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In some ways, Biffy is your typical eight-year-old boy. He laughs, plays, cries, and gets into trouble. Unfortunately, the “gets in trouble” part has only increased through the years for Biffy. Rather than the usual process of walking a kid through his various sin patterns, Biffy’s patterns have escalated and become more complicated with age.
His parents, from all appearances, love God and are faithful to their local church. They attend their corporate meetings, seek hospitality opportunities, participate in small group gatherings, and attend church-wide family days. I met with Biff and Mable at the local Starbucks to talk through some of their parenting challenges with Biffy.
While they were more interested in what may be wrong with Biffy, I was more concerned about them, particularly in the area of modeling a Christ-centered life before Biffy. Too often, with parents of rebelling children, the focus jumps too quickly to the disruptive child as they bypass an essential step in a biblical parenting methodology.
A helpful way to think about how this might be happening to you is by applying these two questions to your life and marriage. By not asking these questions while drawing out the relevant data, there is a good chance you will not be able to meet your long-term parenting goal of cooperating with God in helping your child become like Christ.
It would be like trying to make a car go forward without an engine under the hood. The parents are the engine that moves the family forward in their pursuit of practical God-centered living. If they are not right with God and each other, they make it exponentially more challenging for the children to become Christlike. While many children can become practical Christ-lovers despite their parents, it would be presumptuous to expect this result without participating in the process.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock, and my redeemer (Psalm 19:13-14).
After spending a few moments with Biff and Mable, it became apparent they were angry parents. When I first brought this up to them, they were immediately reluctant to embrace my assessment. Part of their problem was a narrow interpretation of what anger meant, which is why they could not see themselves fitting within my understanding.
After I explained a more biblical interpretation of anger, they cautiously agreed that they are angry parents. I walked them through the Anger Spectrum. It unveiled many of the behaviors that characterize how they relate to each other and Biffy. Here are some “angry words” that did not initially fit within their narrow interpretation of anger.
As we continued to delve into how their anger manifests in their home, it became apparent that Mable is an overworked stay-at-home-mom. She is tired during her waking moments and rarely rests well during her sleeping moments. Most of the time she manages her anger with only a few of what she called “loud moments” during her week.
Biff is an unfulfilled and overworked production worker for GE. He feels as though he missed his calling, but he could not come up with anything when pressed on what his calling should be. He’s discontented, or as he knows now, he is an angry man. During their week there are many times when their anger comes to the surface, and one of the more consistent times is when Biffy messes up.
For them, though they would not have said it this way before we met, it is just one more thing, and there is no more room for one more thing in their pressurized lives. These conditions usually produce a “blow-up” directed toward something Biffy has done. I’m not saying that these “blow-ups” are significant or even on a volatile scale, as you see on the left side of the Anger Spectrum, but they on the right side. Biffy feels their disappointment, which creates tension in his little soul.
The key that Biff and Mable are missing is what their anger is producing in Biffy’s heart. Biffy’s desire has always been to please his parents. He was more optimistic about pleasing them when he was younger. Today, he is more exasperated than hopeful (Ephesians 6:4).
The issue is that if you sin in response to someone else’s sin, you are, at that moment, disqualified from helping that person through their problem. Let me illustrate through a parable: A boy falls to the ground. A man jumps on top of the boy while he is down. The boy who fell is more concerned about the man who jumped on top of him than the fact that he first fell. The first order of business is for the man to get off of the boy.
Now let me explain the parable: To sin is to fall, which Biffy did in our parable. Then Biff or Mable sin in response to Biffy’s sin. It is the equivalent of jumping on top of Biffy. At that moment the one under the pile has more concern about the big person on top. Biffy cannot do anything about his fall until his parents stop complicating the matter when they “jumped on him.”
Fortunately, the light came on for Biff and Mable. Their humility opened the door for God’s favor into their lives (James 4:6). They were acutely aware of what they had been doing. Each time they sinned with their subtle forms of anger, in response to Biffy’s sin, they were essentially putting “Biffy on his heels.” Biffy’s desire to please his parents had twisted in his heart each time a parent became angry, whether the anger was toward him or not.
Piling on their fallen boy is why Biff and Mable could never appropriately deal with Biffy’s sin issues; he was afraid of them. This fear motivated him to go into a defensive, tightening-up, or shutdown mode as a matter of self-preservation. Sometimes he would even lie about what he did because he was scared of how his parents would react.
He could sense in those moments of tension between him and them that the wrong response could set them off. Therefore, he put up a wall as a means to protect himself, which circumvented any possibility of a grace-filled conversation about his sin. Biff and Mable could never penetrate Biffy’s self-protective, invisible, force-field.
Steps 1-5 created a foundation and opportunity for them to correct Biffy. Their son needed their loving discipline rather than them piling on to his faults. They developed the habit of addressing the log in their eye before addressing Biffy’s eye (Matthew 7:3).
Within a few months, their home turned from a culture of heaviness and discouragement to a family of grace and interactive affection. Sin was no longer a relational debilitation but a conduit to deepen their love and care for each other. Because of Biff and Mable’s humble repentance, they “re-qualified” themselves to parent Biffy.
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