A Message To Parents
A message preached by Pastor Frank Currie at The Moody Church on August 19, 1962.
Several years of experience of working with young people and many hours of counseling with young people, a broken home background in my own childhood, four children of my own, and the evidence of need in the church have brought me to the convictions of this message to the many thousands God has called to be parents. To young people, may I saw that while this represents a strong and serious word to your parents, you ought to remember your responsibility before God to honor, love and obey them; and the will of God for your life under their leadership.
The link between the home and the church ought to be so intimate that a minister who fails to speak about family relationships at all, violates on of his most serious responsibilities. Sometimes there are some things which must be said which are not easy to say, but which must be said if we are to consider the whole counsel of God. I must not fail to share with you this very deep burden which God has put upon my heart, which I believe is His burden.
Basically, what is true of any Bible-believing church is true of the evangelical church as a whole with regard to family problems. I am not unaware of criticism by some, but because the implications of this message have such direct relation to Christ and His Gospel as I understand it, I am prepared to accept criticism. I would like, thus, to call your attention to Ephesians 6:1–4:
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee and thou mayest live long on the earth. And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
Many parents are having real problems and difficulties with their children; and their children have real problems—serious problems. And parents do not understand the nature of these problems, or they do not seem to be able to cope with problems, though they know of their existence. May I, therefore, share with you some of the basic problems of our youth.
In the first place, many young people do not feel wanted, even in Christian homes. They are not quite sure they are loved. They are not positive that they are emotionally included in the family circle. There are various reasons for this; perhaps one of the chief reasons being the substitute for love that they have been offered, perhaps unwittingly, by mom and dad. Because there is this sense of not being wanted there develops within them a certain kind of basic resentment, even toward their own homes. It is a resentment that grows as days go by and months transpire into years, until they become clannish and cliqueish, especially among their own age group. They become more and more isolated from mom and dad, less and less communicative. I realize, of course, that there is a certain area of normalcy in that we expect young people to find partnerships among their own age group level, to express themselves recreationally with other young people, their peers. But I am talking about something that becomes more serious than this: a withdrawal to clannishness that becomes sheer isolationism so that the young person is cut off almost entirely from family contact. He resents having to be looked after or watched over or spoken to. He may not even have identified this resentment, but it is there—the outgrowth of a very deep sense of not being wanted.
In the second place, many of our young people do not feel needed. They appear to themselves to be misfits: awkward, almost useless and worthless. It seems to them as they look at themselves that they cannot make any intelligent contribution to the pattern of family life. Perhaps this is because all they hear is a stream of complaints, a negativism, until they begin to be convinced in their own hearts that they really are incapable of producing, that they really are quite the worst young people in the whole world. Certainly they don’t seem to fit into the family into which they have been born. And as this feeling grows in their hearts, it gives way to a sense of inferiority that expresses itself in various ways: rebellion and anger, indifference and laziness. Thus ingrained with this sense of inferiority, they seek ways of making contributions—contributions that are not always positive, but sometimes negative. In so doing they will find themselves companions who will accept them as equals and who will take them at face value. As this grows, it promotes in itself a very deep sense of gangism.
They will also seek to express themselves in situations whereby they can make contributions and gain the attention of others and create a kind of recognition. All of us deeply crave recognition; it is built into human nature. In its minor forms, for example, you have young people who talk in church during the message. Some go a step further and skip church or Sunday school. What are they doing? They are expressing something. They are showing that they can do something—even if it is negative.
In more violent cases that border juvenile delinquency, you have young people who do violent things, destructive things, unholy things. A young man will steal and automobile. Or he will attempt to seduce a girl. What is he doing? He is making a stringent effort to show somebody that he can do something, that he is capable of producing. And young people move inevitably in this direction if they feel that they are not needed at home.
We often have trouble distinguishing between the disease and its symptoms. These things are the symptoms, they are not the disease. The problem is far deeper than its expression, for through it they let off steam to try somehow to compensate for the problem that exists.
What are we as parents doing to add to this problem? Pause a moment to take inventory of your own approach to the young people who live under your roof. What attitudes have you shown to your young people? Are you condemning, fault-finding, negative, censorious? Would you rather do something around your house yourself than have your child do it because he wouldn’t do it well and you would have to do it over? Do you refuse to grant responsibility to your children because in your heart you do not feel they are capable of discharging that responsibility? Are you basically proud and selfish? Do you prove this by taking the pattern of least resistance and doing that which is easier for you when it may be more difficult if you permit your child to do it? If so, do you realize what you are doing to your children? When you take from them the opportunity of usefulness, of making a contribution in the family, shutting them out, closing them off from a feeling that they belong, do you realize what you are doing? What will you think, what will they think of you when as adults they find there are things they cannot do, potentials they had that have never been developed because you never gave them the opportunity, never thought they could do something worthwhile? Many of our young people feel that they are not needed.
Many of our young people feel they are not informed and they feel rather unintelligent about some rather basic things: things such as sex, finances, management. They are disturbed because they cannot articulate intelligent questions to discuss these subjects. These things just aren’t talked about in the home in certain areas and they are left “out in left field” with a deep sense of embarrassment and self-consciousness because, somehow, they know that these things are foundational to life and that they do exist. Yet they are repeatedly told that they must not speak of these things in the home. What do they do? In their desire to get out from embarrassment and self-consciousness they seek to escape this condemnation by going to illegitimate means to learn. And they do learn! They learn in the alleys, they learn in the theaters, they learn in the red light districts. Whose fault is this? What is wrong? What is missing? They have been unable somehow to have their needs met in Christian homes. Will we ever wake up to the fact that our children are people? They are not machines! And as people there are certain things in their lives which are very basic—things they must know, things they will know. They will learn one way or another, and if they cannot learn at home, they will learn somewhere else. But they will learn.
May I ask you—as I ask myself as a parent—if my child must learn, where do I prefer that he learn? Should I teach him at home as he ought to be taught in the way that he should learn? Or should I close my home to him and thus drive him to other sources of information? What a crime we commit against our children, against God’s admonition to us to rear them in the fear of the Lord, when we close our homes to our children and drive them to other places for basic information.
Is it because we are so holy—so holy that we cannot discuss, for example, sex in our homes? I do not think so, because we are not too holy, I trust, to be normal people and to have, as mothers and fathers, normal lives in all areas. Yet we refuse to discuss these areas with our children who basically, desperately, need to be taught. I think this is rather because we are somehow suffering a very tragic defeat. Our lives are frustrated and off-center in our relationship to our utter commitment to Jesus Christ, and deep down in our hearts we know that we are incapable of adequately meeting these problems and discussing these things with our young people because we ourselves are in no frame of mind spiritually to do so and thus we leave them uninformed and frustrated.
In the fourth place, our young people do not feel secure. Mom and dad are inconsistent about some very fundamental things. They go to church and hear that Christ says we are to love and treat everyone as we would ourselves. But when we go to the corner drugstore to buy something we are very adept at finagling and manipulating to make a dime or get a double bargain and seem to think nothing about it. It is an inconsistency our young people see. Mom and dad reveal hypocrisy because we are nicer people in public—and especially in church—than we are with each other and the children at home. We treat each other with respect at church and are at each other’s throats at home. We are loving and smiling to the children at church, but when we get home it is a different story. This is sheer hypocrisy, and our young people see it and are deeply disturbed. They cannot decide whether God is real and life is false, or life is real and God is false because of the hypocrisy they see. It never dawns on them that God and life are synonymous because they never have the example before them. Both can be full in Jesus Christ, but they have not seen it in mom and dad.
They cannot live without a set of values, for we all have to have a set of values, whether they be good or bad. Therefore, in an effort to salvage themselves from frustration, they attempt to set up a system of values, which out of the very context of its nature in the climate of the home in which they find themselves, has some very serious loopholes. For example, young people will come up with a double set of values for themselves: a standard for church on Sunday and a standard for daily living during the week. Why shouldn’t they? Why are we as parents shocked and surprised when we see our children doing things that are not consistent when we have been their chief instructors from the cradle to the hour of their deception? Why do we find it strange that they have learned at our feet this which is so consistently inconsistent? They are insecure because somehow the whole foundation upon which their home is supposed to be built doesn’t seem to be genuine.
Finally, they do not understand authority. Where there is no chain of command in the home there is always a disjunction. Whenever there is a weak father, and a strong mother who dominates the home, there is always a disjunction that manifests itself in the children, making it impossible for the children to have the proper respect for their parents. They cannot respect dad because he is not taking his scriptural place of authority. They cannot respect mother because she is usurping a position that is not scripturally hers. The end result is inevitable: they do not properly respect either one. There is a miscarriage of authority in the home. This produces in time a lack of disciplined living among the children. Authority presupposes discipline: where you have authority, you have discipline; where you have discipline, you have authority. The two go hand in hand. Where there is no discipline in the home, children grow up without some basic understandings, as for example, they do not understand privileges vs. limitations of individual expression. They are unable to tell where their liberty stops and someone else’s begins. They never were taught the line of demarcation because there is no discipline, no authority in the home. They are unable to realize that people ought to be treated with respect. They do not understand that where there are no stops in a society, that society always degenerates into bedlam.
Juvenile delinquency is a chief exponent of this sort of thing. What is a juvenile delinquent? He is one who has no sense of authority, no sense of law and order and therefore he has no understanding that there are some things he must and must not do. He is his own law unto himself. This is but the extreme form of what is true in every life and every home where there is not a proper line of authority and discipline.
The worst fruitage of all of this is that where there is no understanding of authority and discipline, there is no understand of the claims of God. In my own work with children, I have found it extremely true that it is almost impossible to get a child to Jesus Christ with any intelligent sense of commitment if he has come out of an undisciplined and unauthoritative home. He doesn’t comprehend what authority is. When you tell him that God, that Scripture, that Christ have claim on his life, he cannot comprehend it because in learning we move from the known to the unknown and it is not that he is rebellious but that he has nothing to know with. He has had no background and must be taught first the foundations of the home before he can intelligently make a commitment to Jesus Christ.
What has caused these problems in young people today? Are the children primarily at fault? Have they created this atomosphere in the home? Hardly; they are the result of their environment, an environment over which they have had little or no control, and they are what they have been becoming all along under the tutelage of mother and father. Therefore, I feel that we must say that the root responsibility for the problem lies at the feet of the parents. I think that by and large, the average family of the average evangelical church of the United States would have to say, “We have failed.” Our young people are not getting out of the home the maximum God has for them. Where have we failed? Many parents do not properly love their children. I am not saying that they do not love them, but that they do not properly love them is proven by various methods used, perhaps unwittingly, to get children out from under foot. People who give their children money and tell them to go and do something with it—just to have them out of the way. Is this the way you express love to your children?
Often there is no understanding of parental love in its expressions because basically, in the parental context, there has been love only for themselves—an exclusive roof for the parents, shutting out the children. Or perhaps a self-love of one partner for himself that has closed off all other love in the real New Testament sense of the word.
In the second place, many parents do not adequately respect their children. They do not recognize their children are individuals and that they have potentialities and limits—some things they can or cannot do. Parents who, for example, “brow-beat” their children because they don’t make straight A’s in school when perhaps the children are incapable of making straight A’s. The pride of the parent rises up in opposition to the child because the child doesn’t produce as well as somebody else’s child, and it is this lack of respect for the child which helps bring about these problems.
Many parents are not realistic with their children. As has been mentioned, they refuse to communicate about the very fabric of life itself, ignoring the problems of their children as being foolish, unrelated and irrelevant, when actually they are very vital to their lives and to their development and need to be dealt with. And nobody can better deal with them than mom and dad.
I am grateful to God for the opportunity to counsel with people and with young people. But as a father and as a minister, I can say that I wish our young people could find the answers to their problems in their homes at the feet of mom and dad. As honored as the church might be to be able to try to help them solve their problems, it seems to be an indictment against the church, against the families of the church, that young people cannot get their answers at home and that they are afraid, insecure, and feel left out in the cold.
Many parents betray their children by default, and this is perhaps one of the most serious indictments against us. For example, we insist on our children going to church, but criticize the pastor. I wonder if you realize how serious this is and what it means when you admonish your children to be faithful in church, to come and hear the Word of God, but then, when they come home they hear you belittling the man of God who has stood in the sacred place to proclaim the whole counsel of God. This is a betrayal of the very thing you are trying to build into their lives. You are destroying the very foundation upon which you would build.
Another example: we want our children reared by Bible standards, by the Golden Rule and all these other things; but we measure them by the ruler of the world. As an example, there has been some violent opposition to the discipline of our summer camp program by some young people who have risen up in arms in defiance of camp rules and regulations. And unfortunately at certain junctions, in certain places and at certain times, when children have come home and belittled the program and its discipline, some parents have sided with the children. This is most lamentable and it does seem that a thinking, praying parent, spiritually mature, would realize the serious damage that can be done in undercutting the whole concept of discipline. I do not know of one place in the New Testament where we are told by God not to live disciplined lives. And disciplined means authority and respect thereof. I am grateful to God for the authority manifested in camp and for those who have sought to keep the standards strong for the glory of God. In all seriousness, if you are such a parent and you have been guilty of this, you ought to get on your face before God and ask Him to forgive you for unwittingly, perhaps unmeaningly, betraying your children in a vital area of their lives.
Is there any good answer to this sad mess? I believe there is. It is not an easy answer but it will work and I know of nothing else that will. Just three things: in the first place, we must take a larger interest in our children. We must remember that they are valuable people, well worth our time and participation, and that in reaching them we may be reaching a multitude. Little did Mrs. Wesley ever dream that out of her twelve children she would give to the world John and Charles Wesley, two of the greatest men it has ever known. Little did Mrs. Spurgeon know that her little boy, Charles Haddon, would grow up to be one of the great preachers of all times. Little did Mrs. Moody know that little Dwight would some day affect the whole world with his life.
Who is that in your home? Where is he going? What will she do? What is the potential? So much! So much depends on you and your relationship to this child! You must take an interest.
In the second place, we must seek to understand our children. We must develop an interest in what they are interested in. We must delve into their hearts and find out what makes them tick. We must take time to talk with them, to understand how they are put together, and not be afraid of their differences from us. We must realize that growing and maturing are processes which do not finalize overnight, but take years. And in patience and understanding we must work with them.
In the third place, and in a sense the most important, we must live consistently before our children. We must be transparent at all times. We must make certain of our own relationship to Jesus Christ. Take an honest inventory of your heart. Are you a religious person, are you a church person, or are you a father or mother who truly has met the Lord Jesus Christ? Has your life really been regenerated and transformed by the glory of God and the Holy Spirit? Or have you through the years been playing the game of church with your children? What kind of parent have you really been in relationship to Jesus Christ? We must understand that what we are will inevitably reveal itself not only to our children, but in our children. They cannot escape being what we are.
Our nation is at a crossroads today and in a very real sense so are our homes. We parents cannot in good conscience refuse to accept that wherein we have failed and are failing. It does no good for anyone to preach the Gospel to your children if they are so conditioned in it and against it by your lives in the home that they close their minds and will not listen to that Gospel when they are in the House of God. If you and I have an uncomfortable feeling just now, perhaps it is because we are under conviction. Perhaps we ought to ask God to do something about it. Obviously, not all people are guilty, and equally obviously, not all parents are innocent. It is between you and God what kind of a parent you are, what kind of parent you have been. It is between you and God what kind of a parent you will be. May God give us grace to see where we have failed.