3 Ways to Find Family Time in a Busier Than Ever World

family lifestyle portrait

Finding family balance in a busier than ever world – it’s tough.

It has to be one of the most frequently asked questions I get from other pastors and leaders. Frankly, I’m glad they are asking the question. I especially see this true among the newest generation of leaders.

Cheryl, the boys and I were talking not long ago. They wanted to know how we did it? How did we keep the balance between a busy life and a healthy family life?

They knew we were busy. We had lots of responsibilities.

I was on the local city council. Served for a time as vice-mayor. We owned a small business with many employees depending on us to keep a business going which could feed lots of families. (You don’t know stress until you feel the weight of making payroll for 35-40 people every week.) I was on dozens of community committees and was active in the church, where I served as a deacon and Sunday school teacher.

Cheryl spent more time in the home than me during this season, but she also worked in our business. She served in the church. She was active leading in the schools where our boys attended – often serving as the president of the parent organization.

Yet my boys knew we rarely missed anything they were doing. Ball games. Practices. School events. Church events.

And, they felt we had lots of time for just us as a family. We ate dinner together most evenings. We threw and kicked lots of balls in our back and front yard. They felt we invested a lot of time in them.

They wanted to know how we did it – how we figured out the balance.

And, honestly, I have to admit – we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were figuring it out as we went. Plus, everything seems busier now. Travel ball. Travel dance. Social media. You know you’ve got to update your status often or your social media stats will suffer.

How do you do all you feel you have to do and still find balance?

Well, it may be harder today than 15 or so years ago, but I think the same principles we used then still apply.

Say no to some good things.

And, this is hard, isn’t it? Because you want your kids to have every opportunity they want. You want them to be exposed to lots of different things. You don’t want them to miss things their friends are doing. How can you say no?

But, sometimes as a parent you have to make the hard decisions for your kids they aren’t mature enough to make for themselves. Of course, they want to do it all. They are kids, but you have to ask yourself – is this the wisest decision for them today, based on where they need to go someday?

One day they’ll be gone and you’ll wish for more time with them. Some moms, like Cheryl, will wish you could wash some dirty clothes or pick up some socks from the floor (yea, funny how that works). Some dads, like me, will miss coming home tired from work and still getting outside to play catch.

But, right now your kids need you. More now than ever. They need your influence. And, you develop influence with them over time – when you’re with them. So, which is the greater good — another sport – another activity – or more time with you?

You’ll have to decide, but I suggest you consider the word “no”. It’s a good word. And, I would say it’s vital to having a balanced family life.

We limited the number of activities we allowed our kids to do. They got to choose, but they couldn’t choose everything. And, we said no to outside social invitations many times so we could have family time together.

Say yes to intentionality.

When you’re home be home. Turn off the phones. Put down the laptop. Turn off the television. Be radical with your scheduled time with them. And, yes, my family went on my calendar – trumping other good things.

I know this is hard also. You’re tired – and the recliner and remote are your escape. I get it. You have one more email to answer. You need to check your Facebook or Instagram posts to see who has interacted with you.

I cover this more in the next one – but since time is limited you’ve got to make the most of it. Every moment must count. Every night is another opportunity. An opportunity which quickly disappears with a fast moving calendar. (If there is one thing I hear empty-nest parents say it is they got to this stage quicker than they thought they would. Time passes fast.)

And invest in your marriage too. Intentionally shut everything down often enough so you stay connected. Yes. It’s crazy. It takes time away from an already busy schedule. But , it’s life giving to the marriage and your sanity.

We weren’t perfect at this, but our boys knew they had our attention. One example, I didn’t play golf for years – even though I loved the game – because my boys never took an interest in it. I thought time was better spent with them. We didn’t turn on the television every night – and not for long periods on the nights we did.

Be creative with your time.

You’ve got to learn to use teachable moments. Learn to love the activities your child loves. Throw balls together. Learn to love dancing at home. Play with action characters. Build science projects together (oh I hated those – miss them now). Use bedtime and dinnertime and breakfast time – and car circles – and trips to the garbage dump – whatever you have, whatever it takes, use the time you have with your children well. Use it creatively.

There isn’t one moment to spare when you’re intentional in raising a busy family. Not one moment. Intentional is the key word in the last sentence. You have to be intentional. And, it is hard work, but the rewards are worth it. Every. Single. Time.

We didn’t really do family devotion times in our home. It didn’t work as well for our boys. But, we talked about God’s Word, principles of life, values we should hold as followers of Christ – along the journey of life. Every time a ball was in the air I knew I had a captive audience with two eager soon-to-be men. And, I took advantage of the opportunity. I knew it would pass too soon.

You can find the balance<. It is hard. There's nothing more important.

The Dad Challenge: The Nurturing Father

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Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

Fathers are not usually seen as the nurturing ones in a family. When my boy’s got sick, they didn’t want me, they wanted Cheryl.

The Bible, however, tends to also place the father in a nurturing position. We are told not to “exasperate” our children, which means not to wear them out with correction, but to “bring them up”. The phrase literally means we spend time with them on a regular basis and encourage them in the development of their character.  

Sounds like nurturing to me.

The Bible tends to lay a huge responsibility on the father to help set the tone or the climate of the home. A father, who is consistently harsh or is never satisfied with his children, will tend to produce children who lack the confidence to face tough situations in life.

On the other hand, a father too quiet and passive to be intimately involved in the lives of children will likely lead to adults who cannot connect well with others, either in the workplace or in their own marriages and homes.

Fathers are often one of the best determinates of a child’s future success in life.

Wow, this is a sobering statement, but it’s true!

If a boy never feels he meets his father’s approval, he may become either an underachiever or an overachiever, but he will likely never feel that he “measures up” in life. A girl whose father fails to affirm her will often seek that approval from others – often in seeking inappropriate or less than ideal relationships. She may enter marriage unrealistically expecting something from a husband he may or may not be able to give.

I haven’t even mentioned the impact of an absentee or abusive father. Some reading this know this impact well – including the writer of this post (me).

The biggest impact in the life of a child whose father never nurtures is they often have a harder time realizing the nurturing aspect found in a loving relationship with a Heavenly Father. Without the model of an earthly father, they may see God more in the role of Judge than of “Abba” – which is the Hebrew term for our modern “Daddy”.

I’m thankful for the grace and mercy of God, which allows so many second chances for fathers who have missed the mark – but if we desire to be Godly fathers, we will strive to nurture our children in love.

How’s this for a Dad Challenge? I love investing in other men. We are in this together! I want to encourage you today! But, we have great work to do, men. Let’s do it to the glory of God!

For more thoughts on parenting, click HERE.

Ask yourself – what changes do I need to make to be a more nurturing dad?

These 5 Simple Words Can Shape Your Parenting

Group of different families together of all races

I learned much of what I know about parenting after I was a parent.

Thankfully, my two boys are model young adults. I would say we have two of the greatest young men as sons any parent has ever seen. (Biased – aren’t I?) But, seriously, we have seen good fruit from our labor as parents. I believe this is in part because we followed certain principles.

Again, we learned as we went and it was purely the grace of God, but we were intentional.

These principles can greatly increase your success as a parent, in my opinion. (And, it’s important to note this is an opinion blog and an opinion post.) This opinion comes, however, not only from my personal experience, but also my training as a counselor, and my observation and counseling with hundreds of parents through years of ministry. Keep in mind – principles are not promises or guarantees. Children are individuals and you can do everything you know to do right and things not turn out as hoped.

But, I believe, as with most things in life, you have a better chance of success in parenting if you follow good principles than if you do not.

Here are 5 simple words which can shape your parenting:

Plan

Most of us have a plan for other areas of our life, but not for our family. Plan a strategy for raising children the way you want them to go. We had a personal parenting plan. You can read the basics of it HERE. We reevaluated every year and made individual plans for each child based on their needs at the time. Do you have a plan for parenting? Granted, your plan will look different from ours. Your children are different.

Protect

This word has several applications. It is critically important to protect your relationship with the child, for example, so you can maintain influence over them for the rest of their life. You don’t want to lose their heart. This is not accomplished by giving them what they want, but by gentling balancing discipline with love. You may have to be willing to say no, or to make them wait for something, even when it is uncomfortable and unpopular with your children (and their friends). There are things parents need to protect their children from in this world – before they are ready. Just because an 8 year old wants to see the movie – and everyone else is seeing it – doesn’t mean they should. You’re the parent.

But, you also have to work to build their trust in you as much as their obedience to you. One reason our plan included the word grace is we knew we would have to extend lots of it to protect their heart and our connection to them. It’s a continual and delicate balance.

Control

This one gets me in trouble with some parents, but often because they don’t always understand the magnitude of their parenting role at an early age – or they aren’t seeing the long-term goal of parenting. There is a time to gain control over a child’s actions. It’s when they are very young. When they are learning all the basic things of life we take for granted. We encouraged independent personalities in our boys, but a parent doesn’t have to let a 3 year old throw a temper tantrum, for example. When is this ever an acceptable – or effective – response as an adult? And, you can make a four year old attend Sunday school even when the would rather not – for another example. Are there times you don’t want to go to work? What do you do in those times?

There should be an element of control for a child not old enough to choose wisely and then a gradual release of authority given to them as they get older. Too many parents allow too much freedom early and then try to get control back when the child tries to be an independent teenager. It should be the opposite. You are training a child in the way he should go. Take advantage of the years where they desperately need and will comply with your wisdom.

Invest

Children require an intentional investment of time and energy over time. Having children who grow up well does not usually just happen. It is as a result of the right investment of parenting. We have children for such a short window of opportunity. We can’t waste time with opportunities which only produce temporary rewards or pleasures. Which has more importance – your work, your hobby – or your children? Do your actions portray your answer?

The one thing Cheryl and I consistently observe are families who appear to let the coaches or the instructors or other people raise their children. In a desire to give them activities they sacrifice needed time for their children with the people of whom they need the most time. Every family is busy on certain weeks, but if a family goes for months with little quality – and quantity – time together priorities may need to be evaluated.

(Side note – I realize this is especially challenging for single-parent or blended families. Some parents may need outside help – and it requires even more intentionality and planning. Get help and advice from others who have been there or are living your experience. This is also a huge advantage of being involved in a local church.)

Model

You cannot expect children to learn – and certainly not live – principles you are not willing to model for them. Children should not be held to higher standards than you hold yourself. Are you living a life they can and should follow? If they simply do what you do – or are doing – will they turn out the way you would hope they would?

Parenting is hard – but, the rewards are worth it!

Also, if you know anything about my teaching, grace is of paramount theme. If you don’t feel you’ve done everything right – or you know you haven’t – first, know there are no perfect parents. Second, know God’s grace is sufficient. And, finally, know even if your children are adults there is time to restore relationships. My father was absent most of my life, but the last 10 years of his life were well-lived. He died a good father. I miss him today.

Praying for you as I post this.

10 Prayers for Great Parenting

african sick little boy lying in bed with his mother praying on background

Dear Lord, 

Help me not to overwhelm my children with unrealistic expectations. 

Remind me discipline is for their good – and to always administer it in love – not in anger or purely emotion.

Keep me from dumping my adult problems on them, while helping me be transparent enough for them to learn from my mistakes. 

Help me to remember my children’s current age – and respond to them accordingly.

Grant me teachable moments and prompt me to use them to impart uncompromising truth into their life. 

Allow me to see my children as the individuals you created them to be and help me encourage them to thrive in your purpose for their life.

Let them see our home as a safe, fun, welcoming environment. 

Continually remind me time paces quickly and to embrace and enjoy each season. 

Keep building my character so my children have a model to follow. 

Above all – let my children know and experience unconditional love.

In Jesus name,

Amen

The Greatest Prayer a Parent Could Ever Pray

A casual young woman says a prayer with her hands held together. Shallow DOF, focus on the hands.

I love the story of Manoah and his wife. They had been unable to give birth to a child. It was apparently their greatest desire in life. One day an angel of God brought them good news a child was to be born.

I think one reason I identify with the story is the huge number of people in our ministry who have struggled with infertility. It’s a huge hidden pain in the church. It’s one reason we have always highlighted adoption and foster-parenting.

But, when Manoah’s wife came to him with the news they were having a child, Manoah immediately did what happens to many men and women when they discover they are about to be parents. He grew up – literally – and he indicated this by what he did first. He prayed!

He asked for God’s provision!

It’s funny how “life” has to happen sometimes before we fall on our knees.

In the moment – realizing they were about to be blessed with one of life’s greatest blessings – Manoah prayed the most important prayer a parent can ever pray:

Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: “Pardon your servant, Lord. I beg you to let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.” (Judges 13:8)

The greatest prayer a parent can ever pray is to ask for God’s hand upon your parenting! Ask God to teach you to parent well.

Parenting is hard work. There will always be issues which come up in parenting you don’t know how to address at the time. We cannot – and should not – do it alone. (This is one value of the church and community – we are in this together as parents.) All of us have seasons we could use more prayer for our children and for are parenting, but we should certainly pray.

I’m working on a longer list of prayers for parenting, but we should start here.

Dear Lord, teach us to parent!

What are the current prayers you have for your children? What specifically do they need the most?

10 Principles to Consider for Parents on Healthy Discipline of Children

A young girl enjoys the afternoon with her family.

As a pastor, I’m consistently asked about disciplining children. I am not an expert – and every family is unique, with different parents and different children – but, I have learned some things personally and from watching others. Plus, I know some things I would do differently if I had the early years of parenting to do again.

There is always special interest in the subject of spanking – whether it was appropriate or not and whether I believe in it or not. While I believe discipline is a personal topic for parents to decide where they land, I do believe there are some helpful principles for all parents to follow. I am probably less inclined in this area to talk about what I did and more inclined to talk about the principles I believe are even more helpful.

I have written my basic overall plan for parenting in an earlier post. You can read it HERE. Since I believe the most important thing is you have a plan for your parenting and where you are trying to steer children as they mature, I decided to share some principles I believe can help the discipline part of your plan.

10 principles for parents on healthy discipline:

Goal set first. 

Proverbs 29:17 says, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” You should understand the reason behind discipline. You are taking your children somewhere they need to go. There is great value then in discipline. Just as you have to discipline yourself to do anything of value – or just as they have to be disciplined to master an activity in which they are involved – your parenting needs to include healthy discipline.

Never discipline in anger.

When you act in anger you will say things you do not mean and do things you should not do. Discipline done in anger is rarely productive and usually harmful long-term.

Discipline yourself first.

At the time of need for discipline, remember this 3-step process: Stop/Think/Proceed. This takes practice on your part, but keep in mind, you’re supposed to be the maturer one. This also means you’ll do less yelling in the moment and take more decisive actions when you administer discipline. Obviously, when they are younger you have to make quick decisions. If your 2 year old is about to stick their finger in a socket – react fast. Decisions regarding discipline get more difficult as the child gets older, however, so you may need to take longer with each of these steps.

Be consistent in your discipline plan.

It will mean nothing to the child otherwise. You must help them learn how you will respond. The discipline may not be the same, but your attitude towards them and your follow through should be. As they get older, they will test this one.

Pre-think principles, rather than pre-planning specifics.

You should have some value-centered, character-based goals you want discipline to promote in your child. But, be careful declaring what you will do when your child does something specific. Avoid saying things like, for example, “My son will never wear his hair long – and if he tries I will…” You may regret those words someday. It should go without saying, but I believe Biblical principles are always best – and should come first. 

Differentiate discipline for each child.

To spank or not to spank should not be as big a deal as what works best for the child. Every child is unique and what works for one won’t necessarily work for the other. The more you individualize your approach the more successful your plan will be.

Do not make threats with which you are unwilling to follow through

Your children will catch on quickly when you do. It’s probably best not to make threats at all. Again, be goal-driven, value-centered. Threats usually cause more harm than good. Either they push you in a corner to respond – or, depending on the will of the child – encourage them to test your threat.

Use age appropriate and action appropriate discipline

As a child matures the discipline should mature with them. Be careful not to overkill a minor incident or ignore a major occurrence. Remember a 3 year old is 3. They are learning – and sometimes they can be so cute doing things the first time. But, if it’s a character issue – such as lying – treat it seriously. (Usually you don’t have to do a whole lot to convince a 3 year old it’s serious, either.) It becomes a lot more serious when a 13 year old is still lying to parents – especially if they were never disciplined about it at 3.

Always discipline the child for results, not your comfort level.

Discipline in its concept is not necessarily pleasant, but it reaps a reward if done right. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Many parents refuse to discipline in the name of love. All parents love their children. And, punishing people we love – even when needed – is difficult. Don’t discipline in a way which is comfortable for you – discipline in a way, which is productive in producing maturity in your child.

Discipline should never teach a child he or she is unloved.

Actually, if done right, discipline should reinforce the love a parent has for the child. (Hebrews 12:7-10) This is especially true as they get older. They should be able to look back and see – while you may not have done everything right – you always disciplined in love; you always cared for their best interest – even ahead of your own.

The discipline part of parenting is the hardest – and we all make mistakes. Keep this thought in mind: we parent our children to eventually be adults. Begin with the end in mind. What characteristics, values and morals do we want them to have when they are grown. This thought helped me many times when deciding which discipline to use – and certainly the severity of which I should view a matter needing discipline.

6 Tips for Happier, Healthier Relationships when the Relationship has been Injured

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Do you have any injured relationships in your life?

Broken hearts, hurt feelings, or grudges from the past are common among relationships. At some point we all have relationships, which have gone from bad to worst.

In fact, sometimes the people we have to be around, by default – blood relatives, in-laws, or co-workers – are people we wouldn’t choose to be around unless we had to be.

It’s true, isn’t it? And, the truth hurts sometimes, doesn’t it?

(Raise your hand if that’s your story.)

What should you do? How should you respond to the one who has hurt you the most – or who always seems to say the wrong thing – or who is, honestly, even mean at times? How do you respond to the most difficult relationships in your life?

You can’t control other people’s response – only yours, but how should you act in those injured relationships?

I want to encourage the Biblical approach.

Here are 6 tips for healthier, happier relationships:

Bite your tongue

When you are tempted to snap back – don’t. Sure, it will be difficult, even seemingly unfair at times, but see it as spiritual discipline training. (James 1:26) Memorize and learn to pray Psalm 141:3. (Look it up. It’s the first step towards learning it.)

Extend grace

Forgive. Let go of a grudge. Even though it may not be received well and nothing may change in the relationship, it will change you. (1 Peter 4:10, Colossians 3:13)

Put on another’s shoes

Anyone who hurts you has a story. Usually they were hurt too – by someone. Remember, hurt people hurt people. Think about where the other person is coming from before (or as) you encounter them. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Practice patience

Be honest, some relationships require more patience than you thought you had, don’t they? But, isn’t this what we are called to do as believers? It is a “fruit of the spirit”. (Colossians 3:12-14)

Exercise humility

When we humble ourselves, we may get taken advantage of at times, but God always rewards humility. Who knows? It may be the break through in the relationship. (James 4:10, 1 Peter 5:6)

Pray for them

The last one is sometimes the most difficult, but oh how Biblical! Prayer releases the burden to the burden bearer the One whose yoke is easy the One who paid for your sins. Prayer can even change the dynamics of a relationship. Pray for the awkward, difficult, shattered and broken relationships in your life and the people who caused them. In the most tense moments this holiday season, slip away and pray. (Matthew 5:44)

Apply liberally, as needed.

You’ll have healthier, happier relationships. Trust me.

Do you have a difficult relationship facing you? What tips do you have?

5 Joys of Being an Empty-Nester

Handsome mature man with his arms around his beautiful wife

I have to be honest. I was a reluctant empty-nester. Cheryl and I love our boys and them being at home was one of our greatest joys in life. Walking in the door and being handed a football to throw or a soccer ball to kick was often the best part of my day.

Thankfully, we were intentional as parents and in our marriage. Now, we are reaping the reward of that intentionality. We raised our boys to be independent and they are doing it well. They still “need” us, but they aren’t dependent on us.

At the same time, we protected our relationship, so we truly enjoy our time together – always have – still do.

As hard as it was for me to see our boys leave home, I’m now learning to adjust to and actually enjoy being an empty-nester.

This is written with those who still have children at home and may be dreading the day they leave. I’d encourage you to build your family with this day in mind. One day they will and it will be okay. 

In fact – it’s kind of fun.

Here are 5 joys of being an empty-nester:

Spontaneous living – Cheryl and I can now change plans on a dime. Someone asks us to dinner, but they are leaving “now” – no problem. Suddenly deciding to go out of town for a few days – why not? Late night walk around the block – yea!

More time for ministry – We are busier in ministry than ever before. Cheryl ministers to multiple women in the church, leads bible studies and assists me on my ministry. And, my ministry in and outside my home church has never been busier. We love serving others and now we have more time to do it.

Planned chaos – Cheryl and I live a crazy life. When the boys were home we tried to do dinner every night. Now there may be weeks we aren’t home and nights, but we have the freedom within craziness to adjust our schedule as we see fit. When children are in the house, much of your schedule is dictated by their activities. Now, we decide what is going to control our time. We can never anticipate what’s going to happen, but we have the freedom to adjust to it as we choose.

Rekindled relationship – Cheryl and I have always loved our life together. As I said, we continued to date throughout our parenting days, so our relationship remained strong. Now, we are in a new season in our relationship. It’s a good season. We love our time together. And, dating isn’t limited to one night a week.

Unbridled future – We keep saying to each other we can do anything we want. We are free to walk by faith as God leads. It’s a very good feeling. Let’s do it God! What’s next?

Let me be clear, if you have children at home, enjoy them now. It will pass fast. You’ll miss them, but if you continue to work on your relationship – and you prepare your children to stand on their own – you’ll one day get to enjoy the blessings of being a joyful empty-nester.

Any empty-nesters out there? What do you like about this season of life?

Why I Don’t Always Give People an Answer – Even When They Come to Me for Answers

multicultural mentor

I have a theory I practice often.

I’ve been using it for many years — as a leader, father, a friend, and a pastor. It’s not always what people come looking to me for, but I think it’s the best practice.

I don’t always give people answers.

  • As a pastor, people come to me for answers.
  • As a dad, my boys come to me for answers.
  • As a friend, people come to me for answers.
  • As a leader of a team, people come to me for answers.

In either case, I don’t always give people answers.

I don’t try to solve their problems for them.

I know that seems hard to understand – maybe even cruel of me. 

Now, if there is a clear Biblical answer for their problem or issue, I give it to them – as I understand it. I’m talking about the issues more difficult to discern. Things such as career choice decisions, the calling in life decisions, who to marry, how to respond to a marriage conflict, etc. — the unwritten answer type decisions.

For those type issues, I probably have an opinion, but I almost never “have” the answer.

Instead…

I help people discover a paradigm through which to make the decision.

  • I become an objective listener.
  • I help them see all sides of the issue.
  • I share Scriptures whigh may speak to both sides of the decision.
  • I serve as an outside voice.
  • I connect them with people who have experienced similar issues.
  • I may diagram the problem, as I hear it, so they can see the issue on paper.
  • I help them learn to pray and listen to God.

And then I release them to make a decision.

Here is my reasoning…

If I solve the problem:

  • I’m just another opinion — and I may be wrong.
  • They’ll resent me if it proves to be a wrong decision.
  • They may never take ownership of the issue.
  • They’ll likely do what they want anyway.
  • They won’t learn the valuable skills of listening to the voice of God.
  • They won’t learn from experience.
  • They will only need someone to give them the answer next time.

My advice:

Don’t always have an answer.

Help people form a paradigm through which to to solve their problems or make decisions.

Leaders, parents, friends – ideally you want people to develop healthy decision-making skills. You want them to gain independence and be able to stand on their own. If you’re always making the decisions for them they will never they will never become all they can be individually.

Are you too quick to have an answer sometimes?

Olive Tree Parenting – Growing Children of Character

Smiling little boy digging in vegetables garden

Every time I write about parenting, people email me asking for more. I understand.

Parenting is hard work.

Most people who follow my ministry closely know this is one area of my life I have taken very serious. One specific desire Cheryl and I had in raising our boys was encouraging them to love Christ and display His character. It’s great to teach our children how to play sports or to do well in school, and I think we should, but our greatest goal should be to help them be people who aspire to have good character – specifically the character of Christ.

Recognizing the Bible is a great guide to do this, I once developed a model for parenting called Olive Tree Parenting.

This model is based upon a couple verses of Scripture.

Psalm 128:3 says, “Your sons will be like olive shoots around your table.”
Psalm 144:12 says, “Our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants.”

Here are a few facts I’ve read about olive trees:

  • They were a symbol of peace and happiness to Hebrews.
  • It takes some varieties 8-10 years to even bear fruit.
  • It takes 20-50 years for an olive tree to be mature and really productive.
  • No one knows for sure how long they grow, but estimate is at least 300-600 years, with some estimates up to 2000 years.
  • When the tree trunk of an olive tree dies new sprouts come out keeping the tree alive.
  • Olive trees are evergreens.

Do you see any parallels there in raising children – or your desires for them in life?

I firmly believe we are more likely to get out of life what we actually aim for, so our goal became to raise children to be adults that bear righteous fruit for generations. We began to think strategically how to develop Biblical characteristics of fruit in our two boys.

The Bible also gives us some clear indication of what righteous fruit looks like.

Galatians 5:22-23 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Here are some suggestions to encourage each of these fruits to grow:

LOVE
Love is the first fruit mentioned and perhaps the most important. Jesus said “love” was the greatest command for us all. I don’t believe we can teach our child to love. We must model it for them.

Here are some actions you can take, however, to instill this fruit in their heart.

  • Ask your children questions about their life. Get to know your child and what they are thinking.
  • Do everything in love — even discipline. (They will know when you are not acting in love. You will too.)
  • Discipline. Don’t neglect discipline in “the name of love”. Discipline should actually be an indication you love them enough to train them to do the right thing.
  • Watch how you treat other groups of people — including other races and ethnic groups.
  • Watch your child’s attitude — always recognize attitudes over actions (1 Sam. 16:24) and respond accordingly.
  • Love your children’s friends.
  • Be kind to your neighbors, friends and family. They are watching.
  • Get involved in church and community not out of compulsion, but because you love other people.

JOY
The goal of producing joy is not to make your children happy – even though most parents rightly want that for their children. The Bible makes a distinction between joy and happiness. (Psalm 68:3)

Here are some actions you can take to instill the fruit of joy in your child’s heart:

  • Don’t reward everything. Life should not be a big celebration. Life shouldn’t revolve around the next big event.
  • Have a sense of humor. Have fun parenting. Let them see you enjoying life.
  • Be positive. Children can’t take the pressure and stress of life that an adult has to handle.
  • Allow your children to enjoy life at the age they are – without trying to make them someone they are not.
  • Life is difficult and there will be trials, but let your children see you use trials as something you learn from and have faith during; trusting that God will work all things for good.
  • Remind yourself Scripture says to “be joyful always”. Model it for them.

PEACE
Peace is a foundation for other great character traits you will want your children to have. The Bible says we can have peace that is there regardless of the storms of life. I know many adults who would like this kind of peace themselves. You would certainly want it for your children.

Here are some actions you can take to model peace for your children:

  • Pray for your children daily in their presence. This shows them the importance of prayer and relying on God for daily strength.
  • Teach them to pray. Jesus taught His disciples to pray. Help your children understand they can talk with God anytime. They will catch on quickly. Faith comes much easier when built as a child.
  • Let them see you read your Bible regularly. Truth can ground us when we are afraid or stressed.
  • Talk about your faith. Peace is found in a relationship and they need to see that modeled for them.
  • Remain cool in stressful situations – as best as you can. It’s okay that they see you emotional, but they should quickly see you display a peace that surpasses understanding.

PATIENCE
This is a tough one for me, because it is one of my weak points, but it is a part of the fruit of the Spirit God has encouraged us to have. And, our children need it greatly.

Here are some actions to help your children have this trait:

    • Let them see you waiting patiently. (If my boys or my wife reads this they will be wondering when they will see this in me. Still, I have had to wait for many big picture things in my life many times. I’ve attempted to do so patiently.)
    • Make children wait sometimes. Yes, I said it. Children shouldn’t get everything right away and they certainly shouldn’t be able to demand it with temper-tantrums or tears. One statistic I read says that children today get 90% of everything they want, yet as adults they will get less than 25%. We are setting them up for failure when we give them everything.
    • Don’t be a complainer. Do everything without complaining or arguing.(Phil 2:14)
    • Don’t let your children think they are the center of the universe. They are not – actually God is. Encourage them, but don’t crown them kings.

KINDNESS
Kindness could be defined as “genuine friendliness, helpfulness and generosity”.

Here are some ways to instill kindness in your children:

  • Be a giver and not a taker. Let your children see you giving to others regularly.
  • Never let children see you being unkind to the cashier or waitress.
  • Know your neighbors and actually have concern for them.
  • Never allow degrading comments to be made to other family members.
  • Care for the hurting people of the world.
  • Be a regular giver/servant at church and in the community.

GOODNESS
Jesus said “well done good and faithful servant” and “a good tree produces good fruit”. This is the opposite of bad. (Makes sense, huh?)

Here are some suggestions to instill goodness in your children:

  • Reward good acts towards others.
  • Give extra praise to your children for doing good things. (This can be done verbally and doesn’t always mean buying something.)
  • Never let them see their parents argue and fight.
  • Demand respect always. They don’t always have to agree, but they should always have to respect.
  • Always declare truthfulness. Never let them see you telling lies; even “little white lies”.
  • Teach prompt obedience. Don’t let them “think about” obeying you. This is especially true for younger children.

FAITHFULNESS
Children will be as faithful as you are, so in order to see them grow into faithful individuals you will have to model it for them.

Here are some action steps to help the process:

  • Be faithful early in their life to what you want them committed to later in life. If you want them to go to church as adults then take them faithfully as children.
  • If you commit to doing something then do it. Let your Yes be yes and your No be no.
  • Be an anchor in their life in whom they can always depend upon.
  • Be faithful in all relationships. They are watching.
  • Be consistent. If it is morally wrong today — it is tomorrow.
  • Let them know they can depend on you to do what you said you would do for and with them.
  • Let them find you in your devotion and quiet time on a consistent basis.

GENTLENESS
The word means “not harsh”. It doesn’t mean to be a “mealy mouse” and it doesn’t mean to avoid discipline. It means to be gentle — even in your anger. In John 2, when Jesus went into temple to drive out the money-changers, He first made a whip. It was a definite and determined response, but it was “gently” planned.

Here are some steps you can take to instill this character trait in your children:

  • Grant forgiveness easily. Don’t hold grudges against those who have wronged you.
  • Don’t let your children fear coming to you about anything, because of the way you may react.
  • Get down to the children’s level when trying to explain something or in the way you respond to them.
  • Always be available to talk with your children.
  • Talk gently to your spouse.
  • When there is a disagreement in public, such as in a restaurant, it is okay to protect your interests, but it should always be done with gentleness and respect for the other person. There is never an excuse to be rude or obnoxious.

SELF-CONTROL
The opposite here is being undisciplined. This is an important trait, because it affects all the others.

Here are some action steps to help build self-control into your children:

  • Don’t allow temper tantrums. “Expressing themselves” is not an excuse for unruliness.
  • Learn personal disciplines and model them — things such as daily Bible reading, exercise and tithing.
  • Know sin has consequences and teach this principle to your children. (Unfortunately you may have to model it also.)
  • Use appropriate discipline for each child. All children are different.
  • Determine the motive behind the action before disciplining your children.
  • Provide appropriate tests for them as they mature to see if they can handle a situation. As they get older grant them more and more trust.

There is a final step in the Olive Tree Parenting Model. You must teach your children to abide!

In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” If our children can learn this skill all these others will become and remain a part of who they are. They will learn this best as they see you doing so.

I’m praying for your parenting.

I need to remind you that this is a “model” – and I wasn’t perfect at doing this. Some I did better than others. The fact is, however, we seldom hit a target we aren’t aiming for – so make this your goal and you will find it easier to achieve than with no plan at all.