When my daughter Kaylee turned sixteen and I began teaching her to drive, I discovered there’s nothing more thrilling or more terrifying than hurtling through space with a teen at the wheel—like being on my own personal roller coaster.
It’s amazing how many things we take for granted about driving until we try to teach someone else. For instance, the subtleties of that little pedal in the middle of the floorboard called the brake. Maybe we should rename it the whiplash button.
A law of physics of which I grew newly aware is, you have to be moving to steer. At first Kaylee wanted to separate the two—get her wheels all lined up before she hit the gas. I kept reminding her, “You have to start moving first, then cut your wheel at the same time.” It’s a struggle to turn while sitting still; it’s easy when you’re moving. It’s just an exercise in faith.
Now here’s the life lesson for parents. Your relationship with your children is the gas; teaching and discipline are the wheel. It’s tempting to want to correct your children first and think about investing time in relationship with them later, after you get things all lined up. But that doesn’t really work. It’s extremely difficult to turn a vehicle that’s not moving.
I see parents all the time who are working very hard to correct their children, but they don’t realize that it doesn’t have to be so hard. If they would invest more time in building a relationship—hit the gas a little harder—they would discover that it’s much easier to steer.
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That analogy begs the question: What gets in the way of building a relationship? Sometimes we blame our lack of time because we’re just too busy. In the analogy, that’s like running out of gas. Other times we blame our children’s stubbornness. They don’t want a relationship with us and push us away. That’s like having a flat tire. We’re not going anywhere until we pull off to the side of our paths and change an attitude or two.
Both our lack of time and their stubbornness can be factors in why the relationship isn’t gaining much acceleration. However, I’d like to suggest another reason, one I think is actually much more common than we recognize. Many parents are riding down the road with one foot on the gas and the other foot on the brake. And the name of that brake pedal is pride.
Three times in God’s Word, pride is linked to resistance. Peter and James both tell us, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The writer of Proverbs says, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that if God says something three times, it must be really important to Him. Here’s my paraphrase: In a relationship with God, humility hits the gas and pride hits the brakes.
God warns us repeatedly about pride because it destroys our relationship with Him. God does not want your life to implode into self-centeredness like a black hole that collapses into nothingness under its own gravity. But it’s pretty hard to worship your Creator when you are High Priest of My Way in the Temple of Me.
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And there’s another good reason why God repeats the pride warning—He isn’t the only one who resists the proud. Think for a moment about that arrogant boss you once worked for or that stuck-up kid at school or the preacher who thought he was better than everyone else. Were you drawn to those people, or did you instinctively push away from them?
On the other hand, I’m willing to bet that if you think about the people in your life you have really been drawn to—the coach you played your hardest for, the friend you felt the most relaxed with, the Christian leader you were inspired to be like—they shared a common trait of deep-down, genuine humility.
Power and Influence
As moms and dads, we have a degree of power over our children, and it’s important that we use that power wisely. But that power grows more and more limited as our children grow older. Our influence over our children, however, is virtually unlimited and has the potential to inspire change in their hearts and minds.
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Influence does not come from formal authority or power. You might force others to change their behavior, but you will never reach their hearts and minds. So how do we gain influence? One of my favorite writers, Henri Nouwen, says it this way: “What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life.”
In other words, influence flows out of relationship.
Here are four practical ways you can put pride away and start leveraging the power of influence.
1. Confess when you are wrong and ask for forgiveness.
Nothing demolishes pride faster than admitting you were wrong, but that’s not easy for parents. We operate on the principle, “You’re never wrong if you don’t admit you’re wrong!” However, our children see right through that. Apologizing to them isn’t going to surprise them with the news that you make mistakes; they already know that. What will surprise them is your willingness to own up to it. Many times I’ve had to kneel down beside the bed of one of my children at night and ask for forgiveness because I overcorrected based on my pride. It’s humbling, but I know I have to do it to restore that relationship, without which I can never have true influence in their lives.
2. Center yourself in worship.
Worship is a regular opportunity to remind yourself that there’s something bigger than you are. It’s a map check, like a big red arrow that says, “You are here—and here is not the center of the universe.” Through singing praises, sharing prayers, speaking the liturgy, and hearing God’s Word proclaimed, worship has the power to humble us, not by putting ourselves down but by refreshing our picture of how big God is. Along the way, as your children see you in worship, you will be modeling for them how to live a life of humility instead of pride.
3. Connect to an accountability group.
Children are accountable to their parents, but all too often in our culture we believe the lie that adults don’t have to be accountable to anyone. We call it freedom, but freedom from accountability is like the freedom of driving on a dangerous mountain road and removing the guardrails. Accountability grows out of a relationship of trust with a small group of like-minded people. Accountability simply means that you give certain people permission to ask you the tough questions about how you are doing in your walk with God and what you are doing with your life. Pride hates to be questioned. Humility considers it an honor, a badge of love, for someone to care enough to ask questions. The wisdom of Proverbs says, “Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.”
4. Commit yourself to service.
When you take time to meet the needs of others without thought of personal reward, you reconnect to the essence of love. Especially when you can find ways to serve in secret—working behind the scenes, giving anonymously, doing random acts of kindness for a stranger who will never even know who did it—you kill pride at the root. Service is like Roundup for your soul—it kills the weeds of pride and selfishness. Pride wants to be served, or at least to be seen serving; humility simply wants what is best for others. This is particularly important if you have a position of authority at work or in the community—the more you become a “big deal,” the more you need to get away and serve others in simple, direct ways. After all, Jesus took time out to wash His disciples’ feet. I doubt that you are a bigger deal than He is.
In the words John the Baptist to Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease.” That’s true for us as parents too. The day comes when our children become adults and leave us behind. We may dread it and even feel sad when that day comes, but in our hearts that’s what we truly want for them. They must increase, we must decrease. But when they leave us behind, what will they take with them? A lot will depend on whether we choose the path of power and pride, or the road of humility, influence, and relationship.
© 2015 Dr. Patrick Quinn and Ken Roach. Excerpted from How To Ruin Your Child in 7 Easy Steps (David C Cook). All rights reserved.
Dr. Patrick M. Quinn is the Teaching Pastor at Frazer United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, a church with over 8,000 members. Foster Care, trips to Haiti, and hanging out with his family make for a fulfilled life. Patrick and his wife, Rachael, have three children. Ken Roach is director of Content Creation at Frazer United Methodist Church. He is also husband to Emily and father of four. Ken and his family live in Montgomery, Alabama.
Publication date: June 2, 2015