Seeing and Approaching Our Kids Like Jesus
Last week we explored how our faith and relationship with Jesus can help us escape the pressure and expectations we face today as parents. Escaping the pressure at bay is essential if we want to keep our kids’ hearts close to us and encourage a faith that lasts.
Every day we wake up and face the pressure of getting our kids up, fed and out the door on time. While these pressures may feel like expectations they are a function of the choice we made to have a family years earlier. When we face challenges with our kids in these daily routines, our days can begin on the wrong foot. If we start off on the wrong foot, you can bet our kids’ day will start off wrong as well. In fact our attitudes, whether positive or negative, impact our kids far more than we realize.
Recent research points to the fact that our kids pick up on our emotions and attitudes way more than we might think or believe. Here is a quote from a recent study:
“Children pick up on their parents’ moods more easily than you might think,” says Umali, who has a 20-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son. “When kids see that their parents are stressed, tired, angry, upset or irritated, they can’t help but experience that negative energy as well. If it happens often enough, this negativity may affect the children’s emotional and cognitive development. In time, parents may find that their kids can’t relate to them or no longer want to spend time with them. They may stop sharing their problems with them or find it hard to express themselves verbally at home.”
(Quote from the report: How children pick up on parents’ anxiety and anger and why we should be mindful of how we act)
This research provides another reason why we need to make escaping the pressures and expectations that make us weary and more prone to negativity a priority. When I view situations I experience in life or with my kids positively, it relieves pressure and stress. Often this means letting go of my expectations that my kids will be perfect and anticipating failure because it is part of everyone’s life, including my own. On the other hand if I have a negative perspective or expect issues, I feel pressure and stress and am more likely to encounter my concerns.
This is where we need to have faith and trust that God will work all things together for good for those who love Him. He can use our failures along with our kids’ failures to bring about conviction, awareness, deeper understanding and change.
Can you imagine how much pressure God would be under if He felt responsible for every thought we had, every decision we made, every time we were lazy and every sin we committed? Do you feel responsible for these things in your kids’ lives? I imagine that if God felt responsible for all our decisions, thoughts and sins over just a year’s period of time, He would become negative, frustrated or even angry at the lack of faith and follow through of his children. If God approached me this way, I would become fearful and feel more pressure and stress. I would avoid Him as much as possible and be more likely to go down the wrong road. Thankfully nothing can separate us from the love, grace and compassion of the Lord.
“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is why it’s so important to draw close to the real Jesus. We need to examine how He taught and interacted with his wayward children. His approach to issues was amazing. In Matthew 18:1-6 it says:
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.'”
Matt. 18:1-6 (NASB)
The question the disciples asked at the beginning of this passage displays both errant thinking and a sinful attitude. Their willingness to even ask the question in public speaks volumes about the nature of their relationship and how safe they felt with Jesus. I find that very few Christian kids feel this sense of safety with their parents. They are afraid to share their thoughts, doubts, questions and especially shortcomings. I do not see this fear in the disciples or even in the crowds who followed Jesus around the countryside.
This is one of the reasons I believe the 6 verses in Matthew are critical for parents to ponder. They hold important lessons for us as children of God and parents of our children. Feeling secure in our relationship with God and in the fact that He has a plan and works all things together for good can help relieve the pressure and expectations we feel with our kids in our performance based culture.
It is clear that Jesus is not frustrated by His disciples’ errant thinking and attitude. If He was unhappy or frustrated, it is unlikely that the child would have responded to Jesus’ call and been willing to be presented as an example for His disciples. This child had to feel safe and secure with Jesus to willingly step into the middle of this lesson.
What can we learn about Jesus’ demeanor in this potentially damaging situation when His disciples sounded so unbiblical in front of others.?
Reread the passage above and take a moment to consider two things:
- How did Jesus handle the disciples’ question and attitude?
- What in Jesus’ approach enabled this child to respond positively to Him?
Jot some notes to yourself below about these questions:
I think Jesus must have been calm, kind, light hearted and even caring for the child to respond to a stranger’s call. If Jesus had seemed unhappy, irritated or even disappointed, it is unlikely the child would freely enter the middle of this conversation.
Jesus’ incredible love, patience and kindness was often on display for all to witness. I see His love and kindness repeatedly in the New Testament as He:
- Made the best wine at the end of the wedding celebration
- Risked his life to protect the adulterous woman from being stoned
- Gently handled the rich young ruler who left feeling “sad,” not judged, condemned or punished.
The way Jesus handled issues in His children’s lives is amazing. It is clear that he loves his adult children even when they are being idiotic.
How could Jesus be so loving, caring and compassionate with His disciples who were making him look bad in public?
How could he be so kind when surrounded with the masses who fell so far short of the law?
He was secure in the love of his Heavenly Father and in His loving, caring ability to help His children learn and grow over time. The performance of God’s children did not change how Jesus felt about Himself, as a man, heavenly father or creator. Neither did it change His feelings of love and compassion for God’s children. Jesus did not measure Himself or His success based on how they performed. He knew they were sinners and would fail, which is why He came. Even though Jesus knew He would be betrayed by His disciples as they scattered in fear upon his arrest, He treated their shortcomings with love, kindness and care.
Jesus saw their failings in a positive light as vitally needed opportunities for growth. Jesus knew, if handled properly, the disciples’ failures would bring about amazing change in their hearts. Jesus needed His disciples to become humble and loving so they could build and lay down their lives for HIs church. This was essential if His church was to flourish beyond the first generation.
Jesus does not fear our failure like we are prone to do as parents. He expects us to fall short. This was the reason He came to earth and lived among us, ultimately laying down his life. He came to defeat the grip of sin, past present and future, along with the associated expectations of perfection for us and especially our kids.
He sees our failures as essential tools for teaching us vital lessons and at the same time increasing a healthy dependence on Him. Stop and ask yourself: Is the way I handle issues with my kids’ failures drawing them closer to me and developing a healthy dependence on the Lord?
The reason Jesus handles failure with love, compassion and grace is that He wants us to draw close in the midst of failure rather than run and hide which typically leads us into even bigger issues. Jesus wants us to feel safe and secure with Him so we can open up the darkest recesses of our hearts to Him. He wants us to allow His light in and let the Spirit’s healing touch mend the wounds we carry deep within.
When we trust, love and depend on God, we can find peace and rest even in the midst of being a busy parent. It is in the comfort of His plan and belief in His desire and ability to grow and change us and our kids that we can escape the pressure and expectations of the world. We can deal with our failings and see actual change that will help us be the parents we desire to be. When we let go of expectations with our kids, our disappointment and negativity fade and we can create the loving, caring, positive place our kids need to address their issues.
When we are hard on ourselves and doing everything we can to live up to all the expectations, we tend to transfer that expectation mindset to our kids. If expectations put stress and pressure on us, let me assure you given the emotional nature of little kids and adolescents, they put even more on them. Remember the research summary from above. Our kids pick up on our emotions more than we realize. If they encounter too much negativity, it literally impedes their emotional as well as cognitive development.
I know we have been told as parents that the higher our expectations, the better our kids will do in life. I have to be honest… from my time with thousands of kids I believe this is a lie from the pit of hell itself. When our kids consistently fall short of a long list of expectations, we become negative about them which damages them in a very real way. Kids who encounter a sense of disappointment, negativity or frustration, emotionally distance themselves from their parents. They turn to YouTube, social media and friends to replace the lost connection with their parents.
Many of the teens I work with feel deep inside that they are not good enough, will never be good enough or worse that there is something wrong with them. Why? They believe they should be able to live up to their parents’ expectations and truly want to as well. However, they keep failing just like the adults in the old testament who constantly fell short of the expectations of the Law. Kids often feel that no matter how much they try they will always fall short, which is true according to the Bible. When they feel this way with their parents, they retreat and replace them with friends and social media. Their emotional bond with and dependence on their parents and often the Lord as well is shattered. I am confident that Jesus does not desires this for our kids. He is not willing that any of His little ones should be lost.
Jesus says something in verse 4 that I believe every parent should ponder and take to heart.
“Whoever humbles himself like this child, will be the greatest in heaven.”
Why does this impact my heart so much? I experienced having a hard hearted child who was argumentative and defensive. She could debate just about anything at a young age. She did not at all seem humble to me.
I have spoken with many parents who are where I was and believe their kids are not humble. They often tell me things like “my son is selfish, my daughter is manipulative or my son is a liar.” When parents make these statements I know that their kids’ behavior supports their beliefs, but they miss a critically important truth. Jesus said that kids are inherently humble.
I do not believe Jesus selected a special child that day, one who was incredibly virtuous. He was speaking to adults and trying to gently give them an example of how to be humble, so he called a child out of the crowd. He wanted His disciples to be more humble or teachable like a child. Kids, when gently approached, are much better than adults at hearing and acting without rationalizing and squabbling over pointless things.
Aren’t small children like sponges wanting to please and learn from us? Yet this often changes when kids are feeling unsafe, unloved or hurt by well-meaning things we have said, done or do not know how to address. When they begin to feel this way, they unconsciously seek to protect themselves. Their humble, teachable nature is squelched.
This was the case with my oldest daughter. I saw myself as the leader and authority not as the Good Shepherd that Jesus called Himself. The way I approached my precious daughter looked nothing like how Jesus approached His children and disciples.
My quick responses to her failures, reliance on consequences and her attempts to avoid the consequences put us on a collision course that I felt I needed to win for her own good. Why? She was no longer humble and teachable like she once was. Until I was doing research with teens, I entirely missed how I was responsible for squelching her humble, teachable nature.
We need to believe what Jesus saw in children that day. Our kids are inherently humble, meaning teachable and desiring to please, unless that nature is altered by our approach with them. They are designed by God to be humble, teachable ” little sponges”.
I find that when I approach the kids (even those who seem completely off the track or out of control) with the kindness, compassion, respect and value Jesus placed upon the “little ones who know Him,” things change quickly. I discover that these apparently hard-hearted kids are just begging for someone to understand, bestow compassion and encourage them. When they receive this from me, a humble, approachable and teachable nature emerges before my eyes often shocking their parents. Do we have ups and downs as they through the healing journey? Yes, but so did the disciples with Jesus. He expected it, counted on it and used it to teach them valuable lessons.
I did not realize how my expectations caused me to be more negative about my kids. Nor did I understand that this would lead to my their feeling like they were always falling short which resulted in negativity in them. The breakdown in my relationships with them was profound and though worked on significantly, it has never fully healed within my daughter.
We do not see this type of negativity in Jesus’ relationships with His disciples or even the crowds. Even when they failed they encountered Jesus’ kindness, compassion, and gentleness. He helped them see for themselves the error of their ways.
Today far too many of our kids leave the faith which should give us all pause to reevaluate how we are approaching them. The warning Jesus gives in Matthew 18:1-6 rings loudly in my ears for parents, Christian schools and churches. At the end of the passage, Jesus does not want anyone to cause one of the little ones who believe in him to stumble. He states, “it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea than to cause one of His little ones to stumble.”
When 80% of our kids leave the church as they exit our homes, they are stumbling. Why does Jesus issue such a strong warning? He deeply loves our kids and wants to protect them from harm. Jesus “is not willing that any should be lost!”
Given my research with thousands of kids I can no longer shift the blame for kids walking away from the faith to the world, schools, media or the internet. Jesus and God the father granted us more influence in our kids’ lives than Satan and the world. If God did not grant us this influence, we would have no hope and would lose every kid to the world. We know from Jesus’ own words this is not his desire.
Jesus led in a culture that was decadent and sensual; it was a dangerous time in Rome. Sin was not just tolerated, it was celebrated. Even in those times Jesus the Good Shepherd had far more influence than the Rabbis, Pharisees or Roman leaders. We see this in the lives of His disciples as well as in the crowds who sought and followed Jesus. This was why the leaders of the day feared him and eventually crucified him. The Good Shepherd had far more influence in people’s lives than they had and they had no idea what to do about it so they killed him.
We need to realize that we have the power and ability, through freedom in Christ and the Holy Spirit’s presence, to have the same influence in our kids’ lives. It comes when we are transformed into His image by praying for our hearts and perspective to change so that we can lead like Him; we can shepherd our kids.
We are our kids’ shepherds, not their schools, their friends, or their counselors. If our sheep are straying, we need to stop and ask the Lord to show us the error of our ways and seek the Spirit to change our hearts to be more like Jesus the Good Shepherd. We must restore the God given influence we are meant to have with our genuinely humble kids’ hearts.