I was an idiot – enthusiastic – but an idiot. On my first day of college, I bounded off to class. In all honesty, I more lumbered about campus like John Bunyan’s Christian, carrying every single book for every single class in my backpack. I must have been toting around at least 70 lbs. of pure academic pain. Who knew, you didn’t have to take every book to class? Thankfully, by the end of the first week, I figured out that my zeal was a little misplaced. I discovered the beautiful truth that carrying five to ten pounds of pens, textbooks, and notebooks was more than adequate.
Often in our zeal to live out the gospel, we can be tempted to lay heavy burdens on our kids. We can become focused on secondary things such as our kids’ media consumption, their bedtimes, their education, their clothes, and their friends. We praise our little ones for embracing our schedule, for wearing the right clothes, and for having the right friends. We praise them for meeting our standards. And in the process, we may subtly swap out the gospel for our traditions. Instead of experiencing joy, our kids will begin to feel weighed down because they are carrying all of our traditions around with them.
In Mark 7:1-13, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for burdening their followers with extra biblical principles. The Pharisees were substituting the commandments of God for the commandments of men. They were holding the Jews to extra biblical standards of cleanliness. And at the same time, they were downplaying the conviction of the law.
Jesus took exception to the Pharisees because they were missing the heart of the gospel. They were turning God’s free gift of salvation into a pay-for-play scheme. The Pharisees thought people could reach heaven through good works.
Jesus disagreed. He proclaimed that God cared about the heart. The child who doesn’t watch TV is no closer to heaven than the kid who watches TV 18 hours a day. The girl who dresses modestly is not closer to salvation than the gal showing off her navel piercing. Salvation is a matter of the heart and not a matter of following conservative family values.
Are we guilty of having swapped traded out the gospel for our traditions? Have we burdened our kids down with a bunch of extra traditions? How can we know?
We typically add burdens to our children’s lives by holding them to ridiculously high standards and/or by downplaying the significance of the Bible. Let’s Take a look:
Ridiculously High Standards:
First we need to ask ourselves are we adding to the law of God? In Mark 7:5, the Pharisees were demanding that the Jesus’ disciples follow the priestly code of conduct. They wanted the disciples to achieve a certain level of human cleanliness that God did not demand of them.
We need to make sure that we are not demanding more from our kids than they are able. We cannot hold children to the same standard that we demand of our pastors. We cannot expect grade-schoolers to be fully hospitable, peaceable, gentle, content, and sober-minded (Tim 3:1-7). Our kids cannot live up to these expectations. And if we punish them for not achieving the character of an elder, we will break their spirit. We will weigh them down, causing them to view every sin as a crushing defeat.
We must not do this. We must extend grace to our children, expecting them to get angry and expecting them to be selfish. We must see our children’s childhood as a time of training and formation, patiently helping them to grow in faith. We must not expect our kids to already be pastor material.
Downing Playing the Bible:
Second, we must not devalue the Word of God. The Pharisees were more concerned with ceremonial washings than with people honoring the parents. As long as your hands were clean, they thought a person could ignore his parents suffering and still be considered godly (Mark 6: 8-13). The Pharisees were seemingly crazy.
What about us? Do we devalue the Word of God? Are we more concerned about our kids clothes than whether or not they lied to their teacher? Are we more concerned about our kids’ media time than their constant outburst of anger? Are we more concerned with applying our traditions and then applying the Scriptures? What do we care about most? This is hard to wrestle with. But to raise of kids in love, we must get this right. We must be more concerned about our kids’ heart issues and their obedience to God than their conformity to our traditions.
Now admittedly these things can go hand in hand. God can often use our standards and rules to draw out our children’s heart. The child that rejects our view of modesty has heart issues. Her disobedience maybe driven by a fear of man and by a belief that her friend’s opinions matter more than God’s love. But the ultimate goal is not just to get our kids back inline with our standards. Our ultimate goal is to see their hearts changed. Our ultimate goal is to see our daughter abandon her fear of man and put her trust in Christ. Our ultimate goal should be to see our daughter’s heart more closely knitted to the heart of Christ.
And now back to our question: “Parents, have we burdened down our kids with traditions or are we seeking to reach their hearts with the gospel?”