Janelle Alberts writes pithy Bible synopses and is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership. For more on Alberts visit janellealberts.wordpress.com.
Sometimes when my family should be Norman Rockwell-ing it over an old-fashioned board game, we are instead hovered around an Apple TV episode of “Dance Moms: Season Two.”
It is a car-crash-esque pileup of five moms watching their seven daughters cower before one dance teacher named Abby Lee Miller, who yells sporadically at everyone.
The moms are at the mercy of the not-so-benevolent dictatorship of Abby Lee for one reason: She wins. A lot. She turns their daughters into winning dancers. Who cry. Who stuff their feelings and wear confused fake smiles. Who feel the whiplash of love then wrath of Abby Lee at every dance competition.
Latching on to a leader whose affection unpredictably comes and goes is confusing.
Just ask Gideon.
Gideon hit the Bible scene after the Israelites had been sprung from Egypt (with the help of God), survived a stiff-necked wandering in the desert (with the help of God), dispossessed the bad guys and finally scored the Promised Land (with the help of God), and enjoyed years of peace, glorious peace (thanks to God)!
Then they blew off God.
Their world came crashing in, and seven years into a crushingly oppressed and lonely time, God visited Gideon. An angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6).
And Gideon, in one of the most under-excited-to-see-God moments in Bible history, wondered aloud: God? Where have you been?
Gideon takes some hits in church circles for this seemingly whiny response. I mean, God’s here! Be glad!
But God didn’t treat him that way. Here was a man who had heard stories about God’s benevolent leadership and love, but where had God been all this time when Gideon needed him?
If you have read the backstory, you know it was not God who left the Israelites, but the Israelites who had left God. God said, “You have not listened to me” (Judges 6:10).
Leaders like it when you listen to them. Even in the “Dance Moms” scenario, Abby Lee Miller is constantly hollering, “Listen to me!”
And really, they should, if they want to win.
In Gideon’s case, he didn’t know how to win. He had heard about God; now he was seeing something he thought might be God. But life had been rough. He did not trust what was right in front of him.
“Don’t go away…” Gideon said to God, as Gideon prepped an offering for him (Judges 6:18).
God had already told Gideon he was mighty. He had already told Gideon he had a job to do. He had already told Gideon, “I will be with you” and the Midianites were going down.
But still, Gideon did not know what he could trust God would do.
God could have justifiably gotten smoking mad at Gideon with an accusing “You’re not listening to me!” However, it’s one thing to be obstinate, but another thing altogether to be unsure.
This is a God who cares about that difference.
Gideon was hearing God say great things, but Gideon did not know if God would actually do the greatest thing of all.
Wherein we register that the God of this Bible has a much greater mission than demonstrating his greatness. His mission is demonstrating his love. His greatest challenge was getting the people of the Bible to buy that.
In Gideon’s case, that was about to change.
“Don’t go away…” Gideon said to God. “And the Lord said, ‘I will stay here until you return’” (Judges 6:18).
Then he did a lot more than that.
So commenced a bit of fire that lit up a little meat and unleavened bread. There was later a bit of fleece and then later a big barley loaf in the middle of someone else’s dream.
Over and over, God reinforced Gideon’s confidence in the predictability of God’s love. His leadership. His commitment. His plans to stay. His personal affection for Gideon as a person and for people as a whole.
For a God who had already demonstrated his character all the way over to owing not one more kind gesture, he…did a lot of them anyway.
So Gideon could see how great God was?
So Gideon could see how trustworthy God was.
If the Israelites hadn’t listened before, Gideon was listening now. Intently. What transpired was a monumentally triumphant turn of events for Gideon and his people. Also, Gideon came to believe that the hiding place of God’s word was a place he could trust.
Trust is a funny thing. It is a fleeting thing. It is fragile, unimaginably personal, and the constant rebirthing of its integrity is a reinforcing joist upon which a relationship is borne. You want predictable?
In the face of unsureness, Abby Lee Miller predictably and consistently tells her dancers and their moms the same thing: “Save your tears for your pillow in your room.”
God’s predictable refrain? Bring your tears to me. God says it over and over and over. “Return to me and I will return to you.”
He wishes you would.
*Janelle Alberts writes pithy Bible synopses and is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership. Find out more about Alberts here.
A friend of mine once confided to me that the number one thing her parents taught her was: Don’t try.
They didn’t mean to. They didn’t say those words exactly. But they felt embarrassed and scared of failure. Then they passed that on to their daughter.
Failure does look terrible. It feels even worse.
But we are the parents here, people! We need to pull ourselves together just like every parent of yore which is to say: imperfectly and one step at a time.
We can do that. We’ll start with the basics.
LIFE IS MESSY. THAT’S HOW THE STORY GOES.
Sound trite? It is. Yet, few of us live with this as the expectation. The cure? Dig up renowned Scripture characters that have played their hands way worse than even we have.
Then plagiarize what they learned.
Case in point? Peter.
Apostle Peter is the butt of churchy jokes because Peter thought Peter was FABULOUS, or so the story goes. We do know this: at least Peter wasn’t afraid to give things a try.
And fall on his face.
But there once was a time he outdid himself, wherein failure broke his heart.
It came after a long streak where Peter had gotten good at looking bad. He walked on water, and then FREAKED (Matt 14:29-30). He heard clear messages directly from Jesus’ mouth and his response? “Um, what?” (Matt 15:15-16).
But after all that and more, Peter thought he had hit his stride.
Jesus tried to let him know more growth opportunities lay ahead, to the tune of a cock crowing, but Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Matt 26:35).
AND THEN IT GETS WORSE
Most of us over the age of puberty remember making early proclamations about how great we were going to be at something, only to have it blow up in our faces.
So it went with Peter.
After Jesus was arrested, Peter stood nearby warming himself by a fire. A young girl asked if he was a disciple of Jesus.
Peter said, “I am not.” (John 18:17)
Luckily for Peter, he got a second chance to show his alliance with Jesus. And what tumbled out of his mouth?
“I am not.” Again. (John 18:25)
I could almost weep, I so relate to this guy. Then along came chance number three.
A man got a good look at Peter and asked if Peter was from Jesus’ group (P.S. Peter – I think he knows it’s you.) Peter, come on! Just say it out loud now with a third chance to set the record straight.
Instead he cursed and muttered something akin to: “Nope. Nada. Never met the guy.”
Cue the cock crowing ladies and gentlemen! Chance after chance to say and do the right thing and how do we land over and over?
In a big fat pile of: fail.
Then Peter wept. (Mark 14:72)
FAILURE IS NOT FINAL. IT’S PERSONAL.
The only way to parent through failure is one way, which is to fully convey to our children (are we still talking about the children here?) that failure is not final.
Failure is not final.
This will hold us steady as we parent through our toddlers’ malicious dumping of oil-base paint all over a neighbor’s carpet (completely theoretical – not speaking from experience AT ALL), to our kindergartener’s swearing on the playground (WHERE do they pick these things up?), to our kiddos’ refusal to play with our best friend’s child (awkward) to lots, lots more.
Failure is not final. It’s personal.
This is not a God of platitudes. This is a God who knows failure, knows the pain of it, the lessons to learn from it, and the personal ways to reach our children through it.
As He did for Peter.
Much later, after Jesus died and was raised, He spoke to Peter. Here was Jesus’ chance to put Peter in his place, annihilate him for his failure. Instead, Jesus proceeded by telling Peter to “Feed my lambs …” (John 21:15-17).
Wait. What? Jesus still wants Peter to be part of His gang? Why?
Because God gets failure.
And Peter was getting God.
Peter recognized God at an earlier time when he said to Jesus, “You are the Christ,” (Matt 16:16). But after his heart-searing act of denying Jesus, Peter seemed to have learned something. Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 21:17).
That word know is the Greek word eidō, a verb meaning “to see.” In other words, Lord, I know you see me, raw. You know what I did then. You know my heart now.
I think there is only one reason Peter would remain there, being seen by God.
He thought God loved him.
He was hoping that what he believed about this God was true – that a flawed self was enough to still have a place in this God’s kingdom and plan.
It is, and God told him so by saying, “…take care of my sheep…” (John 21:17).
Aaaaand then came controversies between Peter and Paul (Gal 2:11-13). Opportunities for failure abound for these characters!
For our children as well. The more comfortable we get with flawed-but-loved will station us on solid ground – a place from which our children can grow and return as they fail.
Meanwhile, God says the harvest is plentiful. It’s the workers that are few (Matt 9:37). Our children and we have a role to play.
Flawed though we are, the harvest awaits.
Some lines from the Bible are just sad.
One line that gets me every time is buried in a little-read section of 1 Kings and it’s about King David being a bad dad.
King David’s grown son, Adonijah, was acting up. He started pulling lowball moves in a cocky effort to thwart David’s wishes about the throne.
The reader reasonably dislikes this Adonijah character right away, except for one thing. The Author includes this line, “His father had never interfered with him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’” (1 Kings 1:6).
That word “interfered” is from the Hebrew word `atsab. It means to fashion, to form, to grieve.
Grieve? Nobody wants to be grieved - unless it’s a grief that leads to formation, which connotes more than what once was.
Not so for Adonijah. No fashioning. No forming or grieving for him. Without that, how does a kid stand a chance?
Which brings us to boundary number one.
Boundary #1: “Interfere” with your kids’ freedom.
Our kids like the idea of freedom.
Of course they would. They were born in the image of a Creator who expresses unreservedly and designs elaborately and loves with abandon and lives under no one’s authority but His own.
But nobody on earth is any good at living that way.
That’s what the reader is left to presume about the character Adonijah. The absence of authority served him less like freedom and more like an absence of love. He grew into an underdeveloped, unkind adult whose lack of boundaries hurt him and everybody else. These behaviors were his to own, but the Author makes a point about a parent who neglected to do what needed to be done at the time it bore doing.
It also seems obvious. We’re the parents. We have to discipline our kids. We get it.
Yet, the word `atsab is richer than mere discipline. The context of the line suggests a grief that grows a kid into the good stuff. It sounds great! It also sounds like we should know how to do that.
Most of us do not know how to do that.
We have read (skimmed) gobs of books and blogs on disciplining our kids. Still, most of us manage little more than running trial and error plays on our kiddos, as we figure things out along the way.
We so longingly do not want to get this wrong.
Wherein the Bible delivers its repeating not-in-the-business-of-perfect-but-rather-in-the-business-of-personal theme. Trial and error was not the chastised part of David and Adonijah’s storyline – the neglecting part was. And if the Author thought David, neglectful though he was, was capable of parenting, then so are we.
As we progress through our trial and erring, we can lift a line straight from that Adonijah story to use in our own. Which takes us to boundary number two.
Boundary #2: Ask your kid, “Why are you doing that?”
Our kiddos need not be their own “Why do I do what I do?” sort of 1-800 answer hotlines. How could they anyway? Even we parents who have been at this for decades barely know why we do most of what we do.
However, we should try.
As the Author of Adonijah indicates, it’s important to know ourselves.
We parents see in each of our kiddos unique temperaments, special circumstances, distinct cultural favors we must train them to appreciate and disadvantages we must prepare them to compensate for.
Our kids need to see that stuff too. Getting to the “why?” of a thing is a gateway to turning that thing around. It helps kiddos wrestle through which of their predispositions must go and which should be watered, nurtured, grown.
It isn’t an exact science (we hate that). These are our kids! We don’t want to break them by pushing too hard. Meanwhile, we do not want to raise up a generation of Adonijah’s by interfering too little.
So, we proceed like every parent in the history of parents before us: one step at a time.
We fight the panic of looking like a bad parent (we’re amateurs – face it and onward anyway). We humbly evaluate the kiddo who vulnerably stands before us, and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. We then step out with caution and determination and love and a willingness to ask for forgiveness when we do it wrong.
We `atsab, with an eye on David, that wonderful king with a heart for God, a biblical hero who was still imperfectly human like any one of us.
Yes, some lines from the Bible are just sad. But we can learn from those lines to fortify our families with boundaries that show our love.
All that plus one more thing: we can be kind to the Adonijah’s of our current generation. It’s tough, soldiering on without an `atsab childhood, especially since we Bible readers know that even the best of kings get the parenting business wrong some of the time.
The Author of the Bible tells us so.