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Kids today know that if they behave badly, two simple words will set them free: I’m sorry.
Unfortunately, some of our little cherubs say the words but then they misbehave. Again.
LESSON #1: DON’T PANIC.
Repeated bad behavior has been a problem for years. Centuries. Since times of yore. Case in point: Jacob.
Among Bible forefathers, almost nobody owed everybody an apology as much as Jacob. He snagged his brother’s birthright and he tricked his father into giving him a blessing.
What kind of a man does that?
So, don’t make excuses for bad behavior, but buck up under the white-hot spotlight of not getting the award for birthing a perfect little prince or princess. These are human beings we’re raising.
The going will get rough, which we can handle, so long as we keep it real.
LESSON #2: GOD WON’T TAKE FAKE
Don’t Pollyanna-posture the situation as, “fine, fine.” Also, don’t go ballistic legalistic on punishments.
Neither end of that pendulum swing will solve the problem of bad behavior. Go ahead and try it.
He tried side-stepping his bad behavior by standing on pious principle with his father-in-law (to no avail), and later Pollyanna-esque gifted Esau to grease the palms of his (now super nice and shockingly forgiving) brother.
Yet, finally, Jacob had to get real - really sorry, really repentant, really ready to fight for a change in himself.
He was ready to offer a legitimate, “I’m sorry” to God, when what to our wondering eyes should appear but one of the weirdest scenes in the Bible.
“This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket.” (Genesis 32)
This man/angel/very-hard-character-to-wrap-our-heads-around asked Jacob, “What is your name?” It was a touchy question, because Jacob knew his name, among other things, meant, “supplanter, layer of snares.”
Don’t we know it? Our little cherubs, with their acting out that is supplanting our good parenting and making us look…bad!
However, the God who refuses to take fake does not leave our kiddos – or us - empty-handed.
“Your name will no longer be Jacob,’ the man told him. ‘From now on you will be called Israel…”
Israel is an incredible name. Today we think of it as a place, because all of Jacob’s sons later spread out and became known as the tribes of Israel and established boundaries that mean a lot to the history of an entire nation.
However, in this poignant moment, the name “Israel” is ideal in its simplicity.
Among other things, it means “contender.”
LESSON #3: YOU ARE NOT IN THIS ALONE. NEITHER IS YOUR KID.
A contender is not just a fighter; a contender is a fighter who has a shot at winning. Winning over previous failures, over future challenges, over status quo sludge that threatens growth and newness.
A contender stands a chance.
We would love to have the insightful child rather than the child who incites, but this is our kiddo. It’s on us to train through the pain, work through better skills, walk out the minutiae of disciplining and believe in the possibilities of growth and change.
God is in our child’s corner, and He is in our corner too. Don’t over spiritualize it. See it for what it is.
Jacob said that in his wrestling experience, he saw God face to face. The sun still hadn’t risen, so it’s not like Jacob locked eyes on God per se. It’s the same kind of “see” that gave Jacob’s Old Testament comrade, Job, the clarity to say that he had once heard of God, “but now I have seen you with my own eyes.”
If Jacob had known God was in his corner before, it did him little good, because he hadn’t known God. Not really. Not in the “seeing” way.
In typical the-Bible-is-always-just-a-little-different-than-I-thought-it-would-be fashion, “seeing” God can involve a lot of…wrestling. Wrestling that is exhausting, takes all night, is a bit confusing.
And, is worth it.
Our kiddos’ best shot at change is to believe the wrestling required to make it happen is worth it. God is in their corner. It’ll help if they know that we are too.
Nothing compares to knowing that someone is in your corner. Nothing compares to knowing that someone who sees our worst and still petitions our best is not leaving our corner.
God sees our kiddos for who they are, and He’s staying.
He will not retreat out of embarrassment that our kids make Him look bad. How do we know? He wrote a whole book about the children of Israel.
And He did not leave out the misbehaving bits.
God believes our kids are contenders. With work, guidance, boundaries and understanding His unconditional love, He believes their potential abounds!
So too, can you.
Janelle Alberts writes pithy Bible synopses for anyone who asked questions in Sunday school but didn't get straight answers. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership and can be found here.