As I Say, Not As I Do

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This past month or so has been a real struggle to find time to write and study the Bible. Sometimes I start feeling overwhelmed by it all. When I think about studying, I think to myself, Why should I even bother? Half the time, I’m doing the things the Bible says not to do anyway. How am I supposed to teach my children when I’m getting everything wrong?  How can a mother teach her children if she knows she’s a hypocrite? The Book of Proverbs provided much-needed motivation.

“The Proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight, receive instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice, and equity; that prudence may be given to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth—the wise man also may hear and increase in learning, and the man of understanding acquire skill, to understand a proverb and a figure, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:1-7)

Why study the Bible? Simply put—that we may know “wisdom and instruction”. Studying the Bible isn’t just for funsies. It’s to understand how to deal with life and how to teach others how to deal with it too. For moms in particular, it’s important to make the time in our busy days to study Scripture—not only to teach our children, but to teach ourselves. Even if we know we’re getting it wrong, it’s worse to not to do it at all. As Yoda says, “Try? There is no try. Only do.” We can’t just try and be satisfied that’s a good enough effort. It’s not. We must make the time. We must do.

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and reject not your mother’s teaching; for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck.” (1:8-9)

We ask our children daily to pay attention to our instruction. “Lead by example,” we are told by parenting books. To our worldly minds, this makes sense. But from a Scriptural perspective, our attempt to lead by example is self-righteous, since it implies that we have already achieved perfection. It asks our children to buy into the notion that their parents are perfect. It’s a lie.  As they grow older, kids will question our parental qualifications as they realize that we are imperfect people. Kids can sniff out hypocrisy like a drug hound. We can do our best to uphold the falsehood that we have all the answers, but once they realize that we don’t have it all together, why should they listen to us? Our contemporary culture suggests that one cannot teach unless one has all the answers. We tear down anyone who shows the slightest hint of being flawed because it makes us feel superior. The kid who fell into the gorilla pit at the Cincinnati Zoo is a prime example. What do we do when our kids realize that we don’t have all the answers?

We need to teach them respect…that obedience to the teaching is the most important thing regardless of the imperfections of the teacher. In the army, I served under plenty of people I didn’t like. But I still followed orders because military structure demands respect for rank. Your personal feelings about a person are irrelevant. It’s the order that matters. It’s the teaching that matters. Paul was far from perfect and yet God made him the greatest of the apostles. He took Paul’s mistakes and used them for His glory. Now we might not become great apostles, but we have to trust that our mistakes are not the end of the world. God will find a way to use them for His purposes. However imperfectly we follow the order, it still needs to be followed.

“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. If they say, ‘Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood, let us wantonly ambush the innocent; like Sheol let us swallow them alive and whole, like those who go down to the Pit; we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with spoil; throw in your lot among us, we will all have one purse’—my son, do not walk in the way with them, hold back your foot from their Gpaths; for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird; but these men lie in wait for their own blood, they set an ambush for their own lives. Such are the ways of all who get gain by violence; it takes away the life of its possessors.” (1:10-19)

Here is a plea we often make to our children—please don’t hang out with the bad crowd. Don’t hang out with people who will tear you down. I’ve always wondered what the line is between loving your neighbor and removing your kids from bad influences. We can always tell them something like the previous passage but they won’t listen—particularly if they believe you are a hypocrite. You can remove them from bad influences but don’t inflate their egos by telling them not to be around “those sorts of people.” It implies that somehow they are superior. Teach your children to respect Scripture. The rest is on them. Again—God is control, not you. Trust in His will and His teaching. Failure is not the end of the world. Let your children fall, let them get dirty, let them learn from their mistakes. Listening to the voice of wisdom is a skill after all—one that is honed after years of failure. They will fall enough times to start paying attention. Not because the teacher is perfect, but because the teaching makes sense. At AA, former alcoholics run the show. Someone once said to me they couldn’t fathom going to a meeting where a recovering alcoholic was in charge. How were you supposed to get better if someone just like you was teaching? But this person missed the point. The people who go to AA are not there for the person speaking. They are there for the teaching offered by that group. It is the same for children and parents. And if they still fail, it all goes back to trusting in God’s mercy and His ability to use their errors and yours for His glory.

“Wisdom cries aloud in the street; in the markets she raises her voice; on the top of the walls she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: ‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Give heed to my reproof; behold, I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, and you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof…” (1:20-25)

Wisdom is here. It’s available to us. But how often we are “too busy” to heed the calling. Instead we stumble around blindly in the dark, searching for answers where there are none—in parenting books, in blogs, different methods, or websites. Every parent is searching for the perfect method that will give them perfect children. It exists in Scripture but because of human nature, it will never be perfectly executed. If it can’t be done correctly, why do it at all? We must do it because God commands it. Yet how often we behave like children because it’s “too hard”. If you have time for Facebook, you have time to study Scripture. It’s not too hard. Make time. My goal every morning is to get up before everyone else and use that time to study and write. I fail often…especially lately because life. And children. Sometimes I’d rather sleep in than study an ancient text. Now here I am trying again, even though I know I can’t do this perfectly and tomorrow I might choose sleeping in. Take it like a recovering alcoholic—one day at a time. Oddly enough, the days I manage to make the good choice to get up and study…the rest of the morning sort of shuffles itself into place. Not all the time. But it’s more organized than it would have been on the days I chose to sleep in. Mothers especially need this quiet time.

“…I will also laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacence of fools destroys them; but he who listens to me will dwell secure and will be eat ease, without dread of evil.” (1:26-33)

Ouch. This comes across as nothing more than an elegant “I told you so”. These are the consequences for not choosing wisdom. My first reaction was to feel sorry for us panicking folks. Even if we realized it late, shouldn’t we get some mercy? But our realization comes too late and the only thing the panicked person here is interested in is saving their own skin. They aren’t actually interested in wisdom, they just don’t want to suffer anymore. So we deserve to be laughed at. Now is the time to make the effort—when things are good and it’s hard. Contemporary Christians want to live in the present and ignore the possibility of future consequences. When suffering comes (as it inevitably will), it will still be hard but not as tough because we have something to hold onto. We have to trust that God will use our efforts—and mistakes–for His glory.

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