“Response-able” kids

“The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message” (Acts 16:14).

My mom will laugh when she sees that I’m writing an article on parenting responsible kids. I don’t think a single school day went by when I could find both of my shoes before mom was in the car backing out of the driveway. I wasn’t known as a very responsible kid in the traditional sense of the word. She used to joke that if my head weren’t attached I would probably lose it. And she was probably right.

But I once heard that being responsible really means that one is able to respond. You might think of it as being spelled response-able. I like this definition. This is, after all, what I really want for my kids. I don’t just want them to know where their shoes are, and, someday, where their keys and wallets are (though it would be nice if they were more responsible than I was . . . okay . . . am). But what I really want for them is to be able to respond to situations they find themselves in throughout their lives in a God-pleasing way.

I want my kids to be able to respond to God’s law and own up to their sin and their mistakes when the mirror of the law exposes them for the sinners that they are. I want them to be able to respond with genuine contrition and repentance. And I think that ability is fostered the more they come to know and believe and appreciate the gospel. They can own up to their sin knowing that Jesus will forgive it and erase it every time.

I want my kids to be able to respond to the consequences of their actions. I want them to know that God isn’t punishing them for their sin—he already punished Jesus in their place. But I want them to know that God (and sometimes their mom and I) allow or send such consequences to teach them to make a better choice next time they are faced with similar temptations.

But most of all I want my kids to be able to respond to the gospel as they rejoice in the full and free forgiveness that is theirs through Christ. He offered his life for them and then rose up again in victory for them and for the world. I want them to be able to respond to that gospel victory by letting it fill their hearts and minds with peace as they put their trust in Jesus more and more. No matter what the situation in which they find themselves, I want them to be able to respond by living lives that are pleasing to him in their attitudes and in their actions, in the way they treat others, and in the way they look to serve those around them.

To me, this is the kind of responsibility I really want for my kids—even if they can’t find their shoes or leave their backpack at school or leave a coat out in the rain. This kind of responsibility will last—not just for a lifetime but for eternity.

What can I do to foster such responsibility in my kids? I can model it and be responsible myself as I respond to the law and gospel in the way God desires. I’ll make both a part of my life every day and strive to be more and more responsible to God’s Word. Finally, I’ll pray that God works this responsibility in me and in my kids, because neither can happen without him. With his help and blessing, our family will be responsible in all that we do.

Christmas traditions point us to Jesus

“How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?”

“Change?! We’ve always had that light bulb!”

Sometimes we Lutherans can get the reputation for being resistant to change. We’ve always parked in the same spot in the church parking lot. We’ve always sat in the same pew. We’ve always brought the same dish to the church potluck.

But our hesitancy to change isn’t always bad. It’s rooted in our understanding of the value of traditions. Traditions help us learn. Our little Lutherans know the liturgy with ever growing understanding because they hear those same words spoken every week in church. We celebrate baptisms and confirmations to show that they’re special. Traditions teach us values and important truths.

And if there’s any part of the year that’s steeped in traditions, it’s the Christmas season. So many Christmas traditions are designed to point us to Jesus. So if we want to keep our kids (and ourselves) focused on Jesus at Christmastime, let’s consider focusing on connecting Jesus to the traditions we already have.

  • Do your kids participate in a children’s Christmas program? Be a part of it! Help them memorize their parts and look up the Bible verses in their context. Show your children how they point to Jesus.
  • Do you have a nativity scene? Consider letting the kids play with it (or buy an inexpensive one they can use). Don’t set out all the pieces at once. Let the kids move Mary and Joseph across the room a little each day during Advent. Put the baby in the manger for the first time on Christmas morning. Then add the shepherds and start the Magi on their journey down the hall to join the scene by Epiphany. Talk about the story and anticipate the joy of the Savior’s birth.
  • Do you buy and eat candy canes? Teach your children how the red and white stripes remind us of the red blood Jesus shed for us, which makes us pure and white as snow. Show them the Good Shepherd’s staff which, when turned upside down, makes a “J” for Jesus.
  • Do you decorate a tree in the living room? Teach your children the symbolism behind the tree and its decorations. The lights remind us that Jesus is the light of the world who rescued us from sin. The angel or star remind us of the good news proclaimed. The garland that seems to wrap around the tree endlessly, and the tree itself—that’s evergreen and points to the sky—reminds us of the beautiful eternity that awaits us in heaven one day soon.

What traditions do you have? What do you do to help you and your family celebrate Christmas? How have you used those traditions to focus on Jesus and on the eternal peace that he gives? Engage in the online discussion here and share your traditions in the comments below. Maybe one from your family will help my family and others look to Jesus this Christmas.

Parenting our children as God parents us

It’s been said that we get our view of God from our relationship with our earthly father. If that’s true, then we parents, and especially fathers, want to do the best we can to give an accurate view of God the Father. We want to parent our children the way that God parents us.

Here are some observations I’ve made about the way God parents me and some things I’ve done as I try to father my sons the way God has fathered me.

  • God takes his law seriously. He makes that clear by allowing and even sending consequences into my life. Likewise, as a loving father, I will allow and give my boys consequences for their sinful actions when they rebel against God and me. These are given in love, not anger, and are meant to teach my boys that God’s way is always best.
  • But, even as I suffer the consequences of my sin, God regularly assures me of his unconditional love based on Jesus’ work in my place. I am forgiven. I am always his dearly loved child. Likewise, I want my boys to know that my love for them is unconditional. I always try to be quick to assure them of my forgiveness and of God’s. In our house we don’t answer, “I’m sorry,” with “It’s okay,” (It’s not okay. It’s a sin.) but with, “I forgive you. And so does God.” We live confession and absolution on a daily basis.
  • God makes it clear that he’s not too busy running the universe to make time for me and to listen to my prayers. Likewise, I want to show my boys that I’m not too busy for them. To get to know my boys’ hopes and dreams, worries and fears better, I’ve been occasionally taking each one out for breakfast—just the two of us. They promise to answer my questions honestly. I promise to try not to embarrass them.

Role models have an important place in the lives of those who are seeking to grow. But it’s not just children who need role models; parents need them too! And what better model can we find as we seek to grow as parents than our heavenly Father who parents us perfectly? So we study his Word to know him better, to be assured of his forgiveness for our failures to be like him, and to find the gospel motivation to mimic him more closely.

Just as God loves me and parents me, so I want to love my children and parent them. We want to, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children . . . ” (Ephesians 5:1).

“I get no respect”

Sometimes I feel like that old comedian who after every joke tugged at his collar and whined, “I tell ya, I get no respect.”

My boys don’t always show respect. And that’s a problem—not just with me, but with God who commands, “Honor your father and your mother . . . ” (Exodus 20:12) and “You must respect [your] mother and father” (Leviticus 19:3).

So, if I’m going to be a faithful and loving parent, I’m going to have to teach my kids to show me respect. But that’s hard, because my sinful anger gets in the way whenever I feel disrespected. So before I consider my relationship with my kids, I need to consider my relationship to God. How well do I respect him?

If I’m honest, I have to admit that I disrespect God every time I sin—even when that sin is prompted by my boys’ disrespect. I in essence say to God what my boys say to me, “What I want is more important than what you want. I choose to make myself the authority instead of you.”

How does God handle it? He doesn’t allow me to talk back to him without consequences—a fight in the family, a greater struggle in our home. He teaches me that it’s not okay to do things my way instead of his way in love. “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6).

So, too, I won’t allow my boys to talk back to me without consequences. I will discipline them (with great patience and careful instruction) when they are disrespectful.

But that’s not all God does. He doesn’t just discipline me with his law. He also earns my respect and—even more—he earns my love by his gospel. He sent his own Son to face the disrespect and torture of sinful men, to be crucified on a cross for me. And now I am completely forgiven for my disrespectful attitude and for every sin that has resulted from it. This moves me to love and respect God and want to live for him.

So, too, I will try to earn my boys’ respect—and their love—by showing my love for them. I will try to motivate my boys to show respect by showing them how much God loves them in Christ. And with his help, using his law and his gospel, I will learn to better respect God, and my boys will better learn to respect me—all out of love for him.


Online exclusive . . . more from Rob Guenther on this subject

I’ll admit that this article was very difficult for me to write. I don’t have the answers to this challenge. I kind of feel like a hypocrite writing it because my kids don’t always show me respect. And when they don’t, I too often lose my cool and sin against them. We’re working on it. And thank God that we have his forgiveness in Christ.

But in searching for help to write this, I bought the book Love and Respect in the Family by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs. And I think it’s very well written. It doesn’t just give practical tips for the parent/child relationship but even highlights Christ and his love for us that motivates and empowers us.

Dr. Eggerichs points out that maybe God doesn’t just bless kids with parents. Maybe sometimes he blesses parents with kids, through whom he teaches us to rely less on ourselves and our own wisdom and more on him in prayer and in his Word. It’s pushed me to pray for my boys more and has given me new insights into ways I can interact with them. I would strongly recommend that any parent struggling with the challenge of their children showing little respect would get a copy and read it (or listen to it if you’re not a reader).

“Who am I?”

“I’m shiny with bright scales, now give me a try. I swim up the river and jump toward the sky. Who am I? I’m a . . . SALMON!”

It’s one of my boys’ favorite pop-up books. Each page offers a short, rhyming riddle where they have to guess, “Who am I?” with each answer being a different Alaskan animal.

But as my 9- and 11-year olds have outgrown pop-up books, the question becomes less of a game and more of a critical puzzle in life. “Who am I?” is something they ask more and more.

“Who am I? Am I a cool kid? The smart kid? The boy that girls will like? Am I an athlete? A musician? Am I . . . a loser? A dork? A kid that nobody likes? Am I really loved . . . by Mom and Dad? By God? Do I meet their expectations? Am I really forgiven?”

They don’t often voice these questions, especially since boys don’t usually talk about such deep subjects. But I know that they’re asking these questions because every kid does.

“How do we prepare our kids to be in the world and not of the world?” That’s a question every parent ought to consider. And I believe that our kids will be ready when they can answer the question, “Who am I?” with the right response: “I am a forgiven child of God who lives to show my thanks to him in all that I say and do.”

We all have the privilege of finding our identity in Christ. Instead of wondering, “Who am I?” we can trust in God’s answer: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9,10).

“Who am I? I am chosen by God. I belong to him. I’m special to him. He calls me holy. He gives me purpose. He defines who I am. I am a Christian. I am a little Christ. And though I may be considered a weirdo or a dork by others for following him, I don’t care. I care what other people think about me because I want to serve them. But I care far more about what God thinks of me. He is the God who loves me, who saved me, and that’s why I want to live my life for him.”

How do we prepare kids to be in the world, but not of the world? We keep telling them and ourselves where we find our true identity: in Christ.

A marriage meeting?

I just love meetings! No. Not really. I don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the fellowship that we share at our church council and committee meetings. I just don’t think any guy ever said, “I really want to become a pastor so I can go to lots of meetings.”

So why in the world would I choose to have another meeting that I willingly put on my calendar? Because I recognize how important meetings are. They are a chance to communicate the challenges and blessings that we face, a way to proactively address issues before they become problems. And meetings—whether you love them or hate them—are necessary, important, and useful.

So, in addition to all the church and school meetings I attend, my wife and I schedule a “marriage meeting” each month. (I know. I can hear you calling us nerds, but hear me out.)

Each month we get together over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine not for a date but to proactively discuss any issues in our marriage by running through an actual agenda. (Okay, so we are nerds. Fine. I admit it.) But the blessings of this meeting have been huge, not just for my wife and me, but for the kids too. In addition to discussing our worship life, finances, romance and intimacy, workloads, and physical health, each month we talk about the kids too.

We do this because we need to show a united front. Even our two-year-old has learned to go ask dad for whatever it is mom just said “no” to. So to stay on the same team, we talk about them behind their backs.

When discussing the kids, we ask these questions:

  • Spiritual care—Are we encouraging what matters most? How could we do better?
  • Family devotions—How are we doing? How could we improve?
  • Church services—How frequently are we attending? How could we get more out of it?
  • Education—How are they doing in school? How are we teaching good manners? Finances? Honesty, courage, a good work ethic, etc.? What could we do to improve?
  • Health—Are they getting enough to eat? Enough sleep? Enough exercise?
  • Discipline—Are we on the same page? Are we being consistent to show a united front?

When we discuss these questions on a regular basis, we often prevent problems before they happen. Others we catch before they get out of hand by discussing how we’re going to deal with an issue together.

It’s said the best thing you can do for your children is have a strong, healthy marriage. That’s what we strive to do as we put God first, then each other, then the boys. And that’s really what our monthly marriage meeting is all about.

But we desperately need God’s help! For too easily we become a house divided, looking to serve not just our Savior, but our own self-interests, our own pride, our own misguided sense of self-worth. Thank God for his forgiveness through Jesus that unites us to him. Then, united to him, we ask for his help to stay united to each other as husband and wife, as mom and dad, and as a family.


Marriage meeting agenda

Begin with devotion and prayer.

Worship life

  • Personal devotions—How are we doing? How could we improve?
  • Family devotions—How are we doing? How could we improve?
  • Church services—How frequently are we attending? How could we get more out of it?

Finances

  • Offerings—How are we expressing our thanks to God with our finances?
  • Budget—Are we on track with what we said we’d spend in each category? If not, why not? Does our budget need revisions? What can we do to improve?
  • Short-term savings—Are we saving enough for an emergency fund? For auto repairs? For big purchases? For medical expenses (dental/optical)?
  • Long-term savings—Are we saving enough for vacation? For auto replacements?
  • Really long-term savings—Are we saving enough for retirement? For kids’ college education?
  • Spending—How have we each individually been contributing to our financial problems or solutions?

Intimacy

  • Frequency—Are we having sex often enough? Building romance? What could we do to improve?
  • Quality—What barriers stand in the way of having a better sex life? What could we do to improve?
  • Initiation—Are we both initiating or is it one-sided? What could we do to improve?

Kids

  • Spiritual Care—Are we encouraging what matters most? How could we do better?
  • Education—How are they doing in school? How are we teaching good manners? Finances? Honesty, courage, a good work ethic, etc.? What could we do to improve?
  • Health—Are they getting enough to eat? Enough sleep? Enough exercise?
  • Discipline—Are we on the same page? Are we being consistent to show a united front?

Workload

  • Church work—How are we expressing our thanks to God with our time and talents?
  • Housework—Is it fair and balanced? What is a good division of duties?
  • Free time—Are you getting enough down time to recharge?
  • Watching the kids—Are both getting enough time with the kids? Anyone need more of a break?

Health

  • Exercise—How can we encourage each other to stay physically fit with good sleep and exercise?
  • Diet—Are we eating healthy foods or junk? How could we eat better?

 Love actions

  • What one thing can I do for you this month to better show my love for you?

End in prayer.

Dad, you are totally awesome!

“Dad, you are totally awesome! By the way, where’s Mom?”

“In the kitchen, bud.”

“Mom, you look really pretty today. I like what you did with your hair.”

It was nice to hear, even if my kid was totally insincere and he was only saying it because it was in the rules. Before you (correctly) jump to the conclusion that the Guenthers have weird rules, let me explain.

We love our technology in the Guenther household. We realize what a blessing from God it is when we can connect with our relatives in the Lower 48 all the way from Alaska via Skype or FaceTime. Mom and Dad love their iPhones and the way it helps us communicate. The boys love their iPad with the educational games and the fun games. We all love the Wii. But sometimes we need to rein it in a bit.

“No iPhones at the dinner table.” That was a rule the boys came up with. And it’s a good one, even though it’s hard to resist pulling it out of my pocket when I hear that little noise signaling a new text message. It gives us a chance to actually interact as a family, sharing our highs and lows of the day—with no interruptions even from Dad’s phone.

But we have some rules for the boys too. First, they have to limit their time on the iPad. If left unchecked, hours could pass while they clash their clans together or pop the enemy monkeys’ balloons. Siri helps us out. “Siri, set a timer for 30 minutes,” they tell her, and she lets them know when their time is up.

But even before they get to play, there are rules they have to keep. They have to complete all the tasks on the laminated page that sits on the face of the iPad (the seventh task is my favorite).

iPad checklist:

  1. Is ALL of my homework done for tomorrow? (memory work too!)
  2. Is my bed made?
  3. Are ALL of my chores done?
  4. Have I played outside today?
  5. Have I spent time with my brothers today?
  6. Have I asked mom or dad if they need me to do anything for them?
  7. Have I told Dad how awesome he is today?
  8. Have I told Mom how pretty she is today?
  9. If the answer is yes to all of these questions then you don’t need to ask permission to play the iPad. Just set a timer for 30 minutes and have fun! : )

Okay, so the last two are really just meant to be fun. But we do want our kids to learn to enjoy the blessings of technology without becoming slaves to it. We want them to learn to use God’s gifts responsibly. We want to encourage them to maintain human contact and not get too absorbed in the games. And everything will be okay—the world probably won’t come crashing down—if I ignore my phone for 45 minutes each night around the dinner table too.

Thank God for his gifts of technology! And thank God for his forgiveness in Jesus for all the times that we’ve misused or abused them! And now, as we live lives of thanksgiving to him for these gifts, may he help us to use them responsibly.