Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO on 3/8/09.
"Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4).
In Paul's day, society had more rigid gender roles than today, which is no doubt why he addressed his remarks about child rearing to fathers, but the advice is good for mothers as well. In Col. 3:21, he also wrote, "Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." He might have added "and rebellious." The Bible is full of dreadful stories about the result of poor parenting and its consequences: steamy accounts of adultery, incest, child abuse, and rape. King David's family provides a perfect illustration. Amnon, whose mother was Ahinoam, was his first-born son. Absalom, whose mother was Maacah, was his third-born (II Sam. 3:2-3). II Sam 13, records the events that transpired between these two half brothers. Amnon fell madly in lust with his half-sister Tamar, David's daughter and Absalom's full sister. Pretending to be sick, Amnon schemed to get her into his bedroom. When she was alone with him, he raped her in spite of her protests. After violating her, he was filled with hate and disgust for her and had his servant throw her out of the bedroom and lock the door behind her. Nice guy. Filled with shame and disgraced, she tore her royal robes and put ashes on her head as was the custom of the time, and went away weeping loudly.
Hearing her, Absalom knew instantly what had happened and comforted her as best he could. Because her virtue was sullied, David could no longer offer her in marriage. Absalom took her into his home and cared for her there. About this atrocity, the scripture says only, "When King David heard all this, he was furious. Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar" (II Sam. 13:21-22). Time did nothing to heal his hurt or slake his thirst for revenge. David's silence in the matter cost him dearly, for two years later, Absalom invited all the king's sons for a "Bar-B-Que." He ordered his men, "Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, 'Strike Amnon down,' then kill him" (Vs. 28). When they executed his order and killed Amnon, all David's other sons jumped on their mules and ran for their lives. Word came to David, however, that all his sons had been killed. When he heard that, he "stood up, tore his clothes and lay down on the ground; and all his servants stood by with their clothes torn" (Vs. 30-31). David's brother Jonadab came to him and assured him that only Amnon had been killed; the others were alive, offering the opinion, "This has been Absalom's expressed intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar" (Vs. 32). Meanwhile, Absalom fled, seeking refuge in Geshur where his mother's people were. He stayed there for three years. In spite of his great sin, David loved his son and mourned for him every day (Vs. 37).
Why didn't David discipline Amnon after he had raped Tamar? The scriptures are silent on this point, but it struck me as I was reading the account that perhaps David still carried guilt over his adultery with Bathsheba, or possibly, he understood Amnon's lust of the flesh because of his own transgressions. When Absalom had Amnon killed, perhaps David remembered that he himself had ordered Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite killed in battle (II Sam. 11). Possibly he was reluctant to condemn Amnon's sexual transgression or Absalom's murder of his brother because he himself had been guilty of both sins. Any way you slice it, sin caused a rift in the family that had wide and deep repercussions. Absalom was very calculating, so when his father allowed him to return, he plotted and schemed to have himself crowned King in Hebron, intending to carry off a full scale rebellion against David. The King had no will to fight his son and so left Jerusalem. The end of Absalom's troubled life was as grim as the rest of it (See II Sam. 15-19). He was riding his mule through a forest when he caught his magnificent head of hair on a tree branch and was left hanging there. When David's commander Joab heard about it, he went to him and plunged three javelins into Absalom's heart while he hung by his hair, then sent messengers to tell the King.
When David heard of his son's death, he was devastated, lamenting, "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you. O Absalom, my son, my son!" (II Sam. 18:33). His grief is heart breaking, a deep pain that many parents have felt down through the ages. Some Christians blame David's failure as a parent for his sons' sins. Perhaps that's true, but I believe the Apostle Paul had it right, "For GOD consigned all men to disobedience that He may have mercy upon all" (Rom. 11:32). It really doesn't pay to judge David's parenting, especially in light of the fact that God called him, "A man after my own heart" (I Sam. 13:14). And this is the real "family fix" for most of us. What are we responsible for and what is God responsible for in regard to our children? When they are small, of course, we are responsible for nurturing and protecting them, teaching them right from wrong, providing for them to the best of our abilities, but when they become grown, what then? How do our sins and neurotic compulsions impact them and their behavior?
This is not another lesson on codependency other than to say that this powerful addiction poses big problems in many families. It's not limited to parents, but also to spouses. In response to last week's writing, "The Covenant of Death" (See Link at end), a friend wrote the following in an e-mail which illustrates this issue we're considering today. She has a very responsible, demanding position as a manager in her company and constantly feels the pressure to perform and produce results. As she struggles with that, she encounters more pressure at home. She wrote,
"My friends say I'm burned out and likely depressed and even if this were a correct diagnosis I alone can do little to overcome this state. My husband routinely calls me combative when he communicates a "Copeland" type list of "need to do procedures, thoughts, readings, etc.," for me to overcome my hardships and challenges. I remind him that if I could not even overcome the simplest of sins without Christ, only God could help me to overcome any state I find myself in. Short of laying my badge on the desk of my manager (which I think about almost daily), I have little incentive (even loss of home, health insurance, and earning power), that motivates me to "straighten up and fly right." What still excites me is the thought of writing for a living, etc., yet I'm so weary that I'm pretty much a vegetable when I get home. I do find rest in the scripture that you have shared in both your Part III and Part IV writings: "For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). When I first read this scripture years ago I realized God was the one who provides the desire to do those things that He wants done. When He provides the desire (will) and strength, the hardness of the activity becomes so much less the focus and we become supernaturally able." End Quote.
Her husband, like countless other people who are into the "fixer" mentality, probably has the best intentions, and yet, his advice does her little good. She knows what she needs and she knows Christ supplies her needs, but she finds it tough to get there and stay there. Sometimes, remembering that Christ is the supplier, helps curb our headlong rush toward frenetic codependent (fixer) activity, by reminding us that we all have everything we need in Christ. Also, in times of stress, it really does soothe me to remember that "Everything comes from God" (I Cor. 11:12).
Who among us has not wrung our hands before the Throne beseeching our Father to help our children who are causing us concern? Many years ago, when I was especially stressed and frantic about my teen daughter's welfare, I stretched out face down on my bed and cried out to God to protect her. Whether she needed such drastic methods on my part I'll never know, but it was a wonderful experience, because God spoke to my heart as powerfully as if He were there physically and asking me, "What kind of a Father do you think she has?" That brought me up short in my fear, and got me up out of that bed and into a rejoicing mood, rather than a fearful one. That word from His lips has stayed with me for 50 years now, reminding me that I am not alone in any of my relationships, nor doomed to watch helplessly as those I care about flounder and fall. He is the one responsible for all things, for all people, and He alone will bring us and our children through gloriously, no matter how dark the situation. I like to think that God spoke such words of comfort into King David's heart, for had He not, the valiant King surely would have died of distress, depression, and heartbreak with all the family problems he faced.
Israel as a nation faced many dark days, but even as Isaiah warned them of what was to come, he also comforted them with words which also comfort us:
"But now, this is what the LORD says, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;... Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west" (Isa. 43:1-2,5). The promise includes our children! Hallelujah!
I've been on both ends of the "fixer" dilemma. Years ago, one of my friends, with all the best intentions in the world, habitually gave me suggestions on what I needed to do, how I could improve this or that in my life. She was a very sweet woman and I wouldn't have hurt her for anything in the world, but finally, enough was enough, and I remember saying, "When you continually try to "fix me," it makes me think I'm broken, and I'm NOT broken."
That thought may be the answer to the whole "fixer" temptation. Do we really want to communicate to our grown children that they are incompetent and unable to cope without our continual advice (sometimes nagging or fault finding)? Do we really want the responsibility of their adult lives after having given so much to get them from childhood to adulthood? Do we wonder why they may not spend as much time with us as we'd like? Paul fingered fathers as the culprits in his comments to the Ephesians and Colossians. However, mothers are as guilty of discouraging their children as fathers are. It's for all of us parents to take to the Lord no matter which side of the situation we find ourselves on. If we feel broken, we act broken; if we feel like we're a failure, then we act it out. Only the unconditional love of God in our lives can stop us at the brink of falling into the abyss, and carry us on eagle's wings into his loving embrace. Once we know who we are in Christ and who He is in us, then the gates of hell itself cannot prevail against us. If God be for us, who can be against us? (Rom. 8:31).
Our families, mean well, no matter how they behave. One of our friends who was frustrated with her grown children, concluded, "God should have thought one more day before creating families." My take is that God created families to give us practice in "speaking peace to the heathen" (Zech. 9:10). You can decide for yourself whether that's a joke or pretty close to the truth.
I'm sure it is no coincidence that the urge to locate information about my ancestors overtook me as I was thinking about the "family fix." Mother has often expressed a desire to know about her grandfather Schumacher, who immigrated from Germany in 1877. Another cousin had asked me to put together the Jim Austin branch of the Austin family tree (my father's people). So, I began to search on Ancester.com, via a trial membership (free), where I learned that my great grandmother Schumacher's first name was Sophia, according to the 1880 census, though Mary is the name on her grave. Looking through my Austin files, I reread some old letters written by my Austin grandmother's physician regarding her mental instability and morphine addiction. She killed her oldest son, then 14, and fired at my father. By God's grace, the gun misfired, or I wouldn't be here. She spent the remaining 13 years of her tortured life in a mental hospital.
I woke up very early this morning grieving over her inability to get help and my poor father's wretched childhood. What a worthless waste of emotion, I told myself, but the thoughts kept coming UNTIL I surrendered my grandparents, my father, and myself to God. I gave each one of us to the Father who loves us all unconditionally and who brings good out of bad in His time. I immediately fell asleep and awoke rested. It helps me to know that even as we have no control over which family we are born into, and can take no credit OR blame for their behavior, the same is true of our children as well. God "accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11), for us and our children.
No matter what kind of family we came out of, God put us there for His own reasons, in spite of how it feels. Though our families are full of flaws with aggravation often flowing freely, as Karl Barth reminds us, we are all standing on the same step before the righteousness of God. Our urge to fix other people and ourselves as well must be surrendered to God along with everything else we have in our hands. He helps us with that or we would never be able to do it.
Father, we thank you for our families and our friends, and most especially that YOU, not we, are responsible for them. We thank You for polishing us like diamonds in the rough so that we'll reflect Your light to all we meet, within our families and beyond. We worship and adore You, Father, and bow before Your plans for us, written before the foundation of the world. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Working for Jesus? Surrendering to God, II
Fighting the Good Fight? Surrendering to God, III
A Covenant with Death? Surrendering to God, IV
Your Mortal Body, Surrendering to God, VI
Echoes From Sodom, Surrendering to God, VII
Judgment: His or Ours? Surrendering to God, VIII
Why did Christ have to die? Surrendering to God, IX
The Pearl of Great Price,Surrendering to God, X
Tested by Fiery Trials, Surrendering to God, XI
Sibling Rivalry, Surrendering to God, XII
When Parents and Churches Fail, Surrendering to God, XIII
The Blessed Hope of His Appearing, Surrendering to God, XIV
Does God Need Us? Surrendering to God, XV
Does God Need Our Faith? Surrendering to God, XVI
The Glory Road
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firstname.lastname@example.org This site was created on 02/26/09
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister
and last updated on 07/30/09.