The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Child Rearing as Cross Bearing

By: Thomas F. Booher
Photo By: Jocelyn Booher

I do not want to give anyone the impression that raising children in the Lord is an easy thing. It's a hard thing. It's fulfilling the call to take up your cross and follow Christ. It is entering into suffering for the sake of His Kingdom. It is bearing the curse of sin, because there is pain in child bearing, and even covenant children are wicked sinners. 

This past year has been the hardest for me personally, and for my wife. We left all friends and family to come to a place we did not know. Then our first child, Peter, was born two months later. My sin and weaknesses became clearer against the contrast of being a father, husband, provider, and seminary student all at once. How do you handle everything when you do not have family to help you? How do you stay sane and patient with your child? When do you sleep when the baby cries all night? How do you study when you hear his screams and your wife's cries as she tries to console this viper in a diaper?  How do you avoid feeling guilty when you are studying and your wife is suffering? How do you avoid feeling guilty when you are helping your wife and neglecting your studies? How do you know when you are working enough hours to be sufficiently providing and not be considered lazy by others? How do you do all this and wrestle with deep theological truths that at this very moment impact the way your live and orient your life? 

Having a family blows away all hypotheticals and makes the theological rubber hit the road. We are having as many children as the Lord will bless us with because children are a blessing. They are a blessing because they are a reward, a heritage from the Lord and a spiritual arrow in my quiver for the kingdom of God (Ps. 127). And because we live in a fallen world and are fallen ourselves, this blessing is painful. It induces suffering. But it is a blessing because of our union with Christ and God's promises to us, and our children, in Him. 

If I am in the public square and am seen with my wife and children, I do not want to deny that the path we are on is a hard one. It is the path of the cross. It is a physical, spiritual, and financial investment to have children, unlike any other. It is our first calling as married people, and it is our greatest calling, greater than being a minister of the Word of God. We mold and shape our children as the Lord wills, and we do so by teaching them the truths of God as we lie down, rise up, as we are coming and going (Deut. 6). But a baby doesn't yet grasp these things. So you wait several years before your children mentally begin understanding the things of God. And those first few years the baby is wholly dependent on you to feed them and clean them, without much thanks. As they get older, they start sinning against you in word and deed. You must drive this out of them, with the Word, and with your hand. Repeatedly. Some will call this harsh. Some will say it's child abuse. But God says if you don't do it it's child abuse and hatred (Prov. 13:24). 

There is not much delight in the hard work of growing crops under the beating sun, dealing with cuts and sweat and bugs and snakes. Then sometimes we have a bad harvest. We do not get to enjoy the fruits of our labor. But with covenant children, God says we will, if we put in the work. The work is hard and painful, but if we raise our children in the ways of the Lord, when they are mature they will not depart from His ways (Prov. 22:6). 

When we administer the sign and seal of baptism on our infant babies we are calling down the blessings and curses of the covenant, not just on our heads but our children's too. We are saying to God that we will trust in His promises to save our child, and we (as well as the elders and congregation of the local church) are acknowledging that we are breaking covenant with God if we do not diligently raise our children to turn to Christ for salvation and to live for Him. We are acknowledging that if we do not bear the cross of raising our children we may not reap the blessing of having children in the first place, which is seeing them standing strong in Christ, living in faithfulness to Him. 

The formation of Christ in our children is the blessing God is giving us. The children are blessings because they are our flesh and blood, but for our children to be at enmity with our Lord and Savior is no blessing but a curse, upon us and them. The laboring to bring them to faith in Christ by His grace, through faith in His work for them, is all for nothing if Christ is not formed in them. Indeed, Paul did not see his labors for those whom God entrusted to him as a blessing if they rejected Christ (Gal. 4:19-31). 

So let's not fool ourselves. Let's not think that having children is all fun and no work. It's closer to all work, and by God's grace, delight in the fruits of our labors when the children bloom into independent, faithful adults. 

Armed with these promises, namely that our children will come to Christ by God's grace through our faithfully raising them in the covenant, we can see our children as blessings even now. We do not labor in vain for our children (Is. 65:17-25, esp. 23) if we are faithful. As we will receive the reward of eternal life if we do not give up hope, so our children will be given eternal life if we take up our crosses and bear with them until Christ is formed in them at their conversion. 

Then we shall see the good fruit of our labors, rejoice in God's graciousness, and be satisfied. We will witness the kingdom of God growing as our children grow in God. We will see the forces of evil quake as we pray with our children, as we teach them the Word, as we discipline them in love. 

We will see the reign of Christ manifested as our children take up their crosses and follow after Him, and their children after them, from generation to generation, by His covenantal grace, for His everlasting glory.

With such grand promises, with such wonderful fruit to be produced, who can deny that, although child rearing is cross bearing, it is an unspeakably great blessing because of His gracious promise to be the Father of us, and of our children.       


  1. I see in your words a young father and mother gaining a great deal of wisdom through "suffering." As you grow your family, one thing that the experience should do is make you realize, and truly appreciate, that everything you're enduring for your child now your parents endured for you. Humility and gratitude to the Lord and your parents is appropriate. Raising children is a difficult and humbling and terrifying task. (Think of the movie scene where the bomb technician is called in to disarm a bomb, and he sweats bullets while he decides which wire to cut...that kind of frightening). Proverbs 13:24 is one of those verses that could be represented by the bomb's red wire, and Proverbs 22:6 could be represented by the blue wire.

    Here's the trick. You dare not cut either one. You BETTER NOT cut either one. The tragedy is that so many Christian preachers and parents do. The way the principles behind these verses gets cut is this; half of the wisdom is never taken into consideration. The rod in Pro. 13:24 is more than corporal punishment. The original language uses a word that is translated as "tribe" or "tribes" 140 times, and only about 30 times as "rod." So the question should be asked: Which translation carries more weight? Which draws more insight from the culture of the original audience? When you look a little closer and see where the word for "rod" is also translated as "scepter," "scepters," or "staff" it's clearer to see that the "rod" represents the exercise of authority more than just corporal punishment. In OT times, the authority of the tribe, or family had tremendous influence in child rearing...hence the Shema in Deu. 6. Authority, familial authority should be the source of teaching, correction, and punishment when necessary. Authority should also be the place where love, mercy and grace are taught as well.

    Your post is a beautiful testimony...but a phrase truly made me wince. I am not opposed to spanking, when it's warranted. My first daughter responded very well to it. We very rarely did it. All we needed to do was threaten her, and she would comply. My second daughter's temperament was different. Spanking just taught her that she could hit people too. Thankfully we recognized what was going and adjusted her form of chastening. Sitting in the corner worked wonders for her.

    This is why Proverbs 22:6 is also misunderstood too often. "Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it." The verse is just as much a warning as it is an admonition. Remember not to cut any wires here. Correction or training that attempts to force compliance will likely
    train anger, bitterness and rebellion into a child. (Eph. 6:4, Col. 3:21)

    Remember how much punishment our Savior suffered for us. And remember that any chastening we may receive from our loving Father now is not final, but for our good and His glory.

    1. Not sure if I know who this is, but if I had to guess it may be an old teacher of mine. Regardless, I very much agree that we should not provoke our children nor force compliance. Having said that, I have not taken Hebrew, but this verse from Proverbs 23:13 seems to make spanking pretty clearly required by Scripture:

      Do not withhold discipline from a child;if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.

      Spanking should always be gospel saturated. Without the cross, spanking will not be properly understood by our children. If we don't teach them that the sting of spanking is reflective of the sting of sin that they are committing, and that despite this discipline Christ still loves them and Dad and Mom still love and forgive them, then spanking is ineffective and will lead to anger, bitterness, and rebellion. But teaching your children the point and purpose of spanking, by God's grace, should turn their wills toward Christ and His righteousness.

      This is also why I wouldn't consider the discipline Scripture calls for as corporal punishment. It is a physical punishment, but connected to the gospel it is a redemptive and corrective, and loving, rebuke.

  2. The alarm some experience when they hear the word 'spanking' often comes because they translate it 'beating.' I was sometimes spanked (not beaten) with a belt, three swats at most, on the back of the thighs, raising welts, stinging severely, and I ALWAYS deserved each swat. Disobedience has severe consequences, and that principle has been my faithful companion ever since.