I recently listened to a new album from a band I’d been introduced to a few years ago. One particular song told the tragic story of a young girl stuck in a life of prostitution and drugs, leading to her eventual death. Along the way, the singer blamed the absent father, reminding the listener that it wasn’t the girl’s fault he wasn’t around to guide her—to teach her right from wrong, protect her, and love her like the precious gift that she was. The song ended. Another of the same band’s songs started. The new song spoke of carefree sex, and it did so in an encouraging way. The singer—a man and father—referred to himself as enjoying the activity with multiple people from various walks of life and in countless places.
Do you get it? If not, how about this?
I don’t watch much TV. But I happened to plop down in my usual chair while one of my kids watched an episode of “Castle.” It’s a typical cop show with a twist. The main character, Richard Castle, is a famous author who collaborates with a hard-nosed detective, Kate Beckett, to solve murder cases. As the seasons unfold, the handsome Castle and the beautiful Beckett become an item. Eventually, she moves in with him, and of course, the two begin engaging in everything you’d expect from such a situation.
I happened to sit in my chair during an episode in which Castle’s teenage daughter, Molly, had met and started dating a young boy. Of course, the episode portrayed Castle as a bumbling father wrestling with how nosey he should be with the relationship, getting all his advice from Beckett. More than once, Castle spoke aloud about how he didn’t want Molly to do anything she shouldn’t do. In other words, he didn’t want her to have premarital sex.
Again, do you get it? Not yet? Well, how about this one?
I’d gotten home late, and as is my custom, no matter the time, I took to the treadmill. Just as I pressed the start button, my cell phone rang. I usually try to avoid taking calls at such a late hour, especially when the person isn’t a member of my congregation—which this caller wasn’t. Still, I’d failed to return the person’s call earlier in the day, so I owed the caller a moment of my time. The heart of the caller’s concern was essentially this: “How do I get my sexually confused child to understand the importance of living biblically?” My first inquiry was, “Where’s your home church, and how often do you attend?” The person couldn’t claim a home church. When pressed for history, the caller admitted to barely a handful of visits to church over the years.
Do you get it? I sure do. In fact, after experiencing the series of comparative examples I described, I understand what the American poet, Amy Lowell, meant when she wrote, “Youth condemns; maturity condones.” She indicated that we often hold different standards for our children than we do for ourselves—double standards that prove our iniquitous nature. In other words, we don’t want promiscuity for our children even as we might practice it. The point: If you don’t want your child to do something, then don’t do it yourself. When you do it, you condone it.
Don’t use swear words if you want your child to avoid and condemn swearing. If you’re going to be crass, they’ll be crass, too. If you smoke weed, it’s likely they will, too. If you act abusively toward others, they will, too. If you gossip about others, it’s expected they will, too. If going to church means very little to you, it’ll also mean very little to them.
The premise really isn’t that hard to understand. In a way, I made the point in a brief social media post I wrote years ago. In fact, I pinned it to the top of my “Rev. Christopher Thoma” Facebook page. I wrote:
Go to church. And take your children. Yes, yes, I know that, in general, children are not very good at listening or sitting still, and this can make worship very challenging. Still, I say go to church—and take your kids—because, for the record, there is something that children do magnificently. They imitate adults.
The Scriptures certainly weigh in on the discussion. Solomon’s child-rearing advice in Proverbs 22:6 lends substance to it. Hebrews 12:11 points out that while it can be challenging for parents to hold the line for godliness, in the end, doing so produces immeasurable blessings for both the parents and children. In 1 Corinthians 15:33, Saint Paul reminds his readers that bad associations (ὁμιλίαι κακαί) result in corrupt habits (φθείρουσιν ἤθη). The word he uses for “habits” is from the root word “ethos.” A person’s ethos is the storehouse of his core beliefs. It supplies his character, which is demonstrated through action. Paul’s point is that a poisoned ethos will produce poisoned behavior. That’s how it works. And lest you doubt him, Paul begins this admonition by urging, “Do not be deceived.” In other words, don’t fool yourself into thinking it could ever be otherwise.
These things said, it’s unfortunate how adults are so often the “bad associations” Paul is describing—the hypocrites we so often accuse others of being. The Scriptures are pretty clear that how a person lives in front of others influences them (Proverbs 12:26, 13:20, Matthew 5:13-16, and others). It’s no secret that parental behavior shapes children. The way a parent lives in front of little ones will impact them, eventually forming how they live in front of their children—good or bad—and so on.
Do what you can to be mindful of this. And when you fail to demonstrate godliness for your children, the best advice? Confess your failing. Do it openly. What does a child learn from a hypocritically impenitent person? They learn to reject Christ. What do they learn from a penitent one? They learn to live within the better sphere of Christ’s mercy, holding fast to His grace.
But there’s another practical benefit to this, which helps make families even stronger, especially when the parents feel like they have no authority to lead the child because they’re guilty of some of the same harmful behaviors they’re trying to prevent.
For example, parents who lived together before marriage instructing their child to avoid doing the same thing presents an apparent contradiction that naturally negates their authority to steer the child in this circumstance. But if the parents admit that what they did was counter to God’s design—that they’ve repented, been forgiven, and are glad to be living in that grace—their parental authority is restored. The child cannot say, “Well, you did it, so why can’t I?”
“Yes, we did,” will be the parents’ answer. “We’ve confessed to this. God has forgiven us fully. Having been lifted from this self-defeating behavior, it’s our job as parents to help you avoid it altogether. We do this because we love our Lord, and because we love you.”
This is the way of things in a Christian family. We labor to help keep ourselves and each other fixed firmly to Christ. Living this way, neither the family’s victories nor defeats can crush it because every situation becomes an opportunity to demonstrate the Gospel of forgiveness. And it’s this same Gospel that, by the strength of the Holy Spirit, stirs an equally powerful desire to demonstrate faithfulness.