In the beginning of parenthood, children are viewed as innocents and all they do is sleep, eat, coo, poo and melt your heart. Once they become mobile, they still participate in all those same activities except now they get into things they shouldn’t. In the early years, it’s easier to say no to them because of the physical dangers involved if we don’t. But as those toddlers become tweens, then teens, then pre-adults, their capacity for trouble increases while our resolve in confronting them often decreases.
While we are juggling work, car pooling, sports, doctor’s visits, family schedules, supervising homework, shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, paying bills, etc – they are masterfully running circles around our aging bodies. It’s not that we don’t care about their well-being or we don’t want to parent as they get older. We have just grown weary and have bought into the self-preserving notion of “picking our battles.” In the meantime, the eternally energized creatures have become little lawyers with an over developed skill of “reasoning” and we are tired of arguing with them. Parenting, on our best day, can be exhausting. It’s also the most rewarding job we will ever have. The results can be amazing or the results can be disastrous. We play a critical role in the final score of their game.
In First Kings chapter 1 we find King David at the end of his forty-year reign as ruler over Israel. He lies on his death-bed, at age 70, struggling to keep warm and barely able to lead God’s people as he once did. As he lay dying, his son (Adonijah) takes advantage of his father’s condition and attempts to steal his throne. What would cause his son to so easily break the 5th commandment of “Honor your father” (Exodus 20:12)? Verse 6 gives us the answer,
“His father had never crossed him at any time by asking, “Why have you done so?” (I Kings 1:5-6)
A brief review of David’s parenting reveals a dangerous pattern:
- His eldest son (Amnon) raped his daughter Tamar. To make matters worse, David’s “shrewd” nephew used David unwittingly to place Tamar in the room to be raped. David’s response to all of this? He was “very angry” (II Samuel 13:21).
- Two years later, his second born son (Absalom) invited his father and all his brothers to the town of Baal-hazor. Though the king initially refused, Absalom’s “urging” was too much for David and he allowed Amnon and his brothers to join Absalom with a blessing. The invitation turned out to be a trap and Absalom’s servants killed Amnon at Absalom’s command to serve as “justice” for the rape. When the word got back to David that Amnon was killed by Absalom he “arose, tore his clothes and lay on the ground… and wept very bitterly” (II Samuel 13:31, 36). Though “David mourned for his son (Amnon) every day… his heart was inclined toward Absalom” (II Samuel 13:37, 39, 14:1).
- Three years later, we find Absalom in the town of Geshur living as a fugitive because of the murder of his brother. At the encouragement of his military commander, David allows Absalom back into Jerusalem even though his sin has not been forgiven nor his heart repentant. Instead of addressing the issue with his son, he ignores it and does not allow Absalom to see him for two full years (II Samuel 13:37-38, 14:21-33). Absalom’s hatred for his father grew and he soon began to conspire against David in an attempt to gain the throne. After successfully stealing his father’s influence, men and chief counselor, Absalom began his coup d’etat on David. David’s response? “Arise and let us flee, for otherwise none of us will escape from Absalom” (II Samuel 15). A man who bravely killed a lion, bear and giant cannot stand up to his own son (I Samuel 17:37).
- Though Absalom employed every resource to pursue David in order to kill him, he was unsuccessful. By contrast, David gave strict orders for his soldiers to “deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (II Samuel 18:5). When word finally came back from the battlefield and David had opportunity to learn of the status of the battle, his first question revealed where his heart was, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (18:29) At the news of his son’s death, “the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, “O my son, Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33).
It is the duty of every parent to “cross” their children. What does it mean to “cross your child”? The Hebrew word for crossing (atsab) means “to grieve” or “to stretch into shape”. In other words, David had never displeased his son nor did what it took to stretch him into a godly shape. Never.
“Crossing” is simply another name for “active parenting”. Crossing is being involved in your child’s life and knowing their daily activities. It is being on top of their schedule and knowing who their friends are. It is placing yourself and God’s standard before them on a regular basis. It is governing what they read in books and see on the screen, both computer and theatre. It is having full access to computer passwords, ipods, cell phones and bedrooms. It is enforcing curfews and keeping them accountable. It gives you the freedom to not simply manage actions but attitude, facial expressions and tone of voice. It requires, at times, for you to grieve them and look for the opportunities to “stretch” them into the shape God desires. Ultimately, crossing says, “I love you” in a gritty, consistent, uncomfortable, unpopular way. And therein lies the problem. For many parents it is too much work and requires too much time. Because stretching is hard and grieving children is difficult, we neglect our biblical responsibility to our children’s peril.
As verse 6 indicates, crossing cannot happen without cross-examination – asking the tough questions. It is the responsibility of every parent to ask the confrontational question, “Why have you done so”? Regardless of your age or theirs, you are your child’s keeper, particularly if they sleep under your roof and are kept afloat by your financial boat. God leads by example when He cross-examined the first family:
- To Adam, “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:9, 11)
- To Eve, “What is this you have done?” (Genesis 3:13)
- To Cain, “Why are you angry? Why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? Where is Abel your brother? What have you done?” (Genesis 4:6-7, 9-10)
David’s high office, busy schedule, or current condition did not remove his responsibility to parent. His wealth, age or the fact that his son is an adult did not pardon his duty to cross Adonijah. David’s unwillingness to “cross” his children caused the rape of a daughter, murder of two sons, and a lifetime of heartache.
How about you, parent? Do you make it a practice to “cross” your children? Do you place yourself consistently in their path and remind them with your lifestyle, presence and questions that they answer to God through you?
No parent will be perfect in their parenting. I have made many parental mistakes and have, at times, given my children a poor example to follow. But, like them, I am a work in progress. So are you. And just because we didn’t do it right yesterday, doesn’t mean we don’t have the authority to try to do it right today. Don’t let your past failures as a parent, keep you from being successful in your attempts today. It’s never too late to practice active parenting. It may feel uncomfortable at first – but crossing them is a loving necessity.
Cross your children and ask the tough questions. It’s the clearest way to show them your love.
“For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12).
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7-11)