Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Childlikeness (Reflections on Parenting)

TITLE: Childlikeness (Reflections on Parenting)
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 4 Aug 2010
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” (Isa 11:6)
People were also bringing babies to Jesus to have him touch them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:15-17)
Main Idea: Disciples of Jesus will need to become more childlike as they grow. Parents of children will need to become more teachable as their children grow. Like it or not, we will be led by a child.

(Photo Credit: Anglican.org)
Adults teach children many things. They teach little toddlers how to crawl and make their first step. They then teach adolescents to mind their table manners. They teach them how to dress up when they enter elementary school. It seems like the older they become, the lesser adults can teach them. My wise Professor at Regent-College, Dr James Houston once talked about the different ages the Church has gone through in its 2000 years of history. In the first century, it was the Age of the Martyrs, where the persecuted Church endured lots of hardship especially under Roman rule. Then comes the Age of the Monk in the Middle Ages, followed by the Age of the Soldier of Christ under the Crusades. Of this present age, Houston calls it: “The Age of the Child.” It is a call back to childlikeness in an age that prides itself as mature, advanced and developed.

A) Past: A Treasury of Stories and Wisdom
Houston has accurately identified what the Church in this modern era needs: Childlikeness. While one can argue that Jesus’ calling us to become like a child to enter the kingdom of God is applicable to all ages, I think it is particularly relevant for us because we have the benefit of learning from history. From all the successes and failures of our predecessors, we have a treasury of testimonies, stories, and learning moments stored up for us. Even hymns and songs do not appear out of a vacuum. The hymn “Amazing Grace” was written by a slave trader (John Newton), who was totally oblivious to God, until he was saved from a dangerous storm, which he attributed to God’s grace. I remember how Johnny Mathis’ rendition of “When a Child is Born” represents a symbol of hope especially during Christmas time.
A ray of hope flickers in the sky
A tiny star lights up way up high
All across the land dawns a brand new morn
This comes to pass when a child is born
Hope here is embodied in a child. TS Elliot has mentioned that the spiritual life tends to work differently when compared to the physical life. Physically, we may grow taller, some fatter, but all older. Spiritually, we discover the importance of frequently returning to first principles, especially when we encounter problems in life. Elliot writes in his poem, the Four Quartets:
“And the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way back.” 
Sometimes I wonder why God did not send Jesus to earth like a spiritual adult Rambo to destroy our enemies, or a white beard stroking Gandalf like Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ to rid the world of evil. Instead, Jesus comes to earth as a helpless baby.

A little child shall lead them,” prophesied Isaiah.

B) Examples of Child Leading Adults
Will we let a little child lead us? The idea of little children leading adults has been used in many movies. One of them is the second installment of the hit series, “Aliens.” In it, the heroine Ripley mothers and protects a little girl called Newt. In one scene, the brave Ripley and a group of commanders were trapped in a room surrounded by the despicable alien creatures. Just when all seem hopeless, Newt motions Ripley to escape through a little hatch and manages to flee away. Ripley scampers to safety, thanks to a little child.

I have also encountered moments when my children become my teachers. At one time, it was a new short cut through the park that I do not know of. It shaves off a few minutes of walking time. If I had been stubborn, I would have missed out on this route. Little children can lead, if only we let them.

In technology, I find myself increasingly dependent on my kids to tell me what the most fun thing on the Internet is these days. As I grow older each year, my kids increasingly become my teachers. This is only possible if we humbly learn from them. Here lies the paradox of life. When they were younger, we teach them. When they become teens, we guide them. Eventually, they lead and teach us.

C) Thinking about Parenting (CIA)
As I reflect upon parenting methods, I find myself understanding parenting in terms of three phases. (Note that these phases represent a guide, not an absolute formula for parenting). The first phase is CONTROL. We expect our children to obey instructions, to comply to set rules and regulations within the house. Non-conformance leads to punishment. Take fighting among the siblings. Like most children, my kids sometimes quarrel and fight over things. Despite our warnings, our kids still fight among themselves. The consequence is simple. Regardless of who is at fault, any kind of fighting will result in punishment for all.

The second phase is that of INFLUENCE. As kids grow older, they are not easily controlled. They start to have a mind of their own. They make decisions based on their own thinking and understanding. The parents can only watch, influence and pray. The decision to act or not to act is not a simple command but a request; not a straight-forward instruction but persuasive pleadings. Sometimes, this may even be our only strategy. In the book on how adults can relate to teens, “How to Hug a Porcupine,” Julie A Ross equates influence with relationships. Ross suggests that as children grows into teens, parents need to move from control to a relationship mode. She writes:
All too often, parents spend the middle school years doing the opposite: trying to wrest control out of their children’s hands, hoping to stop time so that they can continue to relate to their child as they did during the elementary school years. This is a mistake. For one thing, control is an illusion. We can no more control our children than we can control the movements of the planets. For another, our children will develop with or without us. Choosing to learn the techniques, do the work, and brave the sometimes stormy seas of a relationship approach will help ensure that we walk with our children on their life’s journey rather than getting left behind.” (Julie A Ross, How to Hug a Porcupine, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2008, p199-200)
Ross talks about building up a relationship with children as they grow. I like to add one more phase that parents can do: Appreciating them. The third phase of parenting is APPRECIATION.

When teens grow into young adulthood, they are no longer asking about what we want them to do. They are asking for affirmation rather than authority; acknowledgment more than affluence; and appreciation over apprehension. The road to appreciation starts from a humble desire to love. Only love can help one to let go and let God. Lawrence Kelemen shares a piece of Jewish wisdom when he compares animals with children. He notices that newborn animals seem to be more physically ready compared to new born humans. While animals like kittens can walk fairly quickly, it takes little babies almost a year before they can make their first walk. Why didn’t the baby prepare its walking skills inside the womb during the 9 months gestation period? Kelemen concludes the following:
“. . we are meant to love, and we leave the womb early only to train for this assignment. ” (Lawrence Kelemen, To Kindle a Soul, MI: Targum Press, 2001, p102)
Wow! The training of a child to love begins immediately after birth. Love gives the child the encouragement to crawl and to take its first steps. Love via control protects the child from falling off the crib or the high chair. Love via influence prompts the teenager to reflect and to consider both advantages and disadvantages of each action. Love via appreciation shows the growing child that no matter what happens, parents will always love the child. In the process, bringing up children is a curriculum for parents learn to love, and to teach them how to love.

D) Concluding Thoughts
In CONTROL, we learn from our kids what it means to be responsible to protect our little ones. We do not need to be a parent to protect. If we deal with little kids in any way, we have a responsibility to take care of them. In INFLUENCE, we learn what it means to humbly depend on God for an opportunity to guide our children. We will realize that there are many things outside our control. We learn to trust that it is in God's hands. In APPRECIATION, we learn to cultivate and enhance the meaning of life: The way of love.

CIA Parenting Styles Vary With Children's Age (SabbathWalk)

If you are a new parent or have to deal with little kids in your life, do not hesitate to exercise firmness and control to protect the child. If you parent or minister to teenagers, remember that influence is far more important than command and conquer. If you have young adults, encourage them with constant appreciation. We are all made to love. As we practice the C.I.A (Control – Influence – Appreciation) of parenting, we will teach our children what love is, and learn from our children to know what it means to be led by them. The curriculum of love is for both adults and children, and it works both ways. For all of us, there is One that we all need to learn from and hope for: Jesus.
"And all of this happens because the world is waiting,
Waiting for one child
Black, white, yellow, no-one knows
But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter,
Hate to love, war to peace and everyone to everyone's neighbour
And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten, forever." (Fred Jay)
A little child will lead us.

Thought: “Children have no past. For them there are no ‘good old days’; there are only good new days.” (Mike Mason)


sabbathwalk


Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries.

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