There are just certain mornings when I can tell right out of the gate, that one of my boys is ready for battle. I know that on this kind of day, I will find myself saying, “Son, ask Jesus to give you a spirit of self-control,” more often than I want to count.
In 2 Timothy 1:7 we are reminded that the Spirit God gives us is one of “power, love and self-discipline.” The key word is gives. He gives, and we take hold. When we take hold of the spirit of self- discipline, or self-control, we restrain ourselves from saying or doing something that may make us feel better in the short-term but isn’t for our, or anyone else’s, long-term benefit.
At this chaotic stage in our lives, with three boys under 10, I have to daily remind myself to take hold of this spirit of self-control. When the boys are wreaking havoc, I must remember that when I lose my self-control and I don’t treat our children with respect, I essentially teach them to do the same. However, if I recognize that they are watching me and learning from me, and I take hold of a spirit of power and self-control, then I have the ability to bear with our children in love, gentleness, and patience (Eph. 4:1 – 3).
I know few moms who don’t struggle with patience, and my children know all too well about my personal struggle with it. In fact, the same son who often has to be reminded to ask Jesus for help with self-control is the same one who is most aware of my own struggle with it.
For example, when I picked Brennan up from school, I gave him the same big smile and huge hug I always give him when he runs into my arms at pickup.
As he left my embrace he asked, “Mom, where’s Cal?” Offering my best sales pitch, I answered “Cal has a play date today, buddy. But you get to hang with Owen and me!” Evidently that was not the kind of day Brennan had in mind. In the blink of an eye he ripped off his backpack, threw it across the schoolyard, fell to the ground, and began yelling things like, “That’s so not fair, Mom! My life is so not fair!”
My son, who typically radiates joy, was melting before my very eyes. With lots of curious moms looking my way, I knelt down in front of Brennan and before I said a word to him, I prayed aloud, “Lord, I need your heart and I need it now. Please give me—” Before I could get another word out, Brennan finished my sentence…..
“Patience. Mommy needs patience.”
Yes, my children know my weaknesses well. When I reflect on my struggle with patience, my mind immediately wanders to how Jesus relates to me. My senseless worry and self- inflicted angst could easily make him declare, “Oh, Jeannie, you are so exhausting!” Instead, He is so very patient. When there is a lesson I refuse to learn, where there is a blessing I feel unworthy to accept, when there is a doubt I cling to for dear life, when there is a worry I milk for all it’s worth, He is so very patient with me.
Drawing from this knowledge, I often pray aloud in front of our children when I am on the verge of losing my cool,
“Lord, I long to be the patient parent you are to me. Protect me from losing my self-control. Give me a new heart, empowered to model your gentle and patient heart to my kids.”
Being honest with our children about our weaknesses, and allowing them to see our need for Jesus and the power of His grace at work in our own lives, is the greatest gift we can give them. As much as we want to be able to produce Christ-like character, such as self-control and patience, in our boys lives, we simply can’t. We are powerless to produce anything in our children’s lives. “Christlike character” is the overflow of a heart that has been captivated by his grace and empowered by the Holy Spirit! God alone gives us the desire and the power to do what pleases Him! (Phil 2:13)
If our desire is to see our kids grow in Christlike character, we must start by giving them the good news of God’s grace–His unwavering love for them, not because of anything they do or don’t do, but because of everything Jesus has already done for them.
Our kids must know something about Jesus’ heart for them before they will ever desire to seek and model his heart above all else!
Let’s lead our kids in truth and wisdom, be honest with them about our own need for Jesus and the power of His grace, and stay on our knees in prayer that God would captivate their hearts with His grace.
Jeannie Cunnion is the author of Parenting the Wholehearted Child. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work, and her background combines counseling, writing, and speaking about parenting and adoption for organizations such as Bethany Christian Services and the National Council for Adoption. Jeannie serves on the board of Raising Boys Ministries. She also serves as the Council Co-Chairman at Trinity Church in Greenwich, CT, where she enjoys leading parenting groups and Bible studies when she isn’t cheering on her boys at one of their sporting events. Connect with Jeannie here: www.jeanniecunnion.com, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.