"Fathers, don't exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master." - Ephesians 6: 4 (The Message)
Though we've all heard the proverb, "Spare the rod, spoil the child," Paul seems to me wiser when he cautions fathers to take care not to provoke or exasperate their children by coming down hard on them. Harsh words, relentless criticism, or angry outbursts from a father can disfigure a child's soul and cripple their spirit. Moreover, such behaviors aren't what it means to be a father.
But parents aren't perfect. Parents too need forgiveness. I remember the first time I asked one of my sons to forgive me for some harsh and angry words I had spoken to him. It wasn't easy to say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong; I shouldn't have said that. Forgive me." I think my son was ten at the time. It's easy for Dads, facing their own pressures and frustrations, to bark at their children. But it's no good, especially when it becomes habitual.
Still, Paul is not saying that the alternative is anything goes or that being a good Dad, or good parents, is just letting our children do whatever they want or giving them the idea that the world revolves around them. That's the other extreme and not much good either. No, our children really do need guidance and direction, given with gentleness and patience. And they need us to point them, as we point ourselves, to Christ and his way.
Dear God, being a father is such an awesome responsibility and wondrous gift. Thank you for showing us your way and your grace in Jesus, so that we may show it to our children. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. His newest book is Called to Lead: Paul’s Letters to Timothy for a New Day. You can read Tony's "Weekly Meditation" and "What's Tony Thinking?" at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.