Amy and our girls used to dread anytime I was preaching on any family-related topic because they knew the week before that they would be subjected to all my misguided attempts to correct the mistakes I had made as a husband or father.
One week I was preparing to preach on parenting, and so as I prepared the message, I realized I had neglected to take advantage of the limited time any of us had with our kids; so on Thursday night before my sermon, I decided to make up for lost time.
I left work early to go home and spend the evening with my kids. When I walked through the front door, I expected my girls to come running to me or at least acknowledge my presence. They didn’t. Instead, they sat glued to the sofa, watching some inane sitcom on television.
I wrote down exactly what happened next.
“Hi, girls. What have you been doing today?”
“Well, something must have happened today.” I grabbed the remote control from the youngest daughter and clicked off the television set.
“Daaaaad! We were watching our favorite program!” Dad, now really frustrated, proclaims …
“Girls, we have been watching too much television around this house. We need to play more and talk more as a family!”
“You’re starting to sound just like Grandma, one of them said.” They know to hit where it really hurts.
“Well, this is one thing Grandma is right about. Why don’t we play a game like Monopoly or Scrabble?”
“We don’t like Monopoly or Scrabble. We only like checkers.”
“Fine, let’s play checkers.”
“Dad, we don’t have a checkerboard.”
“All right, forget the games. Julia, let’s go in the family room, and you can play the piano, and we will sing.”
“I hate playing the piano.” After all the money I spent on piano lessons, this really hurts!
“Girls, we are going to create some memories together as a family tonight. Let’s go outside and knock some tennis balls around.”
Overhearing our plans, my wife Amy protests because the girls are already bathed and ready for bed.
“I don’t care. I came home to play with them, and that’s what we are going to do.” I have the girls put on their new matching slippers and coats over their pajamas. Once outside, it begins to rain.
“Dad, it’s raining.”
“I know it’s raining, but the rain never hurt anyone. This is an evening you will always remember, playing tennis with your dad in your pajamas in the middle of the street while it rains.”
My youngest daughter begins to cry, and then my oldest … finally, I give in and allow them to go inside.
My kids (and possibly my wife) think that I spent all day yesterday planning the most miserable evening possible for them and then sadistically enjoyed inflicting the pain. Of course, just the opposite is true.
I wanted to be a good parent. I wanted them to have a storehouse of pleasant memories about their dad from which to draw. I wanted them to know that their father was interested in them. Although my motive was pure, my method was flawed.
I am convinced that most parents do not intentionally try to ruin their children’s lives (though their kids might be convinced otherwise). The majority of parents I deal with love their children, desire the best for them and try to carve out quality time with their children and yet feel that they have come up desperately short in their parenting efforts. They are filled with regrets about opportunities with their children that can never be reclaimed.
Although it does not seem fair, it is very possible for a parent to make a reasonable effort in raising his children only to reach the end of his life filled with regrets over his failure. If you find that difficult to believe, consider the story of Eli.
1. A Case Study in Regret (1 Samuel 1)
The Old Testament book of 1 Samuel is set at the end of a disastrous chapter in Israel’s history known as the time of the judges. These 400 years can be summarized by one verse that is repeated twice in the book of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25).
Not only did the people act without regard for God’s laws, but so did the priests. 1 Samuel 1-2 is really a study in contrast between godly parents who produced godly children and godly parents who produced ungodly children.
- Hannah and Elkanah (1 Samuel 1:1-2:11)
The book begins with the moving story of Hannah, who prayed year after year that God would give her and her husband, Elkanah, a son. God answered Hannah’s prayer with a son named Samuel—meaning “name of God.”
Careful to keep her promise to God (1 Samuel 1:11) to dedicate our child to God’s service—Hannah delivered her young son to Eli, the priest, so that he might become an apprentice in the house of God. Samuel spent his life serving the Lord faithfully and was a central character in Israel’s history, serving as a judge and as a priest who would anoint both Saul and David as kings.
When you read the account of Samuel’s early life, it is no mystery why he turned out so well: his parents faithfully prayed for him, they carefully taught him to fear God, and they were willing to sacrifice their own desires for their son so that he might realize God’s unique purpose for his life.
- Eli the Priest (1 Samuel 2:12-4:18)
So much for the idea that “every human being is of great value.” Not Hophni and Phinehas. God had already written them off as “worthless.” Why? They had taken meat for themselves that should have been burnt as a sacrifice to God, and they had engaged in sexual immorality.
As a result, God prophesied to Eli that his two sons would die on the same day. Now the usual (and obvious) application from 1 Samuel 3:13-14 is that we need to discipline our children, or we, too, will rear kids who have no respect for God. I think that is a valid application. Eli was certainly negligent in his parental responsibilities.
But the bigger question is, “Why?” Why did Eli refuse to correct his two sons? Eli understood the importance of rearing godly children (look at his interest in young Samuel). He had a healthy fear of God. He probably was a moral man himself. He also knew the desperate spiritual condition of his sons. Yet, he did nothing. Why?
I think we find the answer in Eli’s reaction to the death of his sons. Hophni and Phinehas, along with thousands of Israelites, were engaged in a war with the Philistines that resulted in 30,000 dead Israelites, including Eli’s two sons.
During the conflict, the Philistines managed to steal the all-important Ark of the Covenant. Eli, the priest of God, anxiously awaited to hear the outcome of the battle. Finally, a messenger returned from the frontline to give this news.
Granted, every child ultimately must make his own decision about whether to follow God. But if you were to ask Eli, “Do you have any regrets about how you performed as a parent,” I would imagine he could rattle off a number of “if onlys.”
The story of Eli reminds us that the road to parental failure is paved with good intentions. If we are going to succeed in looking back on our job as parents without regret, there are four foundational commitments we must make.
2. Four Foundational Commitments to Avoid Parenting Regrets
- Resolved: I will spend time with my children.
When you talk with people about their greatest regrets in life, it is interesting how many of those regrets center around misuse of time—time wasted in front of the television, too much time spent at the office, time not invested in improving one’s spiritual life. But the greatest regrets about the use or misuse of time seem to revolve around children. Let me suggest several ideas that might help you direct more time toward your children.
Four Foundational Commitments to Avoid Parenting Regrets
- Learn the “go home” principle.
- Negotiate with your boss for a flexible schedule.
- Refuse to allow other people to set your schedule.
- Stay focused on your children.
- Resolved: I will create lasting memories with my children.
Although quality time can never serve as an adequate substitute for quantity of time, it is important to build lasting memories with your children. When you look back on the years you spent as a parent, and when your children look back on the years they spent in your home, it is important they have good memories that will last a lifetime.
The Three “Rs” of Memory Making
- Resolved: I will discover and develop my children’s gifts.
I believe that one of the most significant resolutions any parent can make is to determine to help his child discover and develop his God-given personality, interests, and spiritual gift. The writer of Proverbs encourages every parent to accept and accentuate their child’s uniqueness. How do you do that?
- Ask the right questions.
- Make the needed sacrifices.
- Accept the results.
- Resolved: I will exercise appropriate discipline with my child.
I am sure in his latter years, Eli had a long list of “if onlys” concerning Phineas and Hophni—and most of them probably dealt with this discipline area. As I reread the story of Eli and his sons, I saw four crucial mistakes that Eli made in the area of discipline that he lived to regret.
Eli’s Four Mistakes in Disciplining His Children
- He did not begin discipline early enough.
- He was not consistent in his discipline.
- He was not observant of his children’s behavior.
- He did not teach his children to fear God.
The fact that Hophni and Phineas were willing to tamper with the sacred sacrifices proved that they had no fear of God whatsoever. Even though people in the Old Testament were routinely killed by God for simply touching the Ark of the Covenant or offering an unauthorized sacrifice to God, these two men thought nothing of actually stealing from the Lord’s house. Why? They did not fear God; they probably did not even believe in God.
Isn’t it ironic that Eli, the priest, was so concerned about the spiritual life of Israel and yet so unconcerned with the spiritual development of his own sons?
I want to be very careful how I say this, lest I be misunderstood. I believe that every Christian should have a place in ministry in a local church. The church is God’s ordained organization and organism for carrying His message to the world. Too many Christians view ministry in the church as optional, even using “time with my family” as a smokescreen for selfishness and worldliness. Every Christin has a unique spiritual gift that is to be exercised within the church.
But we should never forget that our primary (not only, but primary) evangelism and discipleship projects are those children God has placed under our direct supervision. If we lose our children to the kingdom of Satan, we have lost everything. There can be no greater regret for a Christian parent.
Full Passage: Selected Scriptures