Which Side of Jesus is Your Parenting Style? Tender or Bold?

The tenderhearted Jesus and the bold Jesus, merged into the God-Man whose radiant light expressed the multiple facets of His Father, is diamond to our coal.

Jesus loves us with a fierce, yet sweet love. He tenderly said, “Let the children come.” But He also challenged his disciples to go forth and make disciples of all men, to walk on water, and to proclaim His Word as lambs among wolves. My husband and I have struggled with so many things in our long and imperfect marriage. We’re still trying to get it right. But when we were parents, we each manifested a different wavelength of Jesus’ light through His prism of love. Did our kids see us as the Image bearers we strived to be? Did our meager light show glimmers of His glory on a sandy beach in Iowa?

Mom watching small son on beach

Parenting is tough! But my husband and I complemented each other in ways that often drove us crazy in our marriage, but sometimes worked as we raised our kids. Our personalities were the two sides of the parenting coin. When our kids were small we loved to vacation at Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa. A sandy beach with gently lapping waves was the scene for a sunny morning that highlighted our differences. The sweet love of Jesus, tenderhearted and compassionate was balanced by His stern commands to go forth, have faith, and be brave.

Sand castles on beach

When our kids were small my husband Kim loved to help them build sand castles. As an architect his castles could be quite amazing, but as I watched his sweet tenderness and praise for each effort of little hands I saw new value in his character. If at age 2, Kyle in his toddler clumsiness knocked over a fancy turret with his bucket, Kim would say, “Here, I’ll help you build another one.” Or if a bucket of water carried from the shallows slopped over with none left for the moat, he would gently lead him back to the water to fill it up again, all the while telling Kyle “You’re doing a great job!” Kim was the epitome of the tenderhearted father.

buoy in lake

Enter the mom. My tactics were more of the drill sergeant style. Andrea at age 4 was helping scoop out the moat and I swooped her up and said,

We’re going to touch the buoy!

She would whine with anxiety while I strapped on her lifejacket. I’d pull our huge inner tube, taken from some Iowa farm tractor, to water just deep enough for me to flop backwards into the hole and swing her up on my lap. As I did the backstroke paddle she grasped the sides of the inner tube, clung to me and softly whimpered. She knew me well enough to know that I was not going to take her safely back to the beach until we touched the buoy.

Jesus said, “Go” so many times in scripture. In Luke 10:3 he sent his! workers out to proclaim His good news. “Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.” In Matthew 14:22-33 Jesus told Peter to “Come” to him across the waters,

“Take courage, it is I, don’t be afraid!”

Peter accepted the challenge on that stormy day on the Sea of Galilee, but started to sink as soon as he took his eyes off of Jesus and saw the wind and the waves.

Granted, a journey to the buoy in Lake Okoboji may not seem even close to those challenges faced by the disciples, unless of course, you’re a small child out in the deeps trying to be brave. Okay, those biblical feats are hard to compare to a sunny day on calm waters with a big inner tube keeping you afloat. I also gave poor Andrea no choice, but plucked the child from a safe beach and shallow waters. But Jesus swooped down too, commanded his followers to “Go”, the tender heart intertwined with the stern challenge.

The buoy was 300 feet away from the beach, the length of a football field. I’m sure through Andrea’s 4-year-old eyes it seemed far, far away. About halfway there, as we gently bobbed along on the quiet surface, she calmed down. Her grip loosened and she looked into my eyes as I sang the song that always highlighted our journey across the deep waters.

“Buoy Buoy, how are Youey?

I can still hear the silly notes, still see the pleasure on my kids’ faces as I sang that song. I can’t sing and I obviously lack the skill for imaginative lyrics, but I know if I sang that song to my grown kids today they would laugh and remember. And we all touched the buoy; a childhood rite of passage showing bravery in our family. The buoy, anchored down to the deeps, marked the limits of safe swimming, beckoned the small child. She bravely reached out and touched the grimy surface of that symbolic buoy. And grinned!

footprints in sand

That’s what I wanted to see, the pride in a challenge well met! I wanted to stretch my children, help them know they could be brave and courageous. We paddled back to the beach and admired the castle my husband…  er my son built. But not until I sang Andrea’s praises for a journey well taken, and saw Andrea proudly point to the buoy, so far away, “I touched the buoy!” Our kids learn about the character of God as it is displayed in their mom and dad. Kim and I are flawed, the light we scattered was twisted by sin, but God used each of our personalities to manifest His presence. How does God use your unique personalities in the lives of your children?

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Sunset on lake

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