“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
This popular verse is a benchmark for many parents, and an important command for our children to understand. It’s necessary to have high standards for ourselves, and our children. However, when applied without compassion, we may find ourselves striving endlessly to live up to legalistic expectations. When we follow this biblical command, motivated by love, it will help calm our worry over whether or not we expect too much from our children, or ourselves.
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Collapsing Under the Pressure
One sunny May afternoon a few years ago, when year-end celebrations were the normal routine we all took for granted, a high school counselor friend of mine picked up the phone from the desk in her office and then quickly excused herself to see a student. A high-performing student emotionally collapsed under the pressure she was under. Who contributed to the pressure is a mystery, but it hovered over her until she all but suffocated underneath it. “Almost 32 percent of teens experience one of the anxiety disorders,” Carol Landau Ph.D. explained in an article written for Psychology Today in August of 2020, “Clearly, the isolation and disruption caused by COVID-19 will only exacerbate these mental issues.”
As a parent myself, I have no solid answer as to whether I expect too much from my children. I volley back and forth between having compassion for the specific challenges of their generation, considering the underlying anxiety they are at high risk for just by breathing air as a teen, and an imperative goal to raise them with a hard work ethic and strong faith. It’s an impossible task for any parent to perfect the process. Luckily, God has not placed any child in our care accidentally. He’s simply not a coincidental Father. His purpose for each of us is unique. When we are tempted as parents to take control of unearthing our child’s specific, God-given calling, we can take a literal chill pill. Scripture promises the work God has begun, HE will finish.
What Does God Expect of His Children?
The world is full of sin, and a mess with injustice, unfairness, pain, suffering, and tragedy of every type. Each day is filled with a new worry we never had to think about before. God has not only thought about it, He goes before us and behind us. He is always with us and chose us to participate in His plan because He loves us, and knows it will thrill us to live in a way that brings glory to Him. He created us to glorify His name. He placed us in a specific generation, for such a time as this. There is no such thing as an accidental life or a mistaken existence. Every single human being is loved more than they will ever be able to imagine by the Father who created them with the specific purpose only they can walk out in this life.
When we, as parents, understand more about who God is, and Whose we are, we are less likely to expect too much from our children. God expects a lot from His people. We are called to be set apart, not like the rest. That alone is hard. He has placed commands to be obeyed in the Bible, so we can live our lives to the full, as Jesus died for us to do. There are consequences for our mistakes. God hasn’t placed us on the earth as robots who do His bidding. He is a relational God. He desires for us to know Him, to have hearts that beat for Him.
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Grace versus the Race for Achievement
Do I expect too much from my child? This question should never be guilt-ridden. Jesus Christ died a horrific death on the cross to get rid of the cloud of shame and the weight of guilt. If we feel the conviction of expecting too much of them, perhaps it’s a simple reminder to focus on the most important task we’re called to on this earth: love.
God is love. There’s never been a greater love than God’s. His sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus, on our behalf, is the greatest expression of love of all time. And Jesus was apt to remind us as He walked the earth, “the greatest of these is love.” Some of the things which trip us up in our efforts to love our children start creeping in the moment we are around other parents.
When we are waiting on our child to enter the world, not much else matters in our prayers other than a healthy entrance. We hold our tiny miracle in our arms and wonder what we could have ever done to be so blessed. But the honor we feel as their parents can fade with the first note of comparison, or jealousy. Things we can’t imagine creep into our hearts when we are sneaking into their rooms in the middle of the night to make sure they are still breathing or capturing every cute baby outfit they wear in pictures for the first year of their lives.
Pre-school starts, and the race to achieve begins. It’s something innate, to strive, compete, and compare. When we, as parents, are tempted to compare our children, it’s so good to remember the blessed bundle first handed to us, or the plus sign on the pregnancy test which brought us to tears and our knees in prayer and worship. They aren’t swaddled anymore, but they are the same humans. The purpose God knit in their hearts is still intact, for the good work He began, He will finish. He – not we.
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The Challenges Children Face Today
Parenting is ridiculous. I surely don’t have any solid answers. Mine are still in junior high. In fact, pray for me, please. Because I see the anxiety they fight in their generation every day. The comparison as they scroll through social media, and the challenge to determine authentic and genuine friendship through mostly text messaging and video clips.
We can never go wrong having compassion for our children. Our God has compassion for us. If we seek Him with all of our heart, we will find Him – this He promises. And He’s never, and will never, break a single promise. In Christ, we are never alone, and neither are our children. The best we can do, as parents, is to seek Him, follow Him, and lead them to His feet. Never forget, God loves our children infinitely more than we do. It seems impossible, as my heart breaks wide open for my daughters. But there is someone who trumps even them.– and their dad.– and everyone else for that matter. He is the one who reminds me to confess my own self-condemnation every single morning. He is the one who encourages me to see myself as He sees me. He reminds me to take every worried thought captive and hold it accountable to the truth.
Infinitely More Than We Could Expect or Imagine
Our children are under a lot of pressure. We will expect too much of them if we fail to remind ourselves of it. Training them up in the way they should go means to firmly guide them. God disciplines us because He loves us. He gives us boundaries and biblical commands because He loves us. We can do the same for our children. If everything we do for them flows out of the love God shows for us, we will lead them to Him. And when our humanity gets in the way and we fail to let go of our plans for them, we can apologize, and get right back on track.
Every day we can pray over our children, all of the things we wish for them which they interpret as nagging. They can’t stop us from praying. There is a verse for everything we worry about on their behalf. Pray them as if that’s our race to run. Because as parents, who will storm the gates of heaven more than we on their behalf?
To an anxiety-ridden generation, we can be the calm, firm, guiding encouragement they need to flourish as the people they are growing up to be. Release them into God’s hands, and let His expectations come to fruition. They are infinitely more than we could ever expect or imagine for our children, anyway.
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Originally published Wednesday, 21 July 2021.