and fix it as quickly as possible. I know the disasters that could ensue if the problems are left uncorrected. It’s important to be involved in our children’s lives. But on the other side of the coin, I must wait on the Lord to “fix” my children and cry out to Him in prayer, as He alone is the Great Physician who can make a real change in my children’s souls, rather than just external behavior modification. (That’s not to say behavior is unimportant, but the heart is so much more so.)
“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
In the same way our children inherit our weaknesses, they will also tend to follow in our spiritual footsteps. There’s a beautiful picture of this painted in Pilgrim’s Progress. As Christiana begins her journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, her children make the journey with her. These children grow to adulthood and marry while on this journey, and her grandchildren are born on the path to the Celestial City rather than in the City of Destruction as their parents and grandparents were.
The spiritual heritage we are leaving our children should be an excellent motivation for our sanctification. While we cannot save our children’s souls, we can blaze a trail for them and see to it that their spiritual journeys have fewer potential pitfalls. The benefit to our children adds an extra sweetness to righteousness which should increase a parent’s hunger and thirst. I pray that I will make following Jesus look good every day and show my children that there’s no better place on earth than the narrow road that leads to heaven.
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”
It is a good idea sometimes to remember our failures, as painful as those memories can be. The knowledge of God’s mercy toward us in our failures should help us be merciful to our children in theirs. But we have a tendency to have short memories about such matters.
Ted Tripp tells a wonderful story of a time when he was disciplining his children for being selfish. “How could you be so selfish?” he heard himself asking. God brought to his mind a recent incident when he was carrying two dishes of ice cream, one for himself and one for his wife. As he walked across the house, he was carefully and almost subconsciously measuring which bowl had the most ice cream and therefore would be his. It dawned on him how hypocritical it was to question why his children were being so selfish. He well knew how his children could be so selfish, because that same sinful tendency also rested in his own soul!
Apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re all destined for selfishness in one permutation or another. This realization caused Ted to deal with his children with mercy and grace rather than exasperation. I try to rehearse my own weaknesses to my children, especially when I correct them. This always leads me to mercy as well.
“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.”
To be “pure in heart” means to have a single focus. In parenting, that single focus should be training our children to love God and love others. Unfortunately, maintaining this single focus can be difficult. I get tempted by the fear of man (what will my neighbor think if we’re behind in academics?) and the pride of life (won’t everyone be impressed when my daughter wins this competition?), and these things can cause me to turn from pursuing God to pursuing achievement. If I want to see God in my parenting, I’ve got to remember that though my children play all musical instruments, excel on the SAT, and win sporting events, but have not love for God and others, I have failed as a parent.
“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
Life with children can be noisy and chaotic, but it should not be full of strife. God is a God of peace, and this peace should reign in our homes.
Peace in the home begins in the relationship between husband and wife. A survey was once conducted of a large group of homeschooled teenagers from very conservative homes. These students were asked what one thing they would change about their families if they could. The people who conducted the survey really expected the children to say they wished Mom and Dad were not so strict and would give them more freedom. But overwhelmingly, these children said that if they could change anything, they would keep their parents from fighting and make Mom and Dad love each other. The relationship between Mom and Dad sets the tone in the home, and we cannot expect our children to live at peace with one another if there’s strife between their parents.
We also need to encourage good relationships between our children. I don’t allow fighting or name-calling within my house. Because these things are not allowed, the children have learned other, more peaceful ways to deal with frustration.
Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, in their book 20 and Counting, give a list of the rules of behavior in their house. I smiled when I read this list because they are very similar to the rules in my own house.
But for these rules to be effective, Mom and Dad have to abide by them too:
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
We live in a culture that does not value children the way God values children. As a result, if we choose to structure our lives around training our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, we will be persecuted. Some of the persecution will be blatant. It might come from family members who oppose the new baby you’ve joyfully welcomed into your household. Or sometimes total strangers will make remarks such as “Are they all yours?” or “Don’t you know what causes babies?”
Blatant persecution can be easier in some ways to deal with than subtle persecution. Our society is organized and prioritized with small families and large disposable incomes in mind. It is easy for little things to creep in and destroy peace and contentment in a mother’s heart. Feminism tells me that our job at home is unimportant drudgery, and I should be out building a career. My neighbor with two children tells me that if my children don’t have access to a wide variety of extracurricular activities, they are being deprived. But my neighbor doesn’t realize that the time and expense for my large family to participate in those activities would tear us apart at the seams! Some of my childless friends, perhaps unintentionally, lead me to dissatisfaction when they give me glowing reports about where they’ve eaten out this week or the long vacation to an exotic location they’ve enjoyed.
But blessed are you if you are persecuted for righteousness sake. We must hold fast to God’s declaration that children are a reward from Him and stay on our guard against the subtle philosophies that bombard us weekly to tell us the opposite. I need to be faithful to the calling God has on my life as a wife and mother and not expect the world (or, unfortunately, even my extended family) to always understand or approve.
The Beatitudes give a very challenging outline of what parenting should look like, but they also promise great blessings and rewards. If you’re feeling a little bit overwhelmed and inadequate for the job right now, go back to the first point: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Feeling inadequate and looking to Jesus for help qualifies us for the first blessing!