Formation

How to go from “Worst-Case Scenario” as a Parent to a Transformational Encounter with Jesus

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Bedtime Battles

What was once an efficient, streamlined process is now a complex cacophony of arguments, meltdowns, stall tactics, misdirection, and procrastination: our seven and four year old invent new ways every night to make it difficult to get them to bed on time.

A few weeks ago I decided to inject some fun into the bedtime routine by shaving off my beard and leaving behind just a mustache.

Two things about mustaches in the Tebbe home you must understand:

  1. I think they’re humorous (especially on my face)
  2. My wife thinks they’re awful (especially on my face)

I strolled confidently into our daughters bedroom- my face festooned with a glorious lip garland- and bent down to help my wife wrangle the four year old, Celeste, into her pajamas. Sharon glanced up at me, physically winced, and said, “Oh my goodness you are SO DISGUSTING! Get away from me with that thing!”

Feeling pleased with myself for a: grossing my wife out and b: creating some levity to break up the bedtime grind, I left Celeste’s room to tuck my seven year old son, Deacon, into his bed. I asked Deac how we should pray that night, and he responded: “Dad, that mustache is inappropriate; kind of like me saying fudge!”

…Only he didn’t say fudge…

He said another f-word that rhymes with “schmuck.”

Worst Case Scenario

Five thoughts plowed through my mind in an instant:

  1. Did my seven year old just say “fu#&”?
  2. I have to find out where he heard this word.
  3. Don’t freak out or he’ll never share his badness with you again. Stay calm, STAY CALM.
  4. How do I explain to him why this is a word we don’t say without telling him what it means?
  5. OH MY GOD WHAT IF HE KNOWS WHAT IT MEANS?

I locked eyes with Deacon and said:

What did you say?

Uh…fu#&…”

Yep, he said it (#1, taken care of).

Now my only imagination for how to handle this situation is to freak out, interrogate, punish, threaten. I’m pretty good at all that. So, I start down the “freak out” path:

Where did you hear that word, Deacon?

I think…I think I heard you say it in the car, daddy.

Just to reset:

  • My seven year old son just ruined my mustache joke with the f-bomb.
  • He claims he learned the f-bomb from me.

My first thought was, “No way I said this in front of my son.”

But whether or not Deacon learned this word from me, we were now both in the same situation: each standing before someone else with our badness and vulnerabilities exposed. 

The Person Jesus Enjoyed Being With

One thing I notice about my unchurched and apatheist friends: they don’t spend a lot of energy trying to impress me with how good they are. Some don’t care what I think, some are unaware of their badness, and still others probably take mild pleasure in scandalizing the pastor with their course language, lifestyle choices, etc.

Here’s what I’ve learned about myself in that situation: once I deal with my religious impulse to take offense at people who live and think differently than me, it becomes a joy to be with them.

Religious leaders came at Jesus with agendas, hustling him in one of two ways:

  1. They sought to trap/test him
  2. They sought to impress/flatter him

Jesus had little interest and patience for people who insisted on meeting God in falsity or pretense (“Why do you call me good?” “Why do you call me Lord, Lord?” “And who is my neighbor?” “Is it lawful to pay taxes or not?”). They typically go away confused, sad, or ready to kill him. But those caught in adultery (John 8.2-11) or aware of their sinfulness (Luke 5.5-9) or found out hiding in their badness (Luke 19.1-6)- the ones who get real with Jesus and lay down their relational hustles and hidden agendas- experience profound transformation in his presence.

Maybe this is why Jesus came eating and drinking with sinners: they were the only people who would actually be real with him. And Jesus delights to meet real people where they really are at.

Maybe Jesus ate & drank with sinners because they were real with him. Click To Tweet

Dad Dies First

Standing there in Deacon’s room, praying like crazy, looking directly into his eyes, I knew that I had to meet God right where I really was if I was going to help my son. That started with asking for forgiveness.

One of things we say in our house a lot is “repentance is the best thing that could happen to me today.” I’ve got dozens of sermons about this, but my son will only come to trust it if I model it for him. 

So I say:

Deacon, I honestly can’t remember ever saying that word in front of you. But if you remember it then I’m sure it happened. I’m sorry I said that, it was wrong. Will you forgive me? 

We talk a lot in our family about honoring sin and the hurt it causes. We don’t dismiss it as though it doesn’t matter (“that’s ok, no big deal”) and we own and name the harm it causes. So, Deacon responded to my confession with, “Thank you for apologizing. I forgive you, dad.”

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Dealing with Sin in Love

By this time I could tell Deacon was feeling an intense amount of shame and guilt for what he’d said, even though I’d gotten enough out of him to know he had absolutely no idea what it meant (thank the good Lord). And I knew I had to say something. This was a teachable moment, a golden opportunity, at the very least a chance to discipline and correct him!

Plenty of sentences took form in my mind that I didn’t say:

If you ever say that again you’ll lose all tv and video games for a month!

Only bad people say that word: do you want others to think you’re bad?

Maybe a few years ago I would’ve said those things. But I’m learning in my own life this truth: fear, guilt, and shame may bring us to the cross, but I’ve never experienced fear, guilt, and shame as adequate to empower a resurrection life. 

I’d rather allow grace and truth (i.e. the love of God in Jesus Christ) to do the work of empowering Deacon to trust Jesus.

So I said something like this:

This word is usually used as a weapon to dishonor other people or because someone is trying to sound cool or funny. But it’s not funny or cool, it’s foolish and hurtful. Deacon, you get to decide the kind of man you will grow up to be. Do you want to be a man who dishonors and hurts others with your words- or- blesses and empowers others with your words?

The Aftermath 

Deacon apologized, I assured him of my love and God’s forgiveness, and he went to bed. I thought it was all over.

Twenty minutes later he came downstairs and told me “all these bad words keep running through my head”.

Oh boy…I thought: How many bad words has he heard me say in the car?! 

Which ones, buddy? You can tell me: I want to help you.

Well, dad. Just the one I said earlier and “God”. 

Buddy, God isn’t a bad word. We use it in prayer, don’t we?

No, dad. “Oh my God!” is running through my head. I just can’t go to sleep because bad words are making me feel bad.

So, we prayed together. We engage our imaginations when we pray – whenever something is bothering Deacon (scary thoughts, frightening scene from a movie he watched, conflict at school with friends) we prayerfully imagine walking to Jesus in a wide open field. I ask him to visualize it; I try to narrate the interaction as vividly I can. Details differ, but the common element in the prayer is that Deacon physically connects with Jesus, tells Jesus what’s bothering him, Deacon writes it on a piece of paper for Jesus, and gives it to Jesus in our prayer. Jesus then takes the piece of paper and stuffs it in his robe, or tears it up, or wads it up and throws it off a cliff- Jesus takes the fear, guilt, shame away and deals with it. Then we say goodbye and walk away from Jesus.

But this night, Deacon said to me:

Dad, is it ok if just you go away and I stay here with Jesus? I want to fall asleep with him tonight. 

Yes, Deacon, I think that’s a great idea. Enjoy your time with Jesus.

3 Practical things I’m learning about how to parent in my weakness: 

  1. Owning my badness as a parent gives permission and freedom for my kids to do the same. I have to go first: I can’t demand repentance as a dad, I must demonstrate it. 
  2. Casting vision of identity rather than castigating behavior. I’m learning to empower my kids to shape who they want to grow up to be and then help them to make choices aligned with that. 
  3. Teaching my kids to pray involves more than saying words- it has to engage their imagination. I never prayed like this personally until I started praying with my kids. Now, it’s changing my prayer life with God.
3 Practical things I'm learning about how to parent in my weakness Click To Tweet
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