April looked intently into the foggy mirror above the bathroom sink. She could not imagine how God could possibly love the person in that reflection. The replay button of her mind was stuck in the on position, constantly reminding her of failures as a wife, a mother, and a woman.
“If only I could begin again, things would be different,” she thought.
April had grown up in a family and a home most would envy. To accuse her mother and father of being poor parents would be a gross injustice. They were wonderful people who always had her best interest in mind.
April’s home, aside from the usual and meaningless family quarrels, had been peaceful. Yet, just beneath that peace was a subtle, underlying current of expectation that neither she nor her siblings could fulfill: Look right, talk right, and act right. Be the best you can be.
That could have been the family mantra, but it was never spoken in those terms. It came more in the form of condemnation, criticism, and complaint. Not every day, not all the time, but often enough. And usually at the very moment she most needed to hear words of comfort and blessing.
The canvas of your child’s heart
In Proverbs 18:21 we read, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” And, in James 3:10, “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”
The words of a parent are powerful, and with those words they either bless or curse. “I would never curse my children,” we say, but all of us have done it more often than we would like to admit. For example, to a child who steals, we might say, “You little thief,” or, to a child who tells a lie, “You little liar,” or, to the one who continues to make the same mistake, “Can’t you get anything right?” It is so important to separate identity in Christ from behavior. There are no idle words, and the ones that parents speak have power.
A parent is like an artist, and their child’s heart is their canvas. In one hand they hold the brush of love and responsibility and in the other a palette of colors. Some colors are bright and beautiful, with names like blessing, praise, and encouragement, while others are dark, with names like condemnation, criticism, and complaint.
With each stroke of the brush, they are used to paint an image on the canvas of their child’s heart that will stay with them for years. It is an image of who God is and who they are in relationship to him. It’s an image of worth, value, and destiny.
Words of blessing
As parents, we need to speak the blessings of God over our children. Words of condemnation create strongholds of self-judgment and guilt. Words of criticism destroy initiative and creativity, forming strongholds of failure. And complaining teaches children to magnify the problem, always looking for someone else to blame.
Who among parents has never condemned or criticized their child?
But, in April’s case, it was much more the norm than the exception, and it built within her a deep sense of inadequacy she carried into her marriage.
Here’s the good news for April and all the rest of us: God can paint a new image on the canvas of our hearts.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
And, in Matthew 13, we read that the Word of God is like a seed sown in the hearts of men and women and will, in time, produce fruit.
April turned to the Word of God for answers. There, she found a seed that could be planted in her heart: a seed of God’s unconditional love and grace.
That seed began to take root and grow, eventually producing fruit in her life. It was as though the fog on the mirror had cleared and she no longer saw herself according to the flesh but according to the spirit. In 2 Corinthians 5:16, Paul said, “Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.”
April stopped looking in the bathroom mirror and began to see a new reflection of herself in the mirror of God’s Word, where a new image began to form in her heart. Self-judgment and condemnation slowly faded as the knowledge of God’s unconditional love became clear. Not only did this revelation change her, but the resulting change in her attitude and countenance affected her husband and children as well.
Would an opportunity at a do-over really have changed anything?
Not at all. Only a change of heart could have altered the inevitable outcome of a self-image based on the flesh. And only the Word, the divine favor of God in our lives, has the power to change the heart.
Perhaps, like me, you’re remembering a time when you spoke something less than a blessing over your children and wish you could take back those words. If you are, remember what Paul said in Philippians 3:13: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead.”
Let’s not waste another minute judging or condemning ourselves for past mistakes and failures. There are no perfect parents, and we all make mistakes along the way.
Let’s continue on and remember that love never fails.
The Christian Parenting Prayer Journal
If we are going to raise the next generation of kids who honor the Lord and change our culture for his glory, we have got to refocus and re-strategize. Of all the hundreds of things we do each day for our kids, we have to believe that praying for them is the single most powerful and significant thing we can offer.
In an effort to resource you in doing this, we have written a prayer journal that I hope you will order. It is set up to have one main focus to pray over your kids each week of the school year, beginning in September. There’s a place to make notes on specific areas you’re praying about for your kids, as well as related Scripture to guide you in praying each week.
I believe that if Christian parents will band together and commit to faithfully prayer over their kids, we WILL see a difference.
Keep up the good fight in raising your kids and give yourself a break in the places where you haven’t gotten it completely right.