But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.
Most parents have a goodnight ritual with their children. We loved cuddling and sharing favorite children’s books like Goodnight Moon, Love You Forever, or Runaway Bunny. Many parents borrow lines from these books to express their love, telling their children, “I’ll love you forever!” We had a “Who loves you more?” game. Our kids had a stick-on solar system on their ceiling. When the lights went off it glowed in the dark. That glow-in-the-dark solar system helped our game! Our ritual after praying was to switch off the light and give them each a hug, and before we left the room it might sound like this:
Mom: Night-night. I love you!
Preschooler: Love you more.
Mom: I love you to our church.
Preschooler: I love you to Grandma’s house.
Mom: I love you to the end of the ocean.
Preschooler: I love you to the top of the mountain.
Mom: I love you to the moon.
Preschooler: I love you to the sun.
Mom: I love you to heaven where Jesus lives.
Preschooler: I love you to infinity!
Mom: You win! But I love you to infinity and back again!
Preschooler: You win too!
The game could never end until someone got to infinity—and back again. Over the years, some of the places we could “love you” to were unusual or exotic—or silly. But it got all our creative juices flowing. This also reinforced some knowledge of geography and science, but more importantly, our kids were convinced that we loved them and we would travel great distances to show them our love!
Do You Love Me Enough?
One of the other occasional tests of your love that is necessary, but not enjoyable, is discipline. In our home, the need for physical discipline was rare. However, for direct rebellion or (especially) to keep a child from danger, for a brief window of time in each of our children’s lives, we did use corporal punishment. (This was during those early years of preschool before they had reasoning or verbal skills that come later in preschool or kindergarten.) We detail all the strict guidelines, our basis for how and when we used this parenting tool, and the biblical guidelines for discipline of all modes in our book The 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make. Here we will share just a short, humorous story to make the point that discipline might not be fun for you—or your child—but it is sometimes very necessary and it has a good purpose if applied biblically.
We were visiting my brother, his wife, and their brand-new baby for Thanksgiving. They lived in a historic ranch house 13 miles down a dirt road and over an hour from the nearest city. Their heat source was a wood-burning stove. The stove sat on a brick hearth that was raised about three inches off the floor. It was easy to forget it was there and trip if you weren’t paying attention. We brought our two-year-old son, Brock, into the living room and clearly communicated the danger to him.
“Son, this stove is very, very hot. If you or anyone else touches it, they will get burned. See this brick? This is very easy to trip over. We do not want you to run anywhere in this living room because we don’t want you to get hurt. We don’t want you to accidently bump into Aunt Erin and the baby or anyone else, just in case they are close enough to get bumped into this stove. Is this clear, son?”
Brock nodded yes. So we did what we always did: We had him verbalize the rule so we could make sure he understood our directions.
“Brock, can you tell me what I just told you?”
“No running in the living room. The stove is hot and someone might get burned.”
“That’s right, honey.”
The morning went very well, but the closer we got to naptime the rowdier Brock became. He began running laps through the dining room, down the hall, and then through the living room.
We gave him one reminder and had him repeat the rule verbally to make sure he understood. But just seconds later he had continued the disobedient running. At that point, I picked him up and carried him into the bedroom. I got down at his level and said, “Brock, what did we say about running around the stove?”
“Don’t do it?”
“Yes, that’s right. Did you run?”
He immediately nodded yes and began to cry.
“Was it wrong to disobey Mommy and Daddy?”
He nodded and eked out a yes.
“What could have happened because you ran and disobeyed?”
“The baby could have been burned.”
“That’s right. And it would have been bad if that happened, right, son?” Brock nodded in the affirmative with big crocodile tears running down his cheek. “You could have been burned and really gotten hurt too. Mommy and Daddy don’t want you to get burned like that. God has placed us here as your mommy and daddy to protect you. To remind you how important it is that you listen and obey, Mommy is going to have to give you a spanking. Turn around.”
He complied and I gave him a little swat over his padded behind. I gave him a big hug and said, “Honey, I love you and I want to keep you safe. Let’s pray and ask God to help you obey, okay? I will pray first then you can talk to God and say anything you want.”
I prayed, and then Brock spoke up. “Jesus, I am sorry I ran and didn’t obey. Please help me obey. Thank you that baby Bekah didn’t get burned.”
Then I gave Brock a hug, and he smiled and said, “Thanks, Mom. I needed that spanking!”
Usually the thank-you for applying discipline comes much later—like when your kids have kids of their own! And years later, our son shared this same funny, “Thanks, I needed that” story during a speaking engagement with his father at a church worship service near the time of Brock’s high school graduation. Brock said, “One of the things I appreciate about the way I was raised is that my parents disciplined me. When they said no, they meant it. They disciplined me so I could learn self-discipline. I go to public high school and a majority of my classmates have not been able to accomplish their hopes and dreams because they lack the discipline it takes to reach their goals. But I was fortunate to have parents who cared enough to apply discipline so I learned to discipline my time, my priorities, and my life to achieve the dreams God placed on my heart.”
The question your toddler or your preschooler may or may not ask aloud (but they will be thinking!) is, “Mommy, Daddy, do you love me?” Having a plan for developing their character and their inner self-discipline is a powerful gift of love!
The Honor of Guarding Your Treasure
For most of you reading this book, being a watchman and your child’s hero is not a burden, but rather an honor. You may respond much like most of the men and women in uniform do when we thank them for their military service: “Thank you. It is an honor.”
It is an honor serving God and our children, because God has made them a treasure! God said to Israel, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7:6).
And there’s more! God extended this picture of you and your children being chosen and a priceless treasure to Him:
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction (1 Thessalonians 1:4-5).
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, 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).
Chosen for Greatness
Because you are God’s chosen treasure, you make the wise choice to stand watch over your life. Your children are God’s treasure, so your goal as a parent must be to guard your precious children and teach them how to stand guard over their own lives. In the teen years comes a changing of the guard. Eventually, you’ll have to hand the responsibility over to your teen or young adult to “own.” Your son or daughter will have to take full responsibility for his or her life and value himself or herself as God’s chosen treasure. You guard the treasure early on and train your children to learn day after day, heaping skill upon skill, so that one day they will stand guard over the treasure of their own lives, values, and beliefs.
So what is the essence of the treasure that is so valuable—the treasure that will set your son or daughter up for a lifetime of success in life and love? You are standing guard over the core values that need to be developed in your son or daughter that will help him or her make wise choices. And because of the focus of this book, these core values and your child’s ability to live them out will eventually bless their intimate life in marriage.
Remember, you will be teaching them there are two ways to live: You can do it the hard way or you can do it the smart way. If a child holds on to his or her core values as he or she develops, the teen years will be easier and you will have less drama and trauma. (Notice we said less rather than no drama and trauma! All teens have some.) And eventually, if your child grasps that he or she is a treasure, those core values will lead him or her to the wise relationship choices that will bring these verses to pass:
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
All those teachable moments, times of discipline, and even sexual education instruction will be aimed at developing the character that will carry your child forward to the abundant life God has waiting. One of our favorite quotations from a parent came from the chaplain of the Superbowl-winning Indianapolis Colts, Ken Johnson. He told his children, “May your character keep you where your talent can take you.”1 Your children have gifts, talents and skills—but character is what will keep excellent opportunities coming their way.
In this world we all can easily name hundreds of talented, powerful, successful, capable leaders in sports, business, politics, and even the church who didn’t watch over their inner character or sexual decisions…and their errors splashed the tabloid headlines. You probably remember…
• the homosexual affair of megachurch pastor and then-President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard
• the “sexting” of newlywed Senator Anthony Weiner, betraying the trust of his pregnant wife and his constituents
• the disgrace of the Oval Office by President Clinton, who had oral sex with intern Monica Lewinsky
• the affair of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who voted for the impeachment of Clinton following the Lewinsky scandal, declaring Clinton’s behavior to be “reprehensible,” yet, within a few years, abandoned his wife and children for a secret love affair with a woman from Argentina
• Kim Kardashian’s extremely short 72-day marriage and subsequent one year (and counting) divorce proceeding
• the domestic violence of music icon Chris Brown toward girlfriend Rihanna
• Whitney Houston’s on-again, off-again relationship with Bobby Brown. Whitney, a proclaimed Christian, struggled with drug addictions which ultimately led to her death in a hotel bathroom.
• golf legend Tiger Woods cheating with multiple mistresses, including waitresses, models, and porn stars
• basketball star Shawn Kemp fathering seven children out of wedlock
• General David Petraeus’s resignation as director of the CIA due to an affair
• Coach Jerry Sandusky’s conviction for multiple counts of child sexual abuse
• Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fathering a child with his housekeeper
• Presidential candidate John Edwards cheating on his wife, Elizabeth, as she was dying of cancer
Sin leaves a wake of destroyed relationships, destroyed lives, and destroyed opportunities. Each one of these cases could have been avoided had those involved shown a little more character. If all these people had just listened to that inner compass that God places inside each person at creation, their personal lives would not be in shambles and their public reputations would have remained intact.
But for the Grace of God
If we think it can only happen to “those people,” look in the mirror. We are all born with a sin nature:
There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12).
But God has placed a conscience in us. We have the choice each day to listen—or not. Much like a shortwave radio can receive incoming dispatches from the police and emergency services, our heart is set to receive direction from God. He created our ears to hear and our heart to respond to his light: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Character tunes us into God’s voice, and our goal is to have our kids echo this sentiment as their own: “I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).
We each have the ability to hear from God, but in our world, many have simply decided to turn off their receiver. Our goal as parents is to train our kids to keep their “God receiver” on and tuned in to His frequency for living life. When our children are young, we help pattern their hearts to choose goodness, righteousness, and wisdom automatically. Our goal is to help them get into a habit of obeying us and God without question. Then as they get older, we help them learn how to apply God’s Word and link it to their own thinking, logic, and long-range planning to design a life to look forward to living. We want them to elect to live the obedient life, surrendered to God for themselves. Our goal is to complete the baton handoff:
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! (Psalm 22:30-31).
Teach Them to MIND You and MIND God
How do you instill obedience in your children? When you boil down this complex act, four strands form the cord of obedience to authority:
Model a legitimate authority
Instruct, clearly expecting obedience
Develop a relationship
All four of these traits will help your child learn to desire obedience—but it takes all of them.
Model a Legitimate Authority
It is vital to model being a legitimate authority because you are your child’s conduit to God. If your child can’t obey you, how will he or she ever learn to follow God? You are their link, their instructor, their mentor and model. Your own integrity matters. It is confusing for children at any age to witness a parent’s lack of judgment or bad behavior.
Bill and I know this firsthand. I (Pam) never knew when to obey my dad because a large majority of time he was drunk. See how my vision of God the Father was blurred at an early age? I (Bill) had a similar dilemma as my mother struggled with mental illness but refused help. She vacillated between anger, depression, paranoia, and complete withdrawal from life. She was supposed to be my model for trusting authority, but she was not very trustworthy. Your first step in helping your child obey you is to ask, “How well am I obeying God?”
Is there a habit He has asked you to stop? A behavior He has wanted you to seek help for? Your daily desire to please your main authority, God, will be the biggest influence on your child’s ability to do the same.
Instruct, Clearly Expecting Obedience
Your child cannot obey an instruction he or she doesn’t understand. Give instructions on any task clearly.
This ensures your child clearly understands what you are instructing him or her to do. This method can be used for the simplest tasks: putting toys away, making a bed, getting dressed, and hanging up clothes. The tasks will get increasingly complex as your child grows older, but the method will remain the same.
You can’t reason with a two-year-old. So early on, you will have to impose discipline. For example, at fourteen months our oldest kept climbing on top of a glass end table—and jumping! I (Pam) wanted to avoid the catastrophe of broken glass, cuts, and bleeding so I would take him down and tell him, “No!”
Then I would place him away from the table in a toddler chair, and distract him with a different toy. I had to do this over and over and over. Each time, I would accompany the move with a stern “No!” Then I moved the chair further and further from the tempting table until he was in another room! But he did learn!
As your children get a little older they’ll be asking, pleading, cajoling, and begging you for some activity, toy, or special privilege. We encourage you to mean “No!” when you say “No!” Don’t let their whining, complaining, emotional outbursts wear you down. “No!” needs to mean “No!”
Dr. Tim Elmore explains the benefits of the word no in his book Artificial Maturity:
• Hearing the word “no” actually may force me toward a better alternative.
• Hearing the word “no” may save me from harm that I am prone to inflict on myself if I get my own way all the time.
• Hearing the word “no” actually prepares me for the real world, which often uses this word.
• Hearing the word “no” may build discipline inside of me that I would never develop if I simply heard the word “yes.”
• Hearing the word “no” fosters creativity inside of me, as I must look for other solutions than the easy one I came up with the first time.2
No might bring tears today, but may save tears tomorrow.
Develop a Relationship
The most important ingredient in all this is your relationship with your child. The closer your child feels to you, the more he or she will want to please you. The stories you read, the time spent playing dress-up, playing with dolls or trucks, the family picnics, campouts, vacations, the bedtime prayers, the laughing around the dinner table, attending church as a family—all these things and more create an environment of trust. If your child feels you love her, then she will trust what you say more. He or she will know you have their best interests in mind, even if the choice is a difficult one for them to follow.
This bond will be attacked from the outside by society and from the inside by your own teen as he or she matures and wants to take ownership of his or her life. Eventually, if you do your part well and release them at natural intervals, your teen will make wise choices and take ownership and responsibility for his or her life. Your close bond will not just survive but become a lifelong, cherished relationship between you and your child.
Answers to Have Ready
In our own family, we cultivated this relationship bond and instilled a desire to obey in two ways: formally and informally.
Formal: In our book The 10 Best Decisions a Parent Can Make, we detail our parenting philosophy, tools and methods, so we won’t share all the details here. We will, however, share the core tradition that became the foundation of our family, building a strong home and strong leaders at each stage of their lives growing up. Today, those sons are strong adult leaders and followers of Jesus. We call this core tradition Learner and Leader Day.
When Brock was a baby and we were in youth ministry, we looked around at the kids who were doing well in the youth group and noted they had certain character qualities, leadership traits, and life skills. The long list seemed to fall into three main categories:
First, they loved God. We wanted our own children to develop their own relationship with Jesus.
Second, they loved to learn. We wanted our children to have teachable attitudes.
Finally, they were leaders. We wanted our children to lead within their own personality styles and find their passion in life.
We decided the best way to instill character in our children was to have a fun family day—a Learner and Leader Day! On a Learner and Leader Day we would give new responsibilities and privileges to each child for the coming year, ask them to focus on a certain leadership trait, and present them with a gift and blessing to applaud God’s strength and calling in their lives.
We have a set of criteria in choosing the gift:
• It must be practical, something I might have to buy anyway.
• It must be personal. The child should be able to tell I thought about the gift.
• It must be prophetic, meaning that it speaks the truth about the uniqueness, the calling, or the strength we see God building into each child.
On the Learner and Leader contract we also detailed the consequences for not keeping the contract. In their tween years, the children began to set their own consequences, thus owning their own lives. When they hit their teen years a set of new “contract” traditions are added, which we will talk about in future chapters.
Informal: We always shared a fun family day on Learner and Leader Day. It could be anything from a simple and inexpensive day at the beach or a picnic at the lake to something we had saved for, like a day at an amusement park. The day had to contain two components: fun as a family and individual one-on-one time with each child so we could talk through the coming year, share the key leadership trait we would be focusing on, and negotiate the privileges and responsibility chart. Then we gave each child a gift and a prayer.
We want our children to elect to live the obedient life, surrendered to God for themselves. Our goal is to complete the baton handoff:
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it! (Psalm 22:30-31).
Parent to Parent
Speaking of obedience, adults also have to look at themselves in the mirror and answer the question, “Have I obeyed God in this area of sexuality?”
Let’s first look at why so many people have not chosen it for themselves (perhaps you might also fall into this category). For those who have not elected to remain pure before marriage, it could be because they lacked…
They do not know premarital sex is wrong. They missed hearing the biblical truths and God’s view on the topic of sex. Tell them all that you know about God’s view, buy them their own copy of this book, take them to seminars on the topic, give them radio ministry programs, podcasts or audio resources to inform them; invite them to your church, offer to do a Bible study. Give them website links, videos, or other media to connect them to more and more of God’s truth. As you help them fill in the blanks, these parents are often very excited to give their children better opportunities to live out God’s plan for their lives.
Some people were so desperate for love that they gave in to temptation, hoping it would give them that love they craved. Often these people came from homes filled with pain, chaos, confusion, and dysfunction. They may have baggage to unpack, and professional counseling ministries like Celebrate Recovery or small group Bible studies dealing with overcoming your past are all helpful tools. Those seeking to gain victory over their desperate need for love need to trade in false expressions of love for true expressions of God’s love. Often these people are filled with shame or guilt because deep down they knew sex was a compromise…and they came out on the short end of the deal.
You may want to share verses with these people about God’s forgiveness, redemption, and ability to renew a life through His gift of salvation. Ask these people to make the choice to accept His offer of mercy and forgiveness. This means confessing their sin and simply acknowledging that their premarital sex was a sin, but one that God will forgive if they will come to Him. These parents are often very motivated to save their own children some of the pain they experienced and will help them avoid carrying their sin on to the next generation.
These people can be the hardest to share your convictions with. They defend their right to have premarital sex and, even if they are parents now, if single, they may still be actively rebelling against God’s plan for love. They might accuse you of being old-fashioned, out of touch, or a prude. Look beyond their name-calling to their path. You now know what is ahead for them if they are still sexually active outside marriage, and you know what is ahead for their children if they maintain their casual view toward sex.
Try to withhold judgment toward these parents and share with them information on why you have made your choices and decisions about parenting. Unfold God’s view in small bits, as they are willing to listen. If they’re willing, build a relationship with these families and offer to connect their children to wholesome activities. As they see the difference in your life and your family, their misconceptions may fall by the wayside and they will become open to hearing more about God’s plan for themselves and their children. When these parents do have a paradigm shift, they are often able to harness all their rebellious energy toward the passions of God’s heart.
Some people just gave up. They might have known and believed sex before marriage was not God’s plan for their lives. They might not have been rebellious and may even have been someone others would have been surprised to know engaged in premarital sex. They might have simply let down their guard, little by little, slowly. Perhaps they gave away their virginity in a long-term dating relationship or during engagement. They might have felt alone in their convictions to hold on to their purity, perhaps even ridiculed for their virginity, so eventually they just compromised their beliefs. Some people just wave the white flag and give up! These parents usually need help forgiving themselves, and then help believing it can be different for their children. By offering these parents tangible hope and help and connecting their children to opportunities for spiritual growth and healthy church or parent-led sex education, their children can find a different path from their parents’.
What you might notice missing here is the loss of virginity through rape or sexual abuse. In these cases, we believe God sees the victim not as someone who gave away her gift, but rather someone from whom it was robbed or stolen. Later in the book we will deal more with these cases and how to handle them but, for now, if this is your story, trust that God sees your pain and He holds the perpetrator accountable for the loss, not you. (See Deuteronomy 22:25-27. God gave rapists the death penalty and the victim was freed to move forward with her life with her family’s help.)
As your children grow, you will need to be able to defend a biblical view of abstinence until marriage. It might help to start with the myriad of reasons people have not elected to choose God’s best in their lives. Some of the above reasons should elicit a feeling of compassion—even for the most rebellious and selfish. Try to remember that these people are not the enemy. Satan is the enemy, and he has them trapped in sin. As the apostle Paul puts it, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). You will be more effective in persuading others, including your own children, if you keep the truth about the real enemy in mind.
Answers for Your Heart
Remember to grab your own journal and pray through your own past and feelings about it. Then you will be better able to talk with other parents and your own children. In your journal write the answers to these questions:
• God, the reason I did or didn’t choose to remain pure before marriage was:
• My biggest fear for my own child is:
• My biggest fear about talking to others about my beliefs and values in this area of sexuality is:
The book of 1 John teaches much on love. Set aside time to read the entire five-chapter book, noting these verses in particular:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:15-19).
In your journal, write down any other verses that were encouraging to your heart and life.