Influence or Control?

Something we learned early after Megan was born 20 years ago?  Parenting is not for the faint of heart.  It was astounding how that 2 year old would lock horns with us in a battle of the wills – and often win!  Seems to me like the teenage years are like the terrible twos all over again, except now they are bigger than you and have a drivers license…

The two best jokes I know about parenting?

  • “Parents of teenagers know why some animals eat their young.”
  • “Grandchildren are God’s gifts for not killing your children.”

While Sandi and I patiently await our “reward” we continue reporting to work as mom and dad each day, rain or shine.  Three children ages 20, 17, and 15 comprise our assignment.  Some days are really good, some days are so-so, and some days we dream of boarding schools…overseas.

I was having one of those days recently (the kind that involved our children learning a foreign language in a galaxy far, far away).  I was standing at the kitchen sink doing the dishes churning inside.  Alone in the house I was fuming over one of our kids.  Why was I so worked up?  Had this child checked into rehab?  Had this child burned down the shed?  No.  In fact, they hadn’t done anything “wrong”, but they just weren’t living up to my expectations.  In my mind they should be further along – doing more, doing better, leading their peers toward all that God had for them.

As I roiled internally I began fantasizing about the various ways I could “fix” the situation.  I could say this, or do that, or make them stop the other.  And as I began formulating a plan that was sure to set the child straight and show once and for all that I am right, God stopped me in my tracks.

I am not one well acquainted with visions, voices, ecstatic utterances, or the prophetic.  I am one of those boring Christians who basically read my Bible, try my best to understand it, and then make application to my life – very vanilla.  But here I am, doing the dishes, lecturing my child in my head, minding my own business, and God just interrupts.

And here is what he said, clear as a bell in my mind:

“DO NOT SQUANDER THE INFLUENCE YOU DO HAVE STRIVING FOR THE CONTROL YOU WILL NEVER HAVE.”

I literally stopped what I was doing and just stood still for a moment.  I knew this didn’t come from me (because I desperately want both influence AND control), and I had never heard or read it before.  Guess that leaves God.

The following day at church I wrote down that sentence and began reflecting on its significance.  Let me share three reflections I have had since.

  1. Never confuse control for influence.  If you do, you will lose both (one of which you never had).  My sudsy encounter with God was a warning.  God was warning me that if I attempt to control my child I will not only fail, but I will also lose the influence I still have.
  2. This parenting struggle, like most struggles, is a matter of trust.  Who do I honestly believe knows best?  Who knows exactly which experiences (including failures) our children need to develop into the people God is calling them to be?  Do I trust my attempts to manipulate, conjole, fix, and persuade more than God’s grace and their ability to learn and grow?  How have my attempts to control gone thus far?  Is my compulsion to control driven by faith, or by fear?
  3. What does it mean to be faithful in exercising the influence I do have?  First off, it means living out my faith and relationship with God transparently in front of our children.  Without the modeling the words don’t mean much (in fact, they may do more harm than good).  Also, I need to be on the lookout for those teachable moments – and when they come to engage.  The funny thing about teachable moments, they never come on schedule.  So, I need to look for ways to spend time with our kids often, doing things they enjoy doing.  Quality time only comes in the ordinary shuffle of quantity time.

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