Shepherding a Child’s Thumos

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Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
-Colossians 3:21

When it comes to parenting, the verse I keep coming back to as the cornerstone of my parenting philosophy is Colossians 3:21.   Paul commands us to parent our children so as not to provoke, irritate, exasperate, embitter, or drive them to resentment. He doesn’t say give them whatever they want. He also doesn’t say avoid discipline. Paul clearly expects parents to do things for and to their children that the children might not like (hence the command in the previous verse to the children to obey) but Paul desires parents to treat their children in such a way as not to embitter the children and more importantly so that they don’t lose heart. The Greek word heart here is “thumos”, and means “strong feeling and courage.” A person without a thumos has become discouraged, passionless, timid. We don’t want children like that. We want obedient and respectful children…but children that still have their thumos, their passion, their life, their energy, that drive that makes them uniquely themselves.

Too many times we parent our children so as to shape and mold them like they are furniture and we want them to fit comfortably and compactly into our lives.  We want them to act in ways that are convenient for us. Most parenting advice seem to revolve around how to get your kids to do what you say, be quiet, stay out of your hair, eat their vegetables, go to bed, etc.  In reality, we are supposed to be shaping and molding our children like trees, planting them in fertile soils so that they can grow into the fullest expression of who God wants them to be. We have obligations as parents before God to help our kids be safe and become good people. But to accomplish this by crushing their spirit or browbeating them into submission, or criticizing or shaming them until they do exactly what we want is to extinguish their thumos.

N.T. Wright wrote: Some children “hearing continually, both verbally and non-verbally, that they are of little value, … come to believe it and either sink down in obedient self-hatred or over-react in boastful but anxious self-assertion. The parent’s duty, in effect, is to live out the gospel to the child: that is, to assure them that they are loved, and accepted and valued for who they are, not for who they ought to be, should have been, or might (if only they would try a little harder) become.”

Read that last line again: “loved…accepted…valued for who they are, NOT for who they OUGHT to be, SHOULD have been, or might (if only they would TRY A LITTLE HARDER) become.”

To parenting without extinguishing their thumos requires that we live out the Gospel to our children. We didn’t earn the love of God. No child should ever feel like parental love is conditional. The way we love our children should reflect the way God loves us all.

 

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