Today my parents and brothers and sisters and brothers-in-law and nieces and nephews are gathering in a little house in Chattanooga. Forty years ago today, the third of June of 1972, was a double celebration for my parents: my father marked his twenty-third birthday and he married my mother. Both had been born and raised in Quebec, one of the most unchurched areas in all of North America, yet against all odds both had recently encountered the gospel and been saved. Fresh out of university, they began life together. Andrew, my older brother, came into the world almost a year after they were married, and he was soon followed by me and then by three girls. By the time my parents celebrated their fifteenth anniversary, they had five children.
Today four of those children have settled in Atlanta or Chattanooga or somewhere between, while one, this one, remains in Canada. Four children are married and between us we have been blessed with children of our own—twelve grandchildren for my parents (with one of my sisters having recently announced that number thirteen is on the way). The Lord has been so kind to my family.
As I ponder forty years of marriage, more than thirty-six of which I witnessed either up-close or from some distance, I find myself wondering this: How do you measure success as parents? What is a fair and realistic measure? Is it subjective, based on thoughts and feelings and impressions? Is it objective, based on numbers and statistics and dollar figures? I don’t know. What I do know is that the Bible provides a simple and overarching command to every parent: raise your children in the discipline and the instruction of the Lord. According to that measure my parents experienced an abundance of the Lord’s grace and were successful. Today each one of the five children professes faith in Christ and each one is living as if that profession is genuine.
Yesterday I sat for some time and pondered their success. I looked to my own life and my own parenting to see what lessons I’ve drawn from my parents and applied to my own family. There are four that stood out.
Be Willing to Talk About Anything. To my parents no topic was off-bounds. We could ask anything and were never led to feel embarrassed or ashamed for our questions, whether they were sexual or theological or biological or any other –ical. Every evening we ate dinner together, read the Bible and prayed together, and talked together about whatever it was that we wanted to know. Those were sweet and unforgettable times where we simply learned about life in this world.
You Do Not Parent At Your Convenience. Since becoming a father I’ve quickly seen that children are often most vulnerable late at night. This is when they have questions, when they are feeling insecure, when they want answers to big questions. My parents were always willing to discuss things with us, even if it was late and they were tired, and I learned that parents need to be willing to parent at all times rather than only at their convenience. If you parent only when it is convenient to you, you will inevitably miss out on some great opportunities to bless your children.
Let Your Children See Sin’s Consequences. Though my parents were not reckless in allowing us to see and experience sin, neither did they shelter us from it. They allowed us to see enough of the consequences of sin in the lives of other people that we got clear evidence of the fact that sin lies and that it always aims at complete death and destruction. We grew up in this world, loving the people of this world, but with a healthy awareness of the destructive power of sin.
Be a Parent to Become a Friend. I’m pretty sure that my parents didn’t ever read a book about parenting, but they still followed the wise course of exercising strict discipline when we were young so we could become their friends later in life. I learned from my parents that delighting in your children flows out of disciplining your children. If you spare the rod, whether literally or metaphorically, you will not only spoil the child but also your future relationship with the child. By refusing to exercise discipline, you spoil your own joy. If you want to have a friendship with your children, you must first be mom or dad to your children; friendship will follow.
There is much more I could say, of course, but those are four lessons that stand out to me at the forty year mark. Above all, I see grace—God’s grace in the lives of my parents, as he has done his work in them, and God’s grace in the lives of myself and my siblings, as God has done his work in us through my parents. What a joy it is to to rejoice in forty years of grace and to thank God for the parents he gave me. I only wish I could be there to celebrate with them today.