If you were to ask my kids to do an impression of me, they would probably pronounce (in a funny voice, because that’s apparently how I talk), “I will laugh in your face!” This is, admittedly, a phrase I do say a lot. It’s usually prefaced by a statement like, “This is the food I put in front of you, and if you don’t eat it and you tell me you’re hungry in an hour, I will laugh in your face.” Or perhaps, “Go to the bathroom now before we leave because a half hour down the road if you ask us to stop for you, I will laugh in your face.” You see, it’s just good parenting. It’s become a silly way to show consequences for actions, and my kids think it’s hilarious . . . when I say it to their siblings.
However, that phrase is not the only one I hope they remember, nor would I rank it among the most important. After almost 13 years of parenting, I think I’ve narrowed down the two most important things I say to my kids.
“It’s not about you.”
As a general rule, people are self-centered, and we often need to hear this. As a new parent of small human beings, when my kids would whine at a request from me and say, “I don’t want to!” my sarcastic nature used to respond with, “Well, I don’t care.” That wasn’t effective, and it also wasn’t true. I do care . . . in fact, I care so much that I need to fulfill the role God gave me to guide and raise them to think of others and to honor and respect those in authority. Now when they complain or rebel, I say, “It’s not about what you want.” Often followed by, “Right now it’s about listening and obeying.” This is an attempt to show that life doesn’t revolve around them. And this is not just a message for kids. Adults are just as self-centered, and God often has to remind us of our role as his children and that we would do well to listen to him.
Job didn’t do a lot of whining and complaining; he is generally remembered as an upright and faithful man in the face of much suffering. But in Job 10:1 we hear him crack a bit and say, “I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint and speak out in the bitterness of my soul.” Now, my children never articulate their complaints quite as well as Job, but the sentiment is the same. And God answered Job the way I now answer my children: “It’s not about you.” God rebuked Job, saying, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?” (Job 38:4,12). In fact, every verse of chapters 38-39 in the book of Job are God very eloquently saying, “It’s not about you.”
But God doesn’t stop there. And neither should we as parents. So here comes the second even more important thing I say to my kids, and it really relates to the first one more than we might think:
“You are a redeemed and loved child of God.”
Some days are hard; there are bullies at school, sibling rivalries, health issues, broken families. Some kids carry burdens way bigger than their little backs or hearts should be carrying. Kids feel anxious, guilty and worried, just like adults. There are times when my kids don’t need to hear, “It’s not about you” (or “I will laugh in your face”) but instead need me to turn their grubby, tear-streaked faces to me, look them in the eye, and reassure them that they are redeemed and loved children of God. When they’re crushed by life and the brokenness of this world, then it’s time to lift them back up and remind them who they are in Christ Jesus. We all need that reminder every day. We’re redeemed and loved. Passive voice. We did nothing; we get everything.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8,9).
The author Philip Yancey has a few things to say about being redeemed and loved children of God in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace?: “Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. And grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. Grace teaches us that God loves us because of who God is, not because of who we are.”
In our quiet moments of doubt and guilt and worry, God turns our tear-streaked faces to himself, looks us in the eye, and reminds us, “It’s not about you. I did it all. You are a redeemed and loved child of mine.”