Colossians 3:21: Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
Now the Greek word here for Father is also used elsewhere to refer to both parents. So moms, you can’t escape this command or challenge from God’s Word. I believe the primary challenge is given to the fathers, but ultimately this can apply to both moms and dads. I know for our house, Heather and I have both ’embittered’ our children before, but let’s be honest, I’ve done more of it.
This charge is similar to verse 19 that calls husbands to not be harsh with their wife. Verse 21 is saying don’t provoke your children toward rebellion. Don’t frustrate them to the point that they give up hope. Don’t exasperate them to the point they leave the faith because they believe they don’t measure up. The Holy Spirit here is saying that He does not want to see the children of Christ followers disciplined to such an extent that they lose heart and simply give up trying to please their parents, let alone trying to please the Lord.
Does this mean your father-child relationship is void of discipline? Not at all. It does mean that you need to balance truth and grace, who Jesus once again is the example of. Who Jesus was full of both (John 1:14). Your home needs to be full of both. Depending on how you grew up, you probably swing one way or the other on the truth and grace pendulum.
Does this mean that your children will never get angry? Not at all. This is not saying, don’t make your children angry. We’ve made our children angry with our discipline before. If we had not, then that is another problem. We have to understand that children won’t like all rules. A seed of rebellion is in all of us. This is saying, don’t try and make your children angry. Don’t aggressively attack, belittle, jab, or come down so hard on them that they become discouraged and angry. We have to figure out a way to nurture, disciple, and shape our children in ways that don’t frustrate them in their pursuit of the Lord.
So how do we do this? What do we avoid? What do we do instead? Here are some ideas, some of which comes from my own life as a father, often lessons I’ve learned from doing it wrong, and others from Godly men I have talked to before.
We need to watch our mouths. Our words are huge. I’ve said some dumb and sinful things before. My children could attest to that, and I pray by the grace of God they are not on a couch someday talking about something I’ve said. But the reality is that our words carry more weight than we can even imagine.
With our words, we either build up or tear down. They either bring life or death. This is all throughout the book of Proverbs. So we should be loving, nurturing, encouraging with our mouths. Using our words to speak life and blessing, and not using our words to wound our children. We’d be wise to avoid words such as always and never…you ‘always’ and you ‘never.’
And then when you do mess up. Because you’re not going to bat 1000% with your words. You’re not. So when you mess up, you still use your words to reflect that you’re following Jesus as Lord and Savior. You get in front of your kids, and name your sin (ie: ‘those words weren’t loving’). And you express you are thankful that Jesus died for that sin, and His grace is bigger than it, and then you ask your kids, will you forgive me? You might even pray together in that moment, thanking God for His grace, and asking Him to help bring about change in your heart, and thank Him for your children.
We also need to repent from the overly critical spirit. You know what I’m talking about. Pastor Judah Smith said this, “A father will show you how to live, not just tell you what’s wrong.” I have found myself before bent toward pointing out what is wrong at the neglect of pointing out what is right. Your role as the father is not to be the perpetual fault finder. Our primary mode for motivating our children is not negative, but positive. Point out and encourage what is right, and how they are hitting the mark, and how His grace is big enough to cover the gaps when they don’t. Because His grace for sure covers your own sin and shortcomings. Don’t be the cosmic killjoy. Have fun with your kids. Enjoy the gifts of God that they are.
Fathers, let your children try and fail. You might say, “I’ll just do it.” Because you’re thinking it will just be easier or then you won’t have a mess to clean up. If you want to render a child helpless and incapable when they get older, then always do it for them. Never let them try and fail.
Fathers, seek to parent during times of non-conflict. I have found it is in those times that the doors to their heart open up, not when tensions and emotions are running high. If you only parent during conflict moments, all you’ll get is behavior modification. The goal is not moral robots, but hearts that have been changed by the grace, love and truth of Jesus.
It is also during times of conflict, that we, at least I am, prone to repeating myself after my children have already gotten it. Driving the stake into the ground to the point of you can’t see the stake anymore and you’re just beating the ground. At that point, you’re just talking to hear yourself talk. I think the term is called ‘beating a dead horse’. Say what you need to say, choose your words carefully, check for understanding, and then let it go.
Fathers, avoid bringing up past sin. Remember when you… If that is you, read Psalm 103 this week. Your Heavenly Father doesn’t do this for you, so don’t do it to your children.
Finally fathers, be engaged. Spend time with your children. One on one with each child. Not just the one who is the oldest or the one who is compliant. And in the same breath, not just the one who is prone to being strong willed, while you sit passive toward the one who seems to be compliant and prone to following rules. Every heart needs a shepherd, and God has divinely appointed parents to be that shepherd.