Nehemiah angrily paced back and forth in his chambers. The chaos of the day had melted away to nighttime silence, giving him time to think. Earlier in the day he had discovered that Israelites of wealth and position were exacting interest from loans and even enslaving their poorer countrymen!
Nehemiah sighed. Another problem.
He’d just gotten everyone back on track with the building of the Jerusalem wall after dealing with the Sanballat and Tobiah situation! At least those enemies — intent on sabotaging Israel’s ability to get the wall rebuilt –were foreign enemies. He knew how to encourage the people to faith in the Lord’s protection and how to fight against foreign invasion.
But this circumstance was harder to deal with. He needed time to think, pray, and decipher the wisest approach for dealing with this newest trouble. And if there was one thing Nehemiah had plenty of since returning to Jerusalem, it was trouble!
Have you ever felt like Nehemiah? Weary from never-ending trouble? Or maybe it’s not even trouble, just the daily grind that taxes your patience and wears you down?
I sure have.
And as I read through Nehemiah’s story, specifically through the passages in Nehemiah 4-7, I couldn’t help but see the parallel in Nehemiah’s experiences and my parenting experiences.
Like Nehemiah, I too am in the process of building into my children’s lives. I’m teaching manners, character, and spiritual maturity. Like Nehemiah, I too can face discouraging setbacks. But whether it’s dealing with my child’s internal sin nature or external forces like culture and peer pressure — no matter what the challenge — I want to persevere in the building process.
“Time to eat lunch,” I called to my boys playing at their train table.
“Poopy lunch!” shouted one of my sons, almost four years old.
“What?” I asked, wondering if I heard right. “Did you say ‘poopy lunch?'”
“Uh huh,” he responded, grinning.
I’d never heard him talk like this before and I admit I was a bit taken aback. “We don’t talk about poopy that way, sweetie,” I admonished. “We only talk about that when you have to go to the bathroom.”
But ever since then, “potty talk” has been an issue in our house. And to my knowledge, my kids came up with the potty talk themselves. I’m not aware any of their friends have spoken that way around them.
Now, I know this can be a common problem at this age, especially with boys. I’m not freaking out about it; I’m just teaching them it’s not appropriate. But I do think it serves as an interesting illustration: Sin doesn’t have to be learned.
Kids don’t have to be taught to hit, refuse to share, bite, call names, or use potty talk. It’s just there.
The Bible puts it this way:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3)
We come out of the womb knowing how to try to get our way. Knowing how to be mean. Knowing how to sin.
Sometimes, the internal struggles a child has are simply developmental and will take care of themselves with time. Others, such as lying, are more spiritual in nature and may become quite a battle for some children. Either way, I can’t ignore whatever issue is at hand in my child’s life and hope for the best.
I need to be actively involved in shaping the person they’ll become. Like Nehemiah, who tackled the abuse of the poorer Israelites by those who were wealthier, I need to face the situation head on.
Part of my involvement as a parent will also be helping my child with external pressures. Whether it’s dealing with a bully or identifying a subtle negative influence in my son or daughter’s life.
When dealing with these pressures, my job as a mother may mean stepping into a situation to provide protection for my child against bullying. Or, as Sally Clarkson puts it in The Ministry of Motherhood: Following Christ’s Example in Reaching the Hearts of Our Children, it may mean walking “with them through the tribulations that come their way so they can learn how to trust God in the midst of difficulty.” Or, it may even mean becoming “the bad guy” from my child’s perspective and putting limitations on their privileges for a season.
Just thinking about all this character building makes me feel exhausted and overwhelmed! I can relate to Sally Clarkson who writes that “the process of . . . training can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility. We explain and advise (and repeat ourselves a lot). We encourage and cheer. We correct mistakes and misbehavior. We make mistakes as well, because we are fallible, inconsistent human beings ourselves. And we start the whole process over the next day.”
But there is hope.
Persevere with Power
I can take a cue from Nehemiah who got away from the pressure of the situation and “took counsel with myself . . .” (Nehemiah 5:7). I don’t want to read more into that passage than what’s there, but I bet that time away included some time in prayer and communion with God.
Although input from other people, books, and resources certainly have their place, sometimes we just need to get God’s perspective on things.
He’s the one who knitted my child together in my womb (Psalm 139:13). He knows the best way I can build into their life. And ‘’m not going to know what His ways are unless I find dedicated time each day for His Word and to communicate with Him through prayer.
And it’s when I put my focus on God that I can find real hope and encouragement. My desire is to raise my child to become a disciple of Christ. And the only one who desires that more than me is God himself. Despite all my training, only God can affect real heart-change in that little person I’m building into.
When it comes down to it, I can’t force change in my child’s life. Nor will my efforts at building into their lives be perfect either. We both need God’s saving and sanctifying grace. It’s through relationship with Him that we have the power to persevere in the building process and our child has power to change. 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence.”
God called Nehemiah to build the Jerusalem wall. God’s called me to build into three little souls. I want to build with persistence like Nehemiah, knowing I have divine power to help me all the way.
[This article first appeared here at Ungrind on June 19, 2011. We’re republishing it because … well, we just love it that much. We hope you enjoy it too.]