“Daddy, is there chocolate milk in the Bible?”
That’s the question my 3 year old asked me this morning in the car while we ate breakfast together. It’s become tradition in our home—thanks to my wife’s gentle nudging—for me to take one of our boys out for breakfast and a little one-on-one Daddy time on Saturday mornings. We grab some food, they drink their chocolate milk and we talk through Big Truths for Little Kids. This is a big thing in their little world, as they eagerly await their turn and talk all week about going to Burger King or McDonald’s with Dad (I know, I know, somewhere a foodie just died of a broken heart). That’s where we were when I got the truly concerned question about chocolate milk.
Our time together has been a constant reminder of how they need affection just as much as discipline and order. If you fail to give them a structured life—with things like accountability to authority, routines and daily responsibilities—they become unruly and disrespectful. But if you fail to give them tenderness and affection, they become bitter, sad and grouchy.
I was reminded of my need to give them affection during a conversation with one of my friends, in which he told me how much better his kids responded when he and his wife actively sought to show their kids affection. Like my friend, I can tend toward the disciplinarian side of things, so it’s much harder to be soft and gentle. But after that conversation I prayed and worked to show my boys affection, and I really can see the fruit in their lives. More snuggles, reading time together, wrestling after work and playin’ in the yard.
I remember vividly a moment at a pastor’s conference when John Piper mentioned that kids need to be spanked, and a roar of applause from the mostly male audience filled the room. As a wise father, Piper immediately followed up by saying, “And when you’ve spanked them, what do you do to show them love, to make their little hearts blossom and open like a flower?” The room was overcome by a silent hush. You could’ve heard a door creaking two miles away.
As men, it’s particularly easy to be all hard words, spankings and scolding tones. I know it is for me. So often in my home I see myself like Judge Dredd, setting everyone straight, righting wrongs, doling out punishments and reminding my kids, “I am the law!” But what I so sinfully miss is that God’s law is also merciful, abounding in steadfast love, like a mother with an infant at her breast. If our passion for justice isn’t united to a passion for tenderness and mercy, then it isn’t a biblical standard of right and wrong we’re promoting in the home.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 5:4).
Finally, this points me back to my relationship with my Father. It forces me to see that my view of God is often wrong. I sinfully imagine that he’s always there with the rod, always ready to correct in a scolding way, always there to point out my failures or heap another burden on my back. But God isn’t like that at all. Even when he rebukes, he does so with open arms, a forgiving heart, and an enduring love. He doesn’t make it a point to show me how stupid I am—He just keeps enduring me patiently. He is ever tender and ever tough; ever the Lion and ever the Lamb. So must we be with our sons.
“It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, but the welcome I receive with every start” (Mumford & Sons).