Real Life: Parenting


Proverbs 22


Have you ever noticed that the gauges, and sometimes the speedometer, on your dashboard have zones that are colored in red or orange? The clear, uncolored zones are normal operating pressures and temperatures, stuff like that. But if the needle goes into one of the marked zones, the red zone, above (or below) the red line, something is wrong. Your engine is too hot. Your transmission is too hot. Your battery isn’t good. You don’t have enough oil pressure. They’re a guide for keeping things in the normal zone. In terms of speed and rpms, it means “You’re going too fast, or you’re at least TRYING to go too fast.


Aircraft manufacturers use the same concept. There’s a very important letter that every pilot-in-training needs to learn about – the letter V, short for velocity. V-speeds come from aircraft designers and manufacturers during flight testing. Heeding the limits of V-speeds allows the aircraft to be operated at peak safety and efficiency. The FAA has designated at least 35 different V-speeds. All of them are important, but there are six that every pilot must master.


For example, according to the FAA manual, VR is the speed required to get a plane airborne in a reliable, predictable fashion. VS refers to the plane’s stalling speed. One knot higher and you’re flying. One knot lower and you aren’t flying. VA is often called the plane’s “design maneuvering speed.” Given rough flying conditions, exceeding the VA speed can cause structural damage to the plane. It essentially implies a warning: slow down, or cool it. VNO is self-explanatory. It’s literally V-NO! It corresponds to the upper limit of the plane’s airspeed in smooth air conditions.


Finally, there’s the velocity classification known as VNE, which essentially stands for “Never,” as in, “Don’t even think of going there!” VNE is the absolute, never-to-be-exceeded limit for your aircraft. A July 2012 article in Flight Training magazine explained why you should never break the limits of VNE:


The manufacturer, its engineering staff, and the test pilots who brought the airplane to market are all in agreement: You should never attempt to fly your airplane faster than VNE for any reason. Even the color code – a red line on the airspeed indicator – says stop. So take their word for it.[i]


Pilots are taught to pay attention to and heed those numbers. They represent the safe operational limits of their aircraft. Wise pilots heed those limits. Foolish ones don’t, and become test pilots. Wise drivers pay attention to the limits of their vehicles. Foolish ones don’t.


The book of Proverbs persistently confronts us with the truth, the reality that there are two ways of living in this world – the wise way and the foolish way. That’s it. There aren’t any other ways. There is wise living, which is defined as living in light of and according to the truth and precepts of God. Proverbs 1:7 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” And Proverbs 9:10 says “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Wisdom, wise living, begins with a relationship with God. Everything else is lumped into the foolish way, foolish living.


The problem is that we as human beings have an innate bent for foolish living. Is there anyone here who has never, over the course of their entire lives, never ever done something stupid? On purpose? Is there anyone here who hasn’t, at some point, ignored life’s redline, life’s VNE, velocity-never, and gone beyond it? Proverbs 14:12 says “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” Quite often, things that seem right to me, smart to me, really aren’t. There is a path through life that seems like a good path to us as human beings, but in truth it’s foolishness, because while it flows WITH the prevailing winds of culture, it goes AGAINST the truth of God. Wise living begins with the acknowledgement that there is a God and desires a relationship with God. Foolishness, what the rest of the Bible calls sin, begins with the assumption that God either doesn’t exist, or doesn’t matter, or doesn’t care what I do, how I live. And our default, as human beings, is the foolish path. We have to make an effort, do something, to get on the wise path. To live wisely, we have to change, we have to go against our default settings. And that is why the collectors of the Proverbs put so much emphasis on parenting. Turn in your Bibles to Proverbs 22:6.


Now, before we go any farther, there’s something we need to understand about this verse. This is a proverb, NOT a promise. This proverb does NOT guarantee that if you raise your children well, their lives will always turn out well. We can all think of examples of kids who were raised poorly who turned out incredibly well, and kids who were raised quite well by their parents who messed their lives up. And I’ve seen parent after parent of teenagers and even adults who beat themselves up using this verse. “My kids are making poor choices. They aren’t on the right path, and the Bible says it’s my fault.” No, the Bible doesn’t say that. No ancient Israelite, who revered the Word of God as inerrant and perfect, would have read this Proverb in that way, because they knew it was a proverb. Proverbs aren’t promises. They are sayings that instill a bit of wise living in a brief format, but they don’t apply to every situation. And ancient Israelites understood this common genre and how it was to be applied. Live this way, but don’t beat yourself up if things don’t quite work out this way. What proverbs do say is, “All things being equal, this is how things will tend to go.” You stand a much better chance of having godly adult kids if you raise them in a godly way.


But things do happen. There are other influences in our kids’ lives, aren’t there. They might get in with a bad crowd, with others who are a bad influence on them. They might go through some tough things in life that you could never in a million years have anticipated. And when serious trauma is involved, physical and sexual and emotional abuse, all bets are off. The best parents in the world will struggle with their kids after they’ve experienced trauma. Life happens, stuff happens, and the Bible is absolutely clear that each person is ultimately responsible for his or her decisions, even those made under a bad or negative influence. There is no such thing as a perfect parent. We all need grace. That’s why I became a therapist. To help you undo some of the things your parents mistakenly did to you. And my kids will need a therapist to help them undo some of the things I have mistakenly done to them. It’s the circle of life.


This Proverb isn’t a promise, but it IS a source of hope. It isn’t GUARANTEEING that godly parenting leads to kids who become godly, responsible adults. But it IS saying that good parenting is wise, that God has created the institution of parenthood to get kids off on the right foot as much as is possible, and that God has expectations for parents. So what IS this proverb saying?


The first is simply that kids need to be taught, to be trained. They need guidance. Our natural bent, as human beings, from birth, is to take the foolish path, to live contrary to the will of God. Kids need guidance to stay safe and live well physically, and emotionally, and spiritually, and all of that begins not with church or school but at home. The journey to responsible, godly adulthood begins before birth. There is a parenting style called laissez-faire parenting in which the parents take a kind of hands off approach to raising their kids. The thinking behind it is that kids would do just fine if they were allowed to express themselves in whatever way they wished. They offer little guidance and don’t set limits. They also don’t help the child learn to solve problems. When that happens, kids don’t learn to regulate their emotions and they don’t learn how to get along with other people, which requires physical and emotional regulation, sometimes setting aside your own wishes to keep the peace and maintain friendship. Kids NEED training, and then guidance, and then coaching.


The verb “train up” here carries with it the concept of dedication and purpose. Training up is something godly parents are to dedicate themselves to with purpose. They are intentional about it. They parent on and with purpose. Sounds good, doesn’t it. But we all know that parenting often FEELS like you’re flying by the seat of your pants. There is no linear, one-size-fits-all (or even most) approach. That’s why it’s so absolutely critical to parent your kids as a growing disciple of Jesus yourself. To allow your discipleship in Christ to transform the way you parent your kids. Parenting is difficult. I’ve often said it’s the hardest thing those who do it will ever do. It’s also critically important and serious business.


And we are to train them “in the WAY they should go.” Every child has a way, a personality. Healthy, effective, godly parenting recognizes the individuality and giftedness of each child and nurtures that “way.” One size really doesn’t fit all, even within the same family. Zeke, when he was with us, needed to be parented very differently than Aubrey and Sterling did. He was so incredibly sensitive and had a bent toward shame. If he even suspected that he had disappointed us in some way, he just melted in a puddle of self-deprecating shame. If we even looked at him cross-eyed, he’d dissolve in a puddle of tears. Eli, in  his own way, is kind of similar, but for different reasons. Does that mean we don’t punish Eli, or didn’t punish Zeke? Of course not. But it does mean we were and are VERY cautious about the tone we took with them both. And we’re very aware of the trauma our kids have been through and how it has changed them. Far from the old adage that kids are resilient and bounce back, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that Eli’s loss of Zeke and experiencing so much instability in our family, seeing his parents, who are supposed to keep him safe, completely fall apart in terror, completely rewired his developing brain. He went from being a toddler who believed that “No” meant “try harder” to being an incredibly cautious, often afraid child. And we have to be aware of that. To ignore it would be ungodly and irresponsible.


We are also to train them in the way they SHOULD go. There is a standard for life. There is a right way, a wise way, a godly way. And there is a wrong way, a foolish way, an ungodly way. And our job as parents is to show them the right way.


Kids NEED to be trained. To be parented by engaged and aware parents who do their best to parent on purpose and with purpose. Why? Look down at Proverbs 22:15. Our foolishness, our sinfulness, is a part of us at birth. It is “bound up in” our hearts. And if we aren’t shown a different path, we’ll never know that a different path, a wise path, a godly path, even exists. And because folly, foolishness, is bound up in our hearts, we need discipline. We need to discipline our children. We’ll be talking more about discipline as it pertains to ALL of us the next time I preach. And it’s interesting that the root of the word discipline is “disciple.” But for now, let’s just talk about the discipline of children. “the rod of discipline drives it (folly) far from him.”


The word discipline and the ancient concept of the “rod,” which refers to a shepherd’s rod, as in “Your rod and your staff they comfort me” from Psalm 23, contains within it the concept of instruction first. You cannot, should not, and must not punish a child for messing up in an area in which they haven’t been instructed. If you haven’t first taught them to share in a positive way, you have no business punishing them when they don’t share. Punishment isn’t a catch-all for lazy parenting! In fact, neither the word discipline nor the word rod require the punishment to be physical. They also don’t rule it out. This proverb and a few more like it have often been brought into the “to spank or not to spank” debate. Truth is, they neither prohibit spanking nor require it. They simply indicate that it is wise parents’ responsibility to properly instruct their children and then provide appropriate means to make sure they learn that going against their instruction has consequences. This I can promise you, no where does the Bible promote any kind of unnecessary, inappropriate, or excessive use of physical punishment. And a good correction is actually a form of instruction.


Now, has anyone here ever had a bad day and treated someone else poorly? Anyone here ever been grumpy? Sad? Upset? Angry? Frustrated? You have, right? We all have? Why do we expect our kids not to experience these things and punish them when they do, instead of teaching them to identify and appropriately express their emotions with healthy boundaries?


Dorothy Law Nolte wrote these words as a poem about raising children:


If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight.

If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy.

If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient.

If a child lives with encouragement, he learns confidence.

If a child lives with praise, he learns to appreciate.

If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice.

If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith.

If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he learns to find love in the world.


None of that says that children don’t need to be instructed, trained, corrected, and punished. However, instruction, training, correction, and punishment should be done and they must be done intentionally and with fairness.


There’s a meme out there on social media right now that says: “Religion says, I messed up. My dad is gonna kill me. The Gospel says, I messed up. I need to call my dad.” I hope and pray that I’ve raised my kids to come to me when life gets tough, not to be afraid of what I might say or do. And I can promise you I haven’t done that perfectly. But ultimately I hope, and pray, that when they mess up, they’ll come to me, not run from me. And I pray that this has instilled in them a desire, maybe even a reflex, to run into the arms of their heavenly father when they mess up too, for one leads to the other. Let us pray.


[i] Robert Robinson, Macon, Georgia; source: Jamie Beckett, “V Is for Velocity,” Flight Training (July, 2012)