John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Parenting From the Inside-Out

God's agenda for us is that we become more and more godly -- not merely more and more biblical. The latter is merely functional as a means to the former, and if we ever find ourselves becoming more biblical but less godly, we can be assured that something has gone terribly wrong! Furthermore, God's goal goes far beyond morality. It is possible to be a very moral person and still remain far from God. The Pharisees are solid examples of people who fit both categories; they were very moral and very biblical. But they were so far from God that they couldn't recognize him when he showed up in person and stood right in front of them!

So, if godliness is the aim for our lives, how do we know we're hitting the mark in becoming the kind of parents God would have us be? Well, when you start parenting your children the way God has parented you -- then you know you're on the right track. And when your goal for your kids lines up with God's goal for them, again, you're headed in the right direction.

But most parents I talk to are more concerned with trying to get their children to sit still at the dinner table, to sleep through the night, to use their manners and stop hitting their siblings. In other words, parents tend to be more concerned with externals than internals, and end up calling behavior modification techniques good parenting.

One of the problems with such a focus on the externals (and there are many) is that you can end up raising kids who suffer from Eddie Haskell syndrome. You know the type of kid I'm talking about, right? You went to high school with someone who was always polite, always well-behaved...until all the adults left the room. Then he was the definition of troublemaker.

Jesus met up with people like this during his life on earth. He said that their outsides looked great, but their insides were rotten. They were like a tomb that had been painted white. It looked so nice and clean, but the contents stunk like you wouldn't believe!

It wasn't a new problem for Jesus, though. The prophet Isaiah, back in the Old Testament, had mentioned how the people looked so great as they practiced their religious rituals. But God could see what was really going on inside, and he knew how far they were from him in their hearts and minds.

Jesus' solution to the problem was interesting. He acknowledged that behavior was important, but he said it wasn't as important as character.

Jesus was less concerned with behavior than he was with what was going on inside a person. Jesus seemed to believe that people do what they do because they believe and feel certain things. So, he knew better than to focus all of his energies on behavior modification techniques that produce short-term results and "false-positives". He went to the root of the problem, looking beyond mere externals in an attempt to fix what was going on internally. He didn't just want his followers to do certain things; he wanted them to become certain kinds of people for whom the right things were done naturally.

So, if we were to allow Jesus to set the agenda for our parenting, we may need to take some of the emphasis off our child's behavior and put more emphasis on character development.

What might that look like? And why do you think more parents don't parent from the inside-out?