How do you parent a challenging or rebellious older child? Gain a fresh perspective in this encouraging article about trusting God with your parenting.
Featured post by Anne from The Fitly Spoken Word
“I’m going to write as unneatly as I can tomorrow!”
Accompanied by a scowl on the face, a pencil slammed on to the table, and arms crossed in defiance, these words were uttered fiercely by my 7-year-old son in response to our efforts to make him write neatly on his homework. This was no empty threat, either! I don’t think his teacher will ever forget the next day, when he followed through on his threat… and then some!
To one extent or another, every child rebels. It’s the human condition, a result of The Fall and subsequent curse on mankind. Some children, however, seem determined to learn everything – and I mean everything! – the hard way. And some children wear their rebellious spirit proudly on their sleeve, daring you to do something about it.
The Challenging Child
Samson was such a child. Born to Godly parents, he seemed determined to do the exact opposite of what he had been raised to do. I’m sure you know his story, but here are a few highlights (low-lights?) of his less-than-illustrious career as judge of Israel:
- married against his parent’s wishes
- reacted in violent rage when opposed
- murdered recklessly
- resorted to vigilante justice
- disregarded Jewish law by eating unclean honey
- abandoned his wife
- indulged his sexual appetite outside of marriage
- my personal favorite – called his wife a heifer (Really, Samson?!)
What makes this dismal summary of his life even more tragic is the prayer and sacrifice made by his parents on his behalf before he was even born. When his wife was informed by the angel of the Lord that a child would be born to them, Manoah was not content with mere information. He wanted instructions! He wanted to do right by this child, to make sure he was raised properly according to the will of God.
So Manoah sought the Lord himself in prayer, seeking an interview with the angel of the Lord that had brought his wife the news. When the interview was granted, he asked earnestly how best he could prepare his child for the mission God had planned for him. His wife was instructed not to eat or drink any fruit of the vine (grapes, wine, etc.) and to abstain from unclean meat. They were also instructed never to cut Samson’s hair.
As far as we know, based on the narrative, Manoah and his wife followed these instructions exactly and passed them on to Samson. What heartache they must have experienced when all their effort seemed to be in vain, as Samson was determined to live in defiance to the will of God and the wishes of his parents.
Let’s pause the story right here and put ourselves in the shoes of Samson’s parents.
Imagine that you have poured your heart, soul, and life into your child. You have prayed for them, dreamed for them, trained them, disciplined them, loved them, sacrificed for them, and given your very life for them. And yet their hearts continue to harden and turn against you. They deliberately choose to do the very things they know will hurt you the most, the things that you have specifically taught them not to do. They seem anxious to go as far away from God as possible, leaving you grief-stricken in their wake.
What does a parent do when all they have done seems to lie at their feet in dust? How should a parent respond when their best efforts are met with failure? Let’s leave the Old Testament world of Samson for a minute and glean some wisdom from the life of Christ. I’m sure you recall the famous story of Jesus walking on the water, freaking out his disciples by his ghostly appearance in the middle of a storm-tossed lake.
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That Peter, though! The minute he recognizes his beloved Lord and Savior, he recklessly jumps out of the boat, into the tossing waves, joining Jesus on top of the water. As the waves toss the boat around like so much driftwood, he and Jesus stand there, unmoved and unshaken.
Then Peter comes to himself and realizes where he is. He glances around at the scene enveloping him and is jolted by the reality of his situation. Immediately his feet began to sink below the surface of the water, pulling the rest of his body with him. “Save me, Jesus!”, is all he can do, all he can say.
As Jesus pulls him out of the water, he chides Peter. “Why did you doubt?” The implication is clear: as long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, trusting in Him, he didn’t sink. It was only when he began to look at the storm that his trust wavered and he could stand no longer.
The application for us is obvious: Keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t look at the storm. Look at your Savior.
As a parent, remember this: Your Father in Heaven, who created you, also created your child. He knew your child before you did. He created your child with a plan, a purpose that goes far beyond what you could ever imagine. He loves your child more than you ever possibly could. His Son was sacrificed for the soul of your child. Your child’s rebellion grieves his heart every bit as much as it grieves yours.
Keep your eyes on this loving Savior, and trust in His redeeming power that extends even to your child. Pray without ceasing, and never give up on your efforts to raise your child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Trust in the promises of Scripture, trust in the Word of God, trust in His faithfulness.
Let’s return to the story of Samson. It doesn’t seem like it has much of a happy ending: his life ends rather ungloriously as he, a prisoner with gouged-out eyes, pulls down the pillars of a heathen temple, killing himself and all gathered there. By this time, his parents were no longer living. One feels a little sadness for them, that they passed on to glory without ever seeing a change in their child.
But not so fast! Scripture leaves us two clues that Samson wasn’t completely as lost as it seems at first glance. The first clue is found in the manner of his death. Yes, he was a prisoner, captive because of his disobedience. Yes, his eyes were gouged out. And yes, he committed suicide. But in the middle of all that tragedy, Samson stops to pray.
What?! The self-seeking, self-pleasing, self-sufficient Samson takes a moment to pray? Yes, he does. It seems his situation had humbled him, as he acknowledges the sovereignty of God and credits Him as the source of his strength. And even though his hair had been cut against the will of God, God answers his prayer and strengthens him one last time.
The other clue to a change of heart in Samson is found in Hebrews 11, the so-called “Hall of Faith”, where the author of Hebrews lists heroes of the Bible who were famous for their faith in God. Can you believe that this rebellious Samson made the list? He is joined by several others that are praised because they “through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; they shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; their weakness was turned to strength; and they became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” That does sound rather like Samson, doesn’t it?
This passage tells me that Samson’s reckless and rebellious behavior wasn’t too much for the grace and mercy of God to overcome. It also tells me that even in his rebellion, God was using him. It also suggests to me that God chose some pretty strong, faith-grounded people to parent a child whose life would follow such a heart-breaking path to redemption.
So don’t lose heart, dear parent of a rebellious or challenging child! Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, and remember that He has your child in His heart.
– Anne, The Fitly Spoken Word
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