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March 21, 2005

Restoring Gently and Carrying Burdens

At this stage in my life, so much of my reading and studying is filtered through the perspective of mothering. This includes my studying of the Bible and theology. I find the deeper I dig into God’s Word, the more light it shines on my life--and how I ought to mother.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:1-2

“Brothers. . .” This passage is written to Believers. As parents, God has given us special responsibility towards our children. But they are also our “brothers” and in the Covenant.

Kristen recently wrote,

We went to Ash Wednesday services at the beginning of Lent with Kate at the episcopal church around the corner (we missed liturgy) and when the priest put ashes on her little forehead, it really made an impact on me. As much as I am her mother, I am also her sister in Christ. This has been really helpful to me in thinking through parenting issues. Most Christians wouldn't serve wine to a fellow Christian who was a recovering alcoholic. Why do they discpline their children and then set them up to do the same things again?

In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther clarifies that “caught in sin” is not speaking about doctrinal errors, “but about far lesser sins into which people fall not deliberately, but through weakness.” As our children are learning right from wrong, they will sin. As they are growing through various stages of development, they will have greater or lesser control over their impulses.

Luther goes on to say, “is caught in imply being tricked by the devil or sinful nature.” Sinful nature, temptation, weakness, developmental stages--remembering these sins of our children are part of their weakness helps me respond to them with compassion.

Luther states, “Paul therefore teaches how those who have fallen should be dealt with--namely those who are strong should raise them up and restore them gently.” I don’t always feel “strong” or “spiritual.” Often I feel weak and struggling myself. But it is my responsibility to raise my children and be strong for them. We have no trouble with the idea of parents being a “mama bear” protecting her young child. I also want to be strong spiritually to correct them gently, to be the “mama bear” to help my children when they are struggling with sin.

It’s interesting to note that this passage is immediately proceeded by the admonitions to walk in the Spirit and the list of the fruit of the Spirit-- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These should be on my mind as I restore my children gently.

Luther reinforces the idea of this passage reminding us of “the fatherly and motherly affection that Paul requires of those who have charge over souls.”

What does “restoring gently” look like? Luther explains, “when they see that those persons are sorrowful for their offenses, they should begin to raise them up again, to comfort them, and to mitigate their faults as much as they can—yet through mercy only, which they must set against sin, lest those who have fallen are swallowed up with depression.” And “. . .gently, and not in the zeal of severe justice.”

To be honest, at times I’ve had Christian mothers advocate some child-training approaches that seemed to have more of the “zeal of severe justice” than how Luther describes the Holy Spirit’s correction, “mild and pitiful in forbearing.”

After restoring gently, we are told to “carry each other’s burdens.” I see this, in light of mothering, as an especial entreaty to know our particular children and their particular weaknesses.

One of my sons is insecure around lots of guests--and he has responded in the past by getting very loud, climbing on furniture, and even hitting a guest. I've found that to carry his burden means I prepare him beforehand for our guests, and I hold his hand when they arrive, until he is comfortable and calm. Another son is prone to lash out at his brothers when he is angry. Bearing his burden has meant praying with him and for him, helping him recognize when he feels anger rising, and giving him strategies to deal with that anger without hitting. And it has meant letting him know it’s good to come to me and say, “Mommy, I’m angry” so I can help him not sin in his anger.

Also in this encouragement to carry one another’s burdens, it strikes me how wrong it is to follow the child-training technique of placing a child in a situation of temptation--to test him and see whether he can withstand it (or be punished.) This method is encouraged by some for training toddlers and preschoolers, and seems to be very contrary to bearing the burdens of temptation.

Luther also comments on this passage that sometimes in bearing with one another, things need to just be let go--“These people are the ones who are overtaken by sin and have the burdens that Paul commands us to carry. In this case, let us not be rigorous and merciless, but follow the example of Christ, who bears and forbears these burdens. If he does not punish them, though He might do so with justice, much less ought we to do so.”

“And watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. . .” For parents, I see this as a two-fold warning. First, to be gentle, not be angry—the caution here illustrates how very easy it is to slip into being harsh.

And also I see the warning not to be tempted to pride. When we become concerned about appearing to be “good parents” it is easy to slip into correcting harshly, minutely. This is one of the areas in which I struggled a lot, especially when my children were smaller. And especially when we were guests in churches and people's homes. I felt pressure (from myself even more than others) for my kids to be perfect and "prove" we were worthy to be missionaries. That pressure tempted me both into pride in my children's good behaviour, as well being overly picky and correcting unnecessarily.

The end of these verses is “in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” As Martin Luther said,

“After Christ had redeemed us, renewed us, and made us his church, he gave us no other law but that of mutual love. To love is not to wish one another well, but to carry one another's burdens--that is, things that are grievous to us, and that we would not willingly bear. Therefore, Christians (parents!) must have strong shoulders and mighty bones, so they can carry their brother’s weaknesses. . . Love, therefore, is mild, courteous, and patient, not in receiving, but in giving, for it is constrained to wink at many things and to bear them.

Footnote: Quotations are from the Crossway Commentary series, Martin Luther on Galatians. Luther's commentary is also available online, in a variant translation.


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Good thoughts. It's helpful too that you give specific examples of your youngsters' behavior and how you deal with it.

Posted by: FLGrandma at March 22, 2005 01:29 PM

Beautiful! Why do we (I!) think that the Bible does not have something in it to speak to every relationship in our lives? My husband and I recently returned from serving in Mexico and I too struggled with my children "measuring up",as we traveled and stayed/lived in people's homes. And the pressure was 99.9% of the time internal.Thank you for your honesty and sharing your desire to serve your children, not just as their mother but as their sister,too.

Posted by: Eva at March 22, 2005 02:03 PM

What a great post. Thank you!

Posted by: gid at March 22, 2005 02:09 PM

i appreciate your comments re correcting gently and knowing each individual child...and helping carry their burdens. in our quest for truth, we often ignore this aspect of family (and church) life. so often, those who are kind and gentle are soft on truth and wink at sin. many of us who are strong on truth are too harsh...WAY too harsh, not only with our children and spouses, but with our brothers and sisters in Christ! Then we wonder why we can't find a caring Body of believers. Hmmm!

you are right on sister. i've been observing over the years that our behavior in our 20's and 30's toward our children and spouses is sort of like putting money into a bank of love and good will (or withdrawing it if it is negative). Apart from unusual intervention b/f then, we will receive the dividends in our relationships with our children/spouses in our 50's and 60's and beyond. it is a version of the scripture that says "we reap what we sow." certainly compassion and tenderness in dealing with sin vs. a harsh and self-righteous spirit will result in a better earthly AND heavenly reward for all concerned.

i speak as a wounded soul who never experienced that kind of love and care from my christian parents and very little from my christian community. i am not rare from my generation (almost 60). we wanted to do better for our children...and by God's grace we did do better, but it was always an uphill battle and i see WAY more that could and should have been done. i found that one of the most difficult things about parenting was having to look at my woundedness and inadequacies. of course, that drew me to Christ but i didn't come to see some of the practical benefits of that until more recently.

Posted by: martha at March 22, 2005 02:57 PM

Amen, amen, amen! What a great post!

I love your use of carrying burdens in the context of parenting. It adds such a loving dimension to what we teach our children.

Thanks for writing this.

Posted by: Kim in ON at March 22, 2005 08:04 PM

I have been reading with interest your recent posts on Christian parenting. I've been challenged to examine my own parenting style. May the Lord continually refine me!
I would love to read any practical advice you have to share for gently parenting a TODDLER (My son is 2.5yo).
For example: "Johnny, please don't sit on your (infant) sister's back when she is trying to crawl. It makes her frustrated. Do you hear that she is starting to cry? (etc.)...."
Johnny almost immediately repeats behavior...and by the way, he fully comprehends the request I just made.
After Johnny directly disobeys my request in such a way, my current practice is to discipline him, usually with a spanking.
Can you provide to your readers some practical advice for parenting YOUNG children such as this. I appreciate all you have said so far...it just seems like the approach you are recommending is easier to "live out" with slightly older children.

Posted by: Reader at March 22, 2005 10:51 PM

Luther is wonderfully liberal with the Gospel! Thank you for the Galations link...most Lutheran churches these days have little to do with Luther's teachings. Bach (born March 21, 1750) is rarely performed either. My family is listening to the St. Matthew Passion tonight. Blessed Lent!

P.S. Your blog is too edifying to refrain from reading!

Posted by: bonnie at March 23, 2005 04:45 AM

This is appropos of nothing; but I just wanted to say that me and Bach share the same birthday. Solomon Burke also turned 65 the same day that I turned 41!

Posted by: Brian G. at March 23, 2005 05:18 PM

I absolutely loved this blog!!! You have no idea how much it spoke to my heart today. Thank you for sharing this.

Posted by: ~Leann at March 23, 2005 06:27 PM

Preach it from the mountain tops, sister! AMEN!
Who am I, chief among sinners, to arrogantly condemn my children? I am to GENTLY restore them--LEST I FALL INTO TEMPTATION (of pride, anger, self-righteousness)...I do not lord over my children..we are *fellow-sojourners* on this faith journey.

Posted by: Ann at March 23, 2005 11:46 PM

Great stuff.

Posted by: Missy at March 24, 2005 02:16 AM

I really appreciate the feedback, and the thoughts y'all have shared. It's been good for further reflection.

I'm not ignoring you! Just been a bit crazy~offline the past few days. But I did write a whole post to you in my head as I was drifting to sleep last night. I'll type it up, today hopefully. *Grin*

Posted by: TulipGirl at March 24, 2005 10:27 AM

I love your thoughts on this. My 8 year old needs prepared before people come too. Otherwise she gets so hyper. Thanks for a fresh new view of my kids and motherhood!

Posted by: Mrs darling at March 24, 2005 07:37 PM

I'm took me a few days to get to reading this post. I'm so glad I did read it. The analysis from Scripture was very insightful and the examples from your own life helped to clarify it's application. This is one you should think about publishing somewhere. It is very well done.

Posted by: Dogwood Blue at March 25, 2005 02:34 AM

As usual, thank you for putting things down so well. I linked to this post. *smile*

Posted by: ~*Christy at March 26, 2005 02:40 AM

Very nice post! Happy Easter.

Posted by: Brian at March 28, 2005 05:58 AM

Thank you for reminding us that God's Word applies to our children too.

Posted by: Victoria at March 30, 2005 03:33 PM

This post is exceptional. You should try getting this published in some kind of Christian parenting magazine. Seriously.

Posted by: Krista at April 2, 2005 01:48 PM

Your thoughts are so encouraging and helpful. I have three young children who at times are so irritable and ornery with one another that it's hard to know who to handle all of the situations that arise. Hitting, teasing, fighting over toys....My husband travels frequently and your blog has been a great reminder to me of how important it is to mold them in Christ's love just as a brother or sister in Christ. Nothing else a mother does is as important as that. Thanks!

Posted by: Julie at April 4, 2005 06:59 AM

Found the link you send me while looking through some old e-mails. Fascinating entry. Thanks for giving personal examples--that really helps us parent-types out. :)

Posted by: Stephen at June 26, 2005 08:21 AM

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