This past weekend, I had the joy of teaching a parenting seminar at our church entitled Engaging the Hearts of Our Kids. One of the resources that I recommended to those in attendance is Everyday Talk by John Younts. There are many strengths to this book, which is subtitled “Talking Freely and Naturally about God with your Children,” but one in particular is the way the author reminds us that, as parents, we must speak in such a way that expects obedience.
One helpful illustration he provides is of a mother asking her son, Joshua, to take out the garbage. Younts correctly reminds us that when we give instructions to our children, God expects them to obey. This makes their obedience, or lack of it, of spiritual significance. It also means that parents must speak in the form of directives, not suggestions. Younts writes:
“Your ultimate goal is not to get the garbage out of the house for your own convenience. Your goal is to have your child know God and happily serve Him. This is why bargaining, cajoling, pleading and similar ploys are so damaging Remember, the basic issue in obedience is willing submission. Unwilling, grudging compliance is not godly obedience. Cooperation based on negotiation and mutual advantage is also not obedience. Biblical obedience is willing submission to authority.”
Consider the following inadequate instructions, and the reason they fall short of biblical communication.
- “Joshua, if you want to be helpful, you could take out the garbage sometime when you have some free time.” While this request may sound pleasant and considerate, it contains some serious problems. Children need to be instructed (see Proverbs 1:8-9; Eph.6:1-3). Asking Joshua if he wants to be helpful removes this request from the realm of instruction. What he wants is not the issue.
- “Josh, take out the garbage right now!!” A sharp command will stir up anger and not promote understanding or obedience, just a grudging compliance.
- “Joshua, I asked you yesterday and the day before and the day before that. Would you please find time to take out the garbage!” This request begs the question of who is responsible. The parent is the one to blame here because she has not seen to it that that she was obeyed the first time. Note again that the parent, not Joshua, is the one who should decide Joshua’s time priorities.
- “Joshua, please think of things to do to help out, like maybe take out the garbage. Okay?” This is a formula for producing a whining spirit in your children. This parent is whining to her child. Joshua will likely follow the example and whine himself. This non-directive request allows the child to ignore the garbage without technically disobeying. Giving Joshua clear, precise instructions is the best way to help him think of things to do to help.
- “Mommy is sooo tired of taking out the garbage all the time. Josh, wouldn’t you like to help me?” Again, this is Mommy’s problem. This form of manipulation is trying to get Joshua to have sympathy for Mom and take out the garbage for her so she won’t be tired. When Joshua doesn’t take out the garbage, three bad things happen. The garbage piles up. Joshua ignores Mom without consequences. Joshua’s mother feels hurt because she thinks Joshua doesn’t care that she is tired.
- “Joshua, take out the garbage right now, or I will take away your TV privileges for three days!” This really amounts to a manipulative threat. Joshua is pretty sure that he won’t lose TV for three hours, let alone three days. This command also illustrates that the parent does not expect her command to be obeyed. If obedience were expected, then “Take out the garbage now,” would be sufficient.
- “When I was your age, I always had to take out the garbage, whether I wanted to or not. Now take out the garbage.” Adding extra issues from your childhood will not motivate your child to obey more quickly. This is another example of a parent who is frustrated with a lack of quick, consistent, pleasant obedience from her child.
- “Joshua, I am not going to ask you again. Take out the garbage!” Both the parent and Joshua know that she will ask again.
- “Joshua, if you do not take out the garbage this instant, you are going to get the biggest spanking of your life—when your father gets home.” This is yet another example of a frustrated mom who knows that her child is not obeying. The extra threat doesn’t really address the main issue of a child who obeys only when he really has to and certainly not at the first request. Joshua knows he probably won’t get the spanking.
None of these directives to Joshua fit the biblical concept of obedience. Yes, some of the instructions were direct, but many were not. Each reflects a parent who does not really expect to be obeyed. All of these attempts at securing obedience from Joshua fall into the category of manipulation and bargaining. You want the garbage taken out. Joshua does not want to take it out. You cajole, order, plead, bargain, in short, do anything you can to get Joshua to take the garbage out. After a while you may even give up and take the garbage out yourself, just to end the unpleasantness and frustration. God does not want your children to obey you simply because you are bigger than they are and can physically control them. Obedience is more than giving in to coaxing or threats. God wants your children to obey you because it pleases Him and blesses them. How can you tell the difference? Here is the request from a parent who expects Joshua to take out the garbage. ‘Joshua, take the garbage out now, please.’ ‘Sure, Mom, no problem.’
Here, Joshua’s mom expects to be obeyed. She doesn’t ask Joshua a question, she gives him clear, pleasant direction. She doesn’t whine or plead or bargain or threaten. She speaks directly but pleasantly. Joshua knows exactly what she wants him to do and when. Joshua has been trained to understand that obeying Mom is doing exactly what he is told, right away, with a good attitude. Joshua’s response is not one that came naturally to him. He is not just a “good kid.” He had to be taught. His parents trained him to respond this way. When he was younger, Josh’s parents taught him that he must obey his parents because the Bible says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1). They taught him that obeying his parents was obeying God. Joshua was taught that when he is given a command by his parents, the response that pleases God is a pleasant affirmative.”
There are so many good books on parenting available today, but Everyday Talk is one of the best. I highly recommend it.
Scripture to reflect upon: Proverbs 16:20-24
Listen to the workshop “Engaging the Hearts of Our Kids“