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.
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.