David Webb is worth more than a billion dollars, yet I’m pretty sure you don’t know who he is. Webb is also a calculating killer and rogue CIA agent whose every move has been documented in print and on film. You don’t know David Webb because you probably know him better as his alter ego: Jason Bourne.
And despite that fact that I’m still waiting for at least one installment to be named Jason Bourne Again, the Bourne series of books and films offers an illustration of what the Bible asks us to do with regard to sin. As David Webb was so completely indoctrinated by the CIA that he fully assumed the identity of Jason Bourne, so too are we to “put off [our] old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires . . . and to put on the new self” (Eph. 4:22 NIV). We ought to so fully identify with Christ that we choose to forget our former identity as a sin-sick person.
But what does this have to do with raising your kids?
The Problems Aren’t the Problem
The daily problems of parenting—I could list them, but even the Internet itself might not have enough room—aren’t the real problems of parenting. The real problem is what we each deal with as individuals: sin! We live in a fallen world that’s still in the process of being set right again. And we bring children into this world who are just as fallen as we are. (We’ve just had more time to cover up our fallenness.)
Paul calls us as Christians to put on “new selves” that are “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). When’s the last time you used the words “true righteousness and holiness” to describe your kids? Or even yourself? It’s a tall order, and one that can’t be achieved by any means other than God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ.
As part of that ongoing redemptive work in your life to help you shed the “old self” and put on the new, I believe God wants us to parent our children so that they too can join in God’s work. As God works on you, God works through you and on your children too. As you begin to see your children’s hearts change and veer more toward God’s ways than disobedience, you’ll witness the creation of new agents of redemption.
Raising Agents of Redemption
Redemption means to free someone as well as to turn the bad into good. By freeing us from our enslavement to sin, God will redeem his creation in time and make it “very good” once again. In fact, the mind-numbingly cool thing is that he invites us into that redemptive process. I love how N.T. Wright says it in Surprised by Hope:
The early church believed that God was going to do for the whole cosmos what he had done for Jesus at Easter. So [much] for the sitting on clouds playing harps [view of heaven], as people often imagine, [instead] the redeemed people of God in the new world will be the agents of his love going out in new ways to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of His love.
In other words, we don’t have to wait for heaven to be an agent of redemption. We can do that right now, and we can invite our children to be agents too.
Yet creating room for change will require change from you:
- Parent your child’s heart, not his or her behavior.
I once counseled parents who had tried every known punishment to “encourage” their academically unmotivated teenager to try better at school: no tablet, no video games, no cell phone. Nothing worked. Even worse, the teenager revealed to me that he felt as if his parents didn’t even love him (which they did, deeply).
I suggested to the parents that they spend positive time with their son. “Enjoy him for who he is, not for what he produces.” I requested that they begin speaking to him differently, with more respect for his growing freedoms as a teenager, while still relating God’s will for him to accomplish his academic work with excellence. Lastly, I asked that they work on showing and communicating their love for him regardless of the choices he made or the grades he brought home. In time, the son both realized and felt his parents’ unconditional love.
Parenting your children’s hearts and not their behavior reaches them on a relational level and leverages God’s principles—and not your emotions, reactions, disappointments, or unmet expectations—as the ultimate authority.
- Teach your child positional worth.
This family had to learn how to show love to their son regardless of his grades or even his motivation to better his grades. They needed a lesson in positional worth, which simply means loving a child because of his or her position as your son or daughter. Your children must understand that their worth and value in your eyes will never change due to their behavior. They need to know and feel such security with you.
- Teach your child to think outwardly, not inwardly.
Speak about and personally model what it means to serve others and sacrifice your own good for someone else. For instance, have your children occasionally use their own money to buy someone else’s lunch. Dive deeply into the Christmas spirit and use the family’s money you would have spent on yourselves to buy presents for a family in need. Help your child find a widow’s yard to mow or a soup kitchen at which to serve. With your child in tow and within earshot, talk to a homeless person as one human to another.
Our options for service and self-sacrifice are endless if only we’d open our eyes a little bit wider every day.
- Make holiness, not happiness, your parenting goal.
I wrote about this goal in “Stop Seeking Your Kids’ Happiness.” Essentially, true happiness is a byproduct of holiness. If you teach your child how to pursue holiness, they will receive happiness by default. However, enacting this approach seems counterintuitive: on certain occasions, purposefully disappoint your child so that entitlement doesn’t grow.
- Respect your child’s opinions, but don’t cave.
Don’t cater to your child’s emotions, reactions, or opinions. As the king or queen of your castle, don’t allow little tyrants to plot a coup. You rule the house. Stay strong and use Scripture as your authority. Always remember that you set the emotional tone for your household.
- Teach your child to own their mistakes.
Don’t take responsibility for your children’s mistakes. Allow them to clean up their own messes. The real world away from home has consequences for every action. It’s better that they learn that in a safe and controlled environment while you can still speak into their lives than when they’re out of your house and selective hearing takes over.
If you take these suggestions to heart and begin incorporating them into your parenting, your children will progress toward being image-bearers of Christ in their environment, and you will begin to see these unique characteristics of Agents of Redemption, as derived from Romans 12:9–21:
- They serve and put others first.
- They’re not idle, nor are they overly busy with personal pursuits.
- They’re hopeful.
- They pray daily.
- They bless those who persecute them.
- They practice empathy.
- They befriend the unlovable.
- They do not seek revenge.
As you parent with God’s ever-present help to co-create new Agents of Redemption, don’t forget to see where you’re changing too. Though we cast off the old self for the new just one time in our Christian lives, we’re far too prone to searching for that old self.
Let David Webb die. Realize who you are and who you want your children to be: born again.