dweller by the river

sojourner of earth attempting to understand the journey home

Category: Ministry

Decisions, decisions: Raising a Child According to Biblical Principles

I don’t know how “normal” it is for someone who’s only just made it to the second half of the second trimester of her first pregnancy to be spending more time thinking about and planning for her child’s older years than about setting up a nursery and getting baby stuff. But hey, the kid’s only going to be a baby for twelve months, a toddler for two years, a pre-schooler for three years, a school-going child for six years, after which he or she hits the teen years and really, should be pretty much capable of independent thinking and decision-making (with some guidance, of course, which will ease off gradually as he or she approaches adulthood).

Frankly, I think decisions about family values and disciplinary principles and measures should be made way in advance, as far as possible, so that we don’t leave ourselves open to emotional, reactionary outbursts when faced with difficult situations. If there is already a clear framework in place, it’s much more likely for me to be able to respond rationally, if not entirely positively (I’m only human).

The main things that have been occupying my mind are the issues of ethics, morality and discipline. In my opinion, it ought to be clear to any thinking person who is willing to be honest about what they’re seeing around them that the children and youth of today are increasingly difficult to deal with and that every successive generation seems to be getting more and more selfish, disrespectful, irreverent, irresponsible, inconsiderate and unhelpful. Delinquency is on the rise nearly everywhere, it seems, and the number of parents filing Beyond Parental Control complaints in the Juvenile Court is climbing.

I wonder, is it really such a stretch to see a link between this and changing philosophies of and attitudes and approaches towards child-rearing (anti-discipline, anti-punishment, helicopter parenting, etc.)? And is it really such a stretch, in turn, to see a further link between that and the idealised (post)modern lifestyle and its media-fuelled obsession with image, social status and consumerism?

A major issue I have with most of the ideas and arguments I see being thrown around online is that they are extremely skewed. Throw a rock in any direction, using any level of force, and you’re likely to hit someone whose convictions about parenting mainly stem from articles, information and research originating in the United States (US). And a lot of these are crazy-focused on the supposedly unbridgeable divide between modern, enlightened, humane and child-focused white parenting and archaic, cruel, barbaric and authoritarian traditional (usually made out to be Asian, particularly Chinese, or else religion-based, particularly Christian) parenting.

Firstly, I don’t think the majority of the church world today actually understands the Bible correctly. More on that in another post as it’s an entire topic on its own. Or you can just peruse this YouTube channel (it’ll help you understand my views a lot better, if you’re interested).

Secondly, let us not forget that the US in general (in fact, the Caucasian world in general, when you think about it) has an extremely long history and an undeniable track record of making flawed assumptions about other races and cultures, dismissing them as inferior or wrong, and imposing its own standards on other populations by force (whether through actual use of arms or other pressures, it’s still force). Let us not close our eyes to the simple fact that despite all its self-righteous talk, the US is turning out to be a real failure at raising new generations that respect authority and boundaries and value community. How many more school shootings, teacher beatings (even killings) and whatnot need to happen before we start thinking about the circumstantial correlations? And yet “child protection” is reaching a ridiculous point – parents can be arrested and children forcefully taken into state custody just because a kid is left in a parked car for a few minutes or a couple of children are allowed to walk home from a park unaccompanied.

I’m not saying that I’m definitely right or that anyone reading this needs to agree with my conclusions. What I do hope is that people will think carefully about these things and come to their own conclusions independently instead of just jumping onto popular bandwagons or siding with the current majority. What’s popular may not be right; what looks perfectly reasonable at first glance may not stand up to a thorough dissection. I may turn out to be wrong – like I said, I’m human. We all are.

So what do I really have to say about all this? Okay. Here goes.

First, I believe that as a Christian, I must adhere to Biblical standards. That means I am obligated to obey God’s Law (to me, that’s the Ten Commandments, both as stated in the Old Testament and as distilled by Jesus Christ in the Gospels), do my best to correctly interpret all other instructions and guidelines in the Scripture (in the context of this post, all other verses/passages that touch on parenting and child-rearing) in their full context and follow them, and pray for the wisdom to say and do the right things at the right times. And may God have mercy on me for my imperfect efforts. I am not saying that I’m holy or perfect, that I interpret the Bible absolutely correctly, or that I’m better than anyone.

Second, as a member of various communities, I am obligated to ensure to the best of my knowledge and ability that my family and I are positive influences and contributors instead of sources of unpleasantness or a drain on community resources. This means that I believe it is my responsibility to find and maintain a balance between fulfilling the needs and (to reasonable extents) the wants of my family, and upholding the social contract (understanding that in many contexts we do need to prioritise “the greater good” and place the needs of the many above the needs of the few, as clichéd as that sounds).

Thirdly, as an educated (I have an Honours degree) wannabe academic (I still dream of achieving a PhD someday) who considers herself a rational, logical, reasonable and practical person, I believe that I should always try to make sure my parenting strategies adapt to the different stages in a child’s physical, mental, intellectual, psychological development. And I don’t believe in taking everything that well-known or celebrated doctors or scientists say wholesale, either – there’s enough evidence to show that the publicity that discoveries or conclusions are given, and hence the likelihood of their becoming widely accepted or quietly shoved into obscurity, is controlled by the ones who hold the money. That’s how the world is run, whether you want to open your eyes and see it or not. It’s not always about the good to humanity, but about profits.

Biblical Standards

The Ten Commandments
I believe that this is the standard by which a believer should live his or her life, if he or she understands the requirements of Kingdom citizenship:

Exodus 20: 3–17 (AKJV)
Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it.
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Deuteronomy 5: 7–21 (AKJV)
Thou shalt have none other gods before Me.
Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me, and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.
Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence with a mighty hand and a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day.
Honour thy father and thy mother, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Neither shalt thou commit adultery.
Neither shalt thou steal.
Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour’s house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

There is nothing in the Law that is explicitly about parenting or child-rearing, but there are clear enough principles here to provide obvious guidelines:

  • Children are not to become their parents’ little gods/idols. Our lives must not revolve around them. Equal care should be taken to avoid sliding into the other side of this – making ourselves and our parenting ideals our gods/idols and exploiting our children for our own fulfilment and/or status.
  • We are to teach our children to honour and worship God and live by His laws, both for our own sakes as well as theirs, their children’s and their grandchildren’s.
  • We are not to tax our children needlessly by buying into the prevalent “tuition culture” or engaging in parental one-upmanship by cluttering their (our?) weekends with endless enrichment classes and other activities – we all need to take a real, proper break one day a week at least, to rest, relax, and reconnect with ourselves, one another and God. We can’t stop others from not taking a break, but we shouldn’t be part of the reason they are working, either, if we can help it. This is about appreciating the fact that we are freemen and not slaves, and being fair and humanitarian to the others around us or who work for and serve us.
  • We are to model good behaviour and contentment for our children (basically by obeying the Law!).
  • We are to teach them to uphold the social contract (my understanding of this is that it is everyone’s social responsibility to be respectable, contributing members of the community, treating others with honour, kindness and respect and where they don’t clash with Biblical principles, upholding the widely-held social norms and values in order to keep the peace).

Matthew 22: 35–40 (AKJV)
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying: “Master, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
Jesus said unto him: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

This (above) is the Law of God as distilled by Christ Himself. A read of the Gospels is sufficient to indicate that as far as Jesus is concerned, one’s neighbour is identified as anyone that one comes into contact with and has the opportunity to impact, and that would include our family members – our children. We are to love our children as we love ourselves.

To my understanding, this means treating them with respect, because we are all worthy of it, being made in the image of God just as we are. It also means ensuring that we discipline them while they are not yet able to practise self-discipline, and making sure we teach them to value it and practise it themselves, because it is in man’s best interest to live a disciplined life. It also means showing them how to and teaching them to uphold the social contract.

Parenting Guidelines
There are lots of verses and passages that offer parenting instructions; some of them are considered highly controversial, especially those that espouse corporal punishment. Let us note from the outset, though, that many of these fall under the purview of the Bible’s wisdom literature and practical guidelines, or the divinely-inspired apostolic guidelines to the Early Church, and are not God’s divine Laws – they must be interpreted in their full context, as well as in the light of the Law. Taking something out of context and bandying it about as “evidence” is just not right.

Deuteronomy 6: 1–9 (AKJV)
Now these [the Ten Commandments] are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it. That thou mightiest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all the days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged.
            Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.
            Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
            And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

This passage reinforces the logical conclusions I drew from reading the Ten Commandments as-is. It also sets priorities: God is first, followed by family, after which comes everything else.

Proverbs 22: 6 (AKJV)
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22: 15 (AKJV)
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.

Proverbs 13: 24 (AKJV)
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Proverbs 23: 13–14 (AKJV)
Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Proverbs 29: 15, 17 (AKJV)
The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.

Proverbs 19:18 (AKJV)
Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.

Obviously, the above are also the verses most widely used to criticise “traditional Christian” upbringing as abusive and controlling. They are also often compared to the “brutal” and “uncivilised” methods that the no-spank camp is so fond of highlighting in “Chinese tiger mum parenting”. However, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of the literature (and non-print resources) on the topic is very US-centric and steeped in the currently popular trend of permissive, “natural” parenting and it invariably assumes that any kind of punishment that causes physical pain is crude, backward and abusive, and meant to instil fear-based obedience that creates relational rifts and breeds emotional/psychological damage and resentment. It also assumes that correction via any kind of beating is to be applied in the heat of the moment and is therefore subject to the executor’s emotional whims – and therefore in danger of turning into a venting session.

Taken in context with the Law of God (the Ten Commandments) and many other clear instructions and guidelines on parenting, family and social life elsewhere in Scripture (many are listed below), it is very clear that the believer’s priorities are always love, kindness, gentleness, forbearance, respect and honour. Even God Himself has set the example by being patient, longsuffering and kind, with violence only used as a last resort – with warning of it given long beforehand, along with repeated reminders that it will be applied once the last line is crossed.

I therefore conclude that there is a place for corporal punishment. I also conclude that it is to be used sparingly, as the last line of action in a series of strategies (probably ranging from disapproving looks to scolding to removal of privileges, etc.). I am absolutely certain that this is biblically sound and in line with God’s own methods in dealing with us, His children.

Ephesians 6: 4 (AKJV)
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Colossians 3: 21 (AKJV)
Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.

Here’s a clear indication that discipline is not meant to instil fear or force submission in children. We’re instructed to not even drive them to anger/exasperation or discouragement, making it logically clear that fear and forced submission are out of the question. The Bible also uses the word “provoke”, which means that parents should take care not to impose pointless rules or unnecessary requirements on their children, and should also watch their speech to ensure that they do not belittle a child or push his/her buttons.

Again, it all comes back to the principles in the Law – treat everyone, including your children, with love and respect, while at the same time making every effort to live up to the required standard.

Other Related Scriptures
Some of these provide principles and guidelines for children specifically, and some of them are general ones that can and should be integrated into the parenting process.

Matthew 5: 16 (AKJV)
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

As parents, we are to lead exemplary lives and model the Christian walk for our children.

1 Corinthians 11: 3, 9 (AKJV)
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. …Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man.

I’m pretty much a believer in the somewhat clichéd saying that everything rises and falls with leadership. If this order is not right in the home and family, I’m convinced that it makes parenting much more difficult than it needs to be, and also interferes with the teaching of God’s Laws and precepts. I’ll be talking about my views on gender roles in another post, so don’t hold your breath waiting for elaboration here.

Ephesians 6: 1–3 (AKJV)
Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.

Colossians 3: 20 (AKJV)
Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

This is something that we have to somehow teach our kids. I suppose the best way would be to earn it, share the concept through stories and parables, and live in obedience to God our Father because we are His children, adopted into the family through Christ. And while as adults we are no longer children, and the dynamics between our own parents and ourselves should rightly have evolved (as it is written: a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh), it is still good to honour them. Children learn by watching the examples of their elders, and if we do not set a good example… well, many of our own experiences already tell us what can/will happen.

Ecclesiastes 11: 9–10 (AKJV)
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment. Therefore remove sorrow from thine heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.

I am still young, myself. But I’ve also lived long enough and been through enough to know that this is a fact of life. And it’s something that E and I are going to have to teach our kids… hopefully, they will be able to learn it without hard experience. Childhood should be enjoyed, as far as possible. It’s a time of innocence and wonder and I hope and pray that I will be able to add to it and make good memories with my kids – while always keeping in mind the fact that they will have to grow up and face life on their own. It’s no small responsibility to have to somehow equip them for it, but we’ll work it out. All things are possible.

Proverbs 13: 18, 20 (AKJV)
Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured.
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

This is why I advocate asking for and taking advice and criticism from experienced parents that you look up to and respect. And also why I encourage everyone to read widely – just make sure you take what you read with a pinch of salt. Not every leader or teacher is really wise, and not everyone who is lauded as a role model is really mentor material. Just because one writer is a bestseller and another is obscure, doesn’t mean that the bestseller is right. Always measure them against the Bible standard.

This also means, of course, that while it is still within my control I will do what I can to ensure that my children are surrounded by good influences, and do what I can to teach them to be teachable.

Hebrews 12: 5–11 (AKJV)
And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him: for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth.”
            If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.
            Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.
            Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

…I don’t see a need to elaborate or add to what’s abundantly clear in the passage. Except maybe to point out that for every anti-spanking/pro-“natural” parenting advocate who claims to have an irreparably damaged psyche and a lousy relationship with his/her parents because he/she was “abused” as a child, there is probably a (personally I believe there are more) normal, rational parent who acknowledges that while his/her childhood wasn’t perfect, he/she loved and respected and honoured his/her parents and still does, and also realises that every single human on this planet is damaged in some way, regardless of their parents’ methods. Also, I reiterate that Western (predominantly American, it seems) opinions on this seem vastly different from Asian ones.

We really don’t need to overcompensate for what we “suffered” in childhood by completely spoiling our kids, people. Too often we just overdo things (in many more aspects than just childrearing) and this causes far more damage in the long run. Hasn’t the history of the human race taught us anything?

Proverbs 25: 28 (AKJV)
He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.

Proverbs 19: 11, 19 (AKJV)
The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression.
A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again.

James 1: 19–20 (AKJV)
Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.

Proverbs 16: 21–24, 32 (AKJV)
The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning. Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips. Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones. …He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

The Bible is abundantly clear, both here and in many other places, that indulging in anger is not wise and is in fact counterproductive. God’s Word makes it exceedingly clear that love, generosity, kindness, gentleness, patience, forbearance and forgiveness are the Christian’s priorities. That does not mean the removal of consequences. There is a time and place for everything under the sun, as one learns from books like Ecclesiastes.

As I already mentioned above, discipline, particularly when it takes the form of corporal punishment, is never to be meted out in the heat of the moment. It is not something to be executed in anger. A parent’s job is hard because he or she has to always be in control of him or herself; this means that rules, boundaries and limitations must be set and enforced properly, in line with the Word of God. Don’t ignore that little note in Proverbs 19:19 that says we’ll ultimately have to answer to God and pay a price if we’re always reacting wrathfully.

Colossians 3: 8, 12–15, 17 (AKJV)
But now ye also put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth…
            Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
            And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by Him.

Again, another passage that pretty much speaks for itself.

Upholding the Social Contract

Hebrews 12: 14–17 (AKJV)
Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.

Colossians 3: 25 (AKJV)
But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.

I think it is pretty clear in the Bible that we should keep the peace as far as possible, and obey the laws of the land we are living in. If that’s the US for you, fine. If it isn’t, then for goodness’ sake please make up your own mind about what works for you and your family, within the bounds of the laws of wherever it is you are. I’m in Southeast Asia, and where I live, so-called “Chinese-style” parenting isn’t against the law, and neither is it entirely out of fashion.

I do note, however, that in the Hebrews passage above, there is a warning that one should not act in a way that works against peace – the price is bitterness, which leads to other troubles. Like I pointed out above, once more it is clear that discipline must be carried out with clarity, not meted out in anger. This is applicable in the family as well as in much wider spheres.

Titus 2: 1–8 (AKJV)
But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience. The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; that they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. Young men likewise exhort to be sober-minded.
            In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: In doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.

Exemplary behaviour is required of parents at all times and in all contexts, whether one is a biological parent or a spiritual one (mentorship is a kind of parenting, in my mind). I believe there’s no better way to instil a sense of what is right and wrong in your children than by living your convictions clearly. Actions, as always, speak much louder than words.

Psalm 127: 3–5 (AKJV)
Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are the children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate.

Proverbs 13: 22a (AKJV)
A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children:

Having the right attitude towards children, especially our own children (of course!), is extremely important. If we don’t see children in the right light, it follows that we won’t treat them right – whether they are others’ or ours. They are precious, for more reasons than most of us seem to be consistently aware, and they are necessary for our future; not only our own personal future, but also for the entire community’s, the nation’s, and the human race’s. So whatever we decide, it should be with their good and their future in mind. That includes, of course, making sure that they are as well provided for as we can manage.

What of the Violent Repercussions That The Law Requires?

We’ve all heard these being bandied around, no doubt being used by modern/”enlightened” experts to argue that all Bible-based child-rearing principles are archaic, barbaric and abusive (especially the ones that clearly encourage corporal punishment):

Deuteronomy 21: 18–21 (AKJV)
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; and they shall say unto the elders of his city, “This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.” And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.

Exodus 21: 15, 17 (AKJV)
And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

Well, this brings us to the question of whether one has actually read the Bible for oneself and understood it. It is no good simply shouting at me, for one, that Scripture is self-contradictory when I’ve read the entire Bible through at least twice, and studied large chunks of it over many years, both academically and for theological understanding.

The Mosaic Law, of which the above laws are a part of, are the Old Covenant that the Old Testament is associated with. As such, it is subject to a few things: The overarching unchanging Law of God (the Ten Commandments), the ceremonial laws about sacrifice and atonement which are also a part of the Old Covenant (placed there to give people who sinned a way to have their mistakes covered), and the New Covenant brought in by Jesus Christ which made the Old Covenant obsolete. Hence, death-to-the-child/delinquent-who-disrespects/disobeys-his-parents really is an archaic and outdated law that we absolutely do not have to even consider keeping in this day and age.

Proverbs 16: 11 (AKJV)
A just weight and balance are the Lord’s: all the weights of the bag are His work.

As the Lord is just, so must we be in our judgment of our children’s wrongdoing and their necessary consequences. Once again, we are reminded that punishment must not be inflicted in reactive anger, but in cool, rational justice, tempered with grace and love.

The Scientific Side of Things

I’m no scientist, but I’ve read several articles about studies on cognitive development, and I’m convinced that the human brain grows in its capability to consciously handle different things (language, concepts, abstract ideas, etc.) in stages.

I am utterly unconvinced, therefore, that it makes any rational sense at all to try to reason (e.g. if you do this, it upsets me/others, etc.) with a toddler, not because he or she is less intelligent or inferior, but because the toddler brain is simply not yet physically or chemically able to process logical thoughts. At that age, I am convinced, they are still very much beings who live in the now, reacting emotionally to stimuli and beginning to process memory and patterns. With preschoolers, one might have success in explaining cause and effect and making the consequences of certain behaviours clear in advance, but higher-level reasoning (eg. why Mummy/Daddy don’t want you to do this, why eating this is good for you, why you need to sleep at this time, etc.) is probably still out of their league.

Basically, I believe in matching my parenting approach and techniques to my child’s changing cognitive ability. It’s just ineffective, inefficient and frustrating otherwise.

Ending Thoughts

I personally would choose to end this lengthy series of thoughts with these passages, which remind me that in the end, good fruits speak for themselves, and that ultimately I am answerable solely to God Almighty for the way I have chosen to steward the souls He has entrusted to my care for a time:

Proverbs 19: 21, 27–28 (AKJV)
There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand.
Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge. An ungodly witness scorneth judgment: and the mouth of the wicked devoureth iniquity.

Proverbs 16: 1–7, 9, 16–18, 20, 25, 33 (AKJV)
The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.
            All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.
            Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.
            The Lord hath made all things for Himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.
            Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.
            By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil. When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
            A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps.
            How much better is it to get wisdom than gold! The highway of the upright is to depart from evil: he that keepeth his way preserveth his soul. Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
            He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.
            There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
            The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.

1 Peter 3: 8–22 (AKJV)
Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
            For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
            And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
            For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: by which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
            The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto Him.

Not Dead, Just Dormant

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No, I’m not dead. I’m still here, it’s just that I let my writing lie dormant for a time while I got used to the idea that we’re going to be bringing a new person into this world in a few more months. There’s been a lot that I’ve had to think about and work through, and though many times I’ve thought about putting it out here, I never quite felt that those thoughts and notions were clear enough for that.

Probably one of the biggest things that I realised over the past few weeks was that parenthood is a facet of the first job and responsibility that God gave to mankind – partnered stewardship of this planet and its flora and fauna:

Genesis 1: 26, 28 (AKJV)
And God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth.
And God blessed them, and God said unto them: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 2: 8, 15, 18, 21-24 (AKJV)
And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there He put the man whom He had formed.
And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
And the Lord God said: “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; and the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made Him a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.

This was not rescinded after the Fall. Adam and Eve were not given different orders, they were only told the consequences of their sin and sent out of Eden to continue as they could. And after the Flood, God more or less repeated Himself to Noah and his family, and swore to Himself to keep things going as they had before:

Genesis 8:15–17, 21–22 (AKJV)
And God spake unto Noah, saying: “Go forth of the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee. Bring forth with thee every living thing that is with thee, of all flesh, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.”
…and the Lord said in His heart: “I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

Genesis 9: 1–2, 7 (AKJV)
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them: “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. … And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.”

Add to this what we know from the New Testament – that every individual has a calling and a destiny, and that every individual has a personal choice to make regarding his relationship with the Creator – and I realised with great consternation that we who would be parents (and mere pitiful shadows of the true Father) are merely stewards of these lives we bring forth into the world.

Children are no more meant to be little gods/idols in our lives than property to be controlled or exploited for our own satisfaction/fulfilment – we know this, yes, but that’s not the same as realising that parenthood is a divine task. We are to steward these souls and ensure that they are equipped, to the best of our ability, for the callings and tasks that the Lord has in store for them. And to put it frankly, God has no grandchildren: we would be fools to consider these unique souls “our children” in the long term, because once they are independent, they really are our siblings. We’re really just helping our Father to raise our younger brothers and sisters and prepare them for what He has in store for them to do in their own personal lives.

It blows the mind when you look at this in the light of conventional thinking about the relationship between parents and children, especially in Asian cultures where filial piety is so celebrated: We are merely the physical vessels that made their entry into this realm possible. They owe us nothing; we are to do everything in our power to raise and equip and train them because we have been given that responsibility by God, and it is to Him alone that we are to dedicate all that effort. It is therefore His prerogative alone to reward us for a job well done or not. We have no claim on our children, not really.

Of course, this is not to say that familial bonds and love are not part of the picture. Scripture is full of passages that talk about the importance of family, the significance of familial relationships, and it prioritises family over what is conventionally understood as church-related ministry. That’s another whole area to explore, but I’m convinced that it comes into its proper place only after we realise that parenthood is really ministry – stewardship, on behalf of the Creator Himself.

Confused? Don’t be. I suspect it’s all interconnected mysteriously, like how the Godhead is Three in One and One in Three, clearly distinct and unique in their personalities and yet wholly inseparable and Whole as God. After all, did He not design us in His own image? Our job is to listen to Him and obey Him, and understanding will come later. He is merciful and gracious towards our doubts and questionings, but in the end, He is God, and we are man, and we are to hear and obey.

Another Round…

…of battling with spider mites (it looks something like this). And once again, it’s the oft-beleaguered T. bulbosa and T. streptophylla (yes, that original piece from FEF that went through a miraculous revival).

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Above: T. bulbosa (with 3 pups) and T. streptophylla, when healthy and bug-free.

For a few minutes, while I was filling yet another tub with soap solution (not breaking out the poison yet because the infestation isn’t that horrible), I considered letting myself get angry and depressed about the situation. Why is it that time and again, it’s the plants that hold the most sentimental value for me that get affected by pests? Why is it that it’s the little ones that always get attacked? Why is it that the plants that have fought for recovery from the brink are brought down again and again, requiring repeat after repeat of the same old nursed-back-to-health story? Why is it that I generally give all my plants the same amount of care (I water them every one to two days, and look them over at least once every four to five days), and some are perfectly happy with that while others seem to scream for attention every now and then even though nobody is being neglected, damn it?

Then I realised a few things. And figured that there really isn’t any point in getting upset. Just deal with it and move on. God is (once again) using Creation to deliver warnings and lessons pertaining to the spiritual realm.

Bugs are opportunistic. It’s their nature. They’re predators, in a way, and just as big cats on the savannah watch for the youngest and weakest animals in a gazelle or zebra herd and demons prowl around looking for handholds on unsuspecting Christian psyches, them bugs are going to be on the lookout for the smallest and weakest plants in any garden or collection. Plants that are small (more surface area to volume) or have survived previous attacks are easier pickings than big, untouched specimens. The recent weather isn’t helping, because it’s searingly hot most of the time and too-dry plants attract spider mites. I just need to step up the watering schedule and stop worrying about whether there will or will not be rain, because the intense heat is clearly posing a bigger problem than the possibility of overwatering, right now.

The Enemy attacks the young and the weak of the Kingdom, too. And those of us who have struggled with certain strongholds and personal issues know all too well how these hot buttons can be targeted again and again and again, even though we’ve picked ourselves up and gotten patched up and soldiered on countless times. It’s never-ending; we’ll have respite when we’re dead or Raptured.

And about the non-neglect that still causes (or leads to) health problems? Some plants, coming from different climes and with different constitutions (xeric VS mesic, etc.), need different levels of care, just as some people are a little more fragile and need a little more care than others. It’s an important point to keep in mind, when you have children or mentees or members of a ministry group under your care.

Prophetic Bug-Busting

So tonight I was staring at the plants as usual, and I invited E to come over and take a look, also as usual, and he suddenly said, “Hey, is that FEF strep doing OK?”

E never asks specific questions about particular plants. Well, once in a while he does if I’ve been talking about one quite a bit, but it’s not normal. And this particular plant is special to us:

strep progression

I checked, holding our brave little survivor of a T. streptophylla up in the deepening dark, silhouetted against the orange glow of a streetlamp… and saw webs.

We immediately did a full round of inspections, and as it turns out, two other plants (T. seleriana and T. xerographica x exserta) had tiny black bugs running around on them, which is minor compared to the white bug-infested webbing on the T. streptophylla. No other plant seemed to have a problem.

The way I see it, E’s long-unused prophetic gift is reawakening. He’s already seen some signs of that at work, and now it’s creeping back into the home. I’m so happy!

Not so happy about the bugs or the major stink caused by the bug poison (I broke out the poison this time because I’m so done with chilli padi), but I’m glad the problem was caught before it got too bad. I guess it’s an ongoing fight when you’re dealing with living things, and an environment that you can’t fully control.

Pests will take every possible opportunity to eat your plants, no matter what you do to prevent it. And my growing area is probably as sterile as it gets – they’re dangling on wire coils outside my window, freely swinging in every touch of breeze. Their only neighbours are one another, the nearest plant life are the HDB estate ti plants and grass one floor below on ground level. I doubt that bugs can easily jump from the “wild” plants to my domesticated ones but it’s not impossible – wind and birds are a factor, as are larger insects like moths, beetles, butterflies, cockroaches (ugh)…

I’m not the best gardener. But I do spend time carefully looking after my plants and doing my best to protect and rescue them from bugs. I wonder how much more our heavenly Gardener scrutinises our lives. It makes me feel kinda warm and fuzzy inside to think about it.

Re-entering the Field

So S has been sorta pulled into the mad world of bromeliad mania, and somehow she and I have agreed to work together on a research project (probably a slim volume consisting of a few articles) on the garden and the city. She’ll be jumping into it immediately after finishing her Masters thesis, and I’m attempting to get my academic gears back into motion after eight years of disuse.

I’ve not felt so excited about a project for a long time, not even when I was actively writing for and editing a now-defunct e-zine (we closed it down because the organisation it was for had shifted in direction and focus). Sure, there’s been some high points with other things like songwriting, vocal recording, and dance… but while I do have a bit of talent in those areas it’s probably nothing close to what I can do with the written word when I’m at the top of my game.

The childhood dream is no longer what it was, however. I don’t have the same misguided ideas about the sort of writing I am good at, or where my true giftings lie.

When I was a child, all I knew was that I wanted to write. And I wrote – badly.

It wasn’t that I had no skill with language or self-expression. It was bad because I was attempting to write fiction, just because I loved reading fiction. It started because someone mentioned that one should write the sort of books that one wanted to read. And it continued being bad because I lapped up advice from various sources that urged aspiring writers to just keep trying, to imitate your idols, to employ all sorts of writing stimuli and idea-spawning tools, to just ensure that you wrote something on a regular basis no matter how disjointed or bad it was.

I went through a few other phases in which I unconsciously explored and practised various genres, types of writing, and developed a personal voice and style. For the past handful of years, however, you might say I’ve produced nothing.

The recent years of non-inspiration and half-baked writing attempts haven’t been useless, however, though the world might see it that way. I’ve noticed another pattern in my life that my eyes hadn’t been open to until today, and I’m amazed at how the Lord has directed my steps even though I have been completely oblivious. The discouragement I felt at not having written anything for a long time, and the resulting “killing” of my dream in surrender (or resignation?) was real, but the time of renewal is here. I know it. I can feel it.

Since this is mainly a plant-related blog – yes, I do intend for it to keep that focus somehow – I’ll make it a bit plainer: “Unproductive” stretches in our lives, if not caused by laziness or inertia, are very likely fallow periods. Afterwards, with proper ploughing (keep studying the Word and praying!), sunshine and rain, seedtime and harvest come back into play. When we allow our lives and our gifts to “flow with the unforced rhythms of grace”, to quote a certain JP, God’s pattern and plan for our lives becomes clearer.

So thank you, S, for being a catalyst. God’s used you to bless me much more than you might realise – your simple invitation to tea/coffee might just prove to be one of the most important turning points in my writing career. I hope whatever I deposit into your spirit is as valuable as what you’ve set fire to in mine.

Exodus 23: 10-12 (NKJV)
10“Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, 11but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.

Proverbs 13:23 (NKJV)
Much food is in the fallow ground of the poor, and for lack of justice there is waste.

John 12:24 (NKJV)
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.

Jeremiah 4:3 (NKJV)
For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, “Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns.”

Hosea 10:12 (NKJV)
Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you.