I was just settling down to a bit of sermon writing this morning when my phone went. It was my wife so I answered with my usual eager anticipation of romantic chit chat - no seriously! As she began to speak I recognised a familiar backing track. The sound of a screaming 3 year old. She'd called to enlist the help of parental emergency services. Our youngest was apoplectic with rage. Punching, kicking, shouting, informing her at great volume that he didn't like her.
The issue had started when he had tried to hand her his scooter in the middle of crossing the A243 Hook Road. Those who know this thoroughfare will know that it is not a wise place to start a prolonged family negotiation on scooter carrying. So when he stopped, folded his arms and refused to move or acknowledge her presence, she opted for the drag over death. This life saving action was not appreciated.
So I set off in the van, with the slight self-righteous feeling that a husband has when he has interrupted his very important work (of God no less!) because he is needed to rescue his wife. I do pharisaical super hero rather well.
I pulled dramatically onto the pavement beside the wrestling couple and flung open the door so that the bundle of rage could be passed carefully in. He promptly decided that he liked his mother and the staying with her would be far preferable. My presence often has this effect on my children. Then he hit me a couple of times for good measure and told me that he didn't like me - at a volume that ensured that most of Chessington would also be clear on his feelings.
I performed the "child seat parental press", to strap the flailing toddler into position and then using one arm to restrain him from kicking in the dash board, which seemed to be his greatest desire at this stage, started to drive home. Silently.
When we got home I was faced with the usual dilemma: impose my will or wait and reason. In a burst of rare patience I opted for the latter. I asked him why he was so angry. More screaming and deliberate ignoring of his inquisitor. So I asked him if he wanted a drink. "NO!". Would he like a banana: "NO!" You will note that I tend to assume that most people can be calmed in the same way that I am. By being offered food.
I waited. More screaming. Totally out of character I waited some more. And eventually he stopped. I asked if he's like a cuddle. He said he'd like a drink. I asked if he'd like a banana. He said he'd like a cuddle. I gave him a cuddle. He said he'd like a banana.
I think he might have control issues. But that makes two of us!
Then we had a nice chat. He said that he'd say sorry to his mum. I said that I needed to get on with my work but would he like to play with his toys beside me. He said he'd get on with his wooden construction kit. And there followed peaceful period of sermon writing, interrupted by gentle requests for help with undoing nuts and bolts. Until my wife came back and took him off to lunch with some friends.
Now you might be wondering about the title of this blog. Surely I want to say how much my parenting was like my heavenly Father. Showing patience and love. Tenderly welcoming the raging rebel and overcoming his anger with love! Aren't I model of how careful grace based parenting can bring about change in a child? Hasn't he now professed clear biblical faith in Christ? Isn't he going to be the first 3 year old committed to oversees mission work because of the way that I have shown him the love of Christ?
That as the blog I was going to write. Before the door bell went 10 minutes ago. And I answered it to find my wife crying on the door step. Her heart breaking because she'd been screamed at all the way home in the car from school. And her neck hurting because she'd been punched, kicked and scratched. She asks me to get him from the car. This time I carried him under my arm to the stairs. Time to impose my will.
We mustn't be naive about what we can and can't do as parents. We can neither patiently reason good behaviour into our children. Nor can we impose it through threats and punishments. Though in different circumstances both of those techniques will be necessary.
Amongst the many differences between my fatherhood and God's, the one that make the most difference is that he can work in the hearts of my children. I can't. I can't change them on the inside. And it's that Spirit given faith in Christ and new love of God and desire to obey him that they need above all else.
Jesus says: "Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” (John 3:5-7)"
Only the Holy Spirit of God can bring new life in Christ. He is the great heart changer.
That means that I must above all ensure that my children hear the gospel of Jesus. They need to experience a home where there is right and wrong. And wrong is punished. And they also need to experience parents who will bear pain from them as they patiently seek to demonstrate an unconditional love in the face of hostility. Because that is the framework in which God's grace will make the most sense.
But in the end they can only be saved into a relationship with their loving heavenly Father, by their loving Heavenly Father, by His grace.