If you and I were sitting together at a coffee shop I could tell you about all of the difficulties I have experienced with our very strong-willed child. I could walk through the tears and the heartache from the hurtful words, the shocking threats, and the violent outbursts. If you’ve walked through anything similar, I would put my hand on yours and promise you that you’re not alone. I would pray for you. I would also hope to leave you with some encouragement. While I cannot solve the heart of the matter in either of our children, for that is strictly the Lord’s business, I can share some of the lessons that I’ve learned from our very strong-willed child.
I spent too many years and too many arguments trying to convince them of my authority. My own ugly words flew as I threatened and challenged in an attempt to make them bend to my will. And even as the years passed, my personal sanctification progressed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and my voice softened, my heart still longed for "victory". The frustration would bubble up inside as my words were ignored and my requests were denied. “I am the parent!” I just could not understand why they didn’t get it.
By God’s unfailing grace, He began to show me where the real power of my authority came from. It was Him. It was always Him. My authority isn’t validated by the submission of my children, nor is it not stripped away by their defiance.
"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” - Ephesians 6:1
I have authority over my children because God has given it to me. And what God has set into motion, no man (not even tiny ones) can destroy. The reality of this truth brings freedom and peace as well as a clear picture of my own sin. The freedom comes from knowing that I don’t have to fight for my place. Every command is not the beginning of an argument over who’s in charge. You see, I can rest in knowing that I am in charge.
Imagine getting pulled over for speeding. The police officer asks to see your license and registration, but you refuse. Does the officer proceed to return to his patrol car and drive away? Has your refusal to submit triumphed over his government sanctioned authority? Not in the least. He is not waiting for you to obey in order to step into his role as the greater authority. That role is his, regardless of your response to it.
Here is where my sin really gets exposed. If God has given me authority, then that means that He has given me a position to steward over. It does not mean that He has given me free reign to behave however I’d like and to cross whatever line I deem acceptable in order to assert my authority. Much like the officer in our illustration. If you refused to show your license and registration and he then proceeded to scream at you, insult you, or physically attack you in some way you would automatically know that this was a wrong use of the power he had been given. Much in the same way, when our child’s refusal to obey results in raised voices, harsh words, or discipline that stems from anger, we are not stewarding our God-given authority in a way that honors Him. A right understanding of our authority frees us up to stop taking every infraction personally. Our children are not rebelling against us, but against God’s clear design for the family. Just like you wouldn’t have a personal vendetta against the officer, but against the posted speed limit that you just violated.
A strong-willed child rubs against the flesh of their parent. Truly, any strong individual rubs against our flesh. Our flesh desires its own way and longs to be in control. A strong-willed child sits in direct opposition to this. Therefore, our strong-willed child requires a great deal of sacrificial love. We must, again and again, say no to what we want in order to serve them. If we are being honest, we realize that we ought to be saying no to ourselves regardless of who our children are! The pain comes from the inability to outrun this truth with a child that so consistently challenges our flesh.
It is with great remorse that I think back to the many battles that waged on because of my unwillingness to love sacrificially. Because I was unwilling to stop thinking about myself and how I had been wronged. Because I was unwilling to think about my child and how my words and my responses could provoke them (Ephesians 6:4). In fact, I know that there are a great many conflicts that could have been avoided altogether if I had not agitated and exasperated my sweet child for the sake of my own pride. Oh, pride.
"Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” - Proverbs 16:18
Destruction. Fall. Yes, I would say those words describe quite accurately some of the situations I have found myself in with our strong-willed child. And whose pride was the greater catalyst? It was mine. The adult. The saved and redeemed one. The one who has the Word bound around her neck and written on the tablet of her heart (Proverbs 3:3). But in my refusal to love sacrificially in those moments, I became so very blinded by the pride of my child that I altogether ignored my own.
God has been so very patient with me by teaching me that there is a direct correlation between my strong-willed child’s behavior and my ability or inability to react with pure, biblical love. The more I meditate on 1 Corinthians 13 the more I am prompted to pray for continued growth in my biblical love. A love that is patient and kind. A love that is not arrogant or rude. A love that is not irritable. A love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Friends, if we are not walking in this kind of love towards our sweet child, let us not expect our empty words to provoke change.
One giant way that I have learned to do this is by giving room for them to calm down. Back to the issue of my authority, when I believed that I had to earn it or prove it I was constantly bearing down on my sweet child. They had no room to think. No room to pray. No room to exercise the self-control I demanded of them. But you see, I had convinced myself that if I didn’t address the behavior immediately, somehow they would be seen as the victor. I still longed to prove something. But now we’ve been given fresh eyes, haven’t we? We long to embrace God’s authority and our stewardship of it and we desire to love our children sacrificially. In doing these things, we will begin to crave what is most helpful for our kiddos in their time of crisis. We will sit quietly with them if that is most helpful or we will walk away if that’s what they need. We will do what it takes to help them calm down. We will “bear all things” and “endure all things”. If we are longing for children with soft hearts and open ears then we need to turn away from our own pride and lovingly help them to calm down. It is only when they are thinking clearly that they can be expected to take responsibility for their sin and handle the consequences that come with it.
One of the greatest lessons that Charlie and I have learned from our very strong-willed child is that they do not require special training. There is no biblical directive for “more compliant” children and then another for “strong-willed” children. The truth is, everything that we’ve just looked at is required of us for all of our children. I believe that we, as parents, buy into the need for different training simply because we have gotten lazy with our “other” children. And I confess, I have read multiple books on “strong” children and how to raise them. Years ago I found myself so overwhelmed and consumed by the explosive nature of our child that I was looking for anything that would help. In God’s ultimate kindness, after first reading through the other books, I came to read Shepherding a Child’s Heart. God has used the truths found in that book together with mentors and, most importantly, God’s Word and His gift of wisdom (James 1:5) to show me that He has already supplied all that we need for all of our children through His instruction.
Those strong children, though... they’ll keep you on your toes! Our inconsistencies and hypocrisies go much more unnoticed with the semi-compliant children. We can begin to coast and take our eyes off of what Scripture commands of us as parents. But, no matter how unnoticed this goes with some of our children, our strong-willed children see every "chink in our armor". In this regard, may we learn to praise God all the more for these children that He’s blessed us with! Let us come to Him with thankful and glad hearts over these children that draw us closer to Him and His Word.
"His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” - Matthew 25:21
We all long to hear those words. We want to be faithful servants to our Master. Let us begin in our homes. May we embrace the position of authority that God has called us to as parents. May we live in a way that daily sacrifices our own pride and desires for the sake of loving our children as God calls us to. Finally, may we aim for faithfulness in the lives of each and every one of the arrows that God has filled our quiver with.
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