"No child of mine!" I used to cry
Before the stork had fluttered by
“Will ever throw a temper fit
Or bite or scratch or whine or hit
Or wear a diaper till he's three
Or sit for hours and watch TV.
Or leave his spinach on his plate
Or dawdle till he makes me late
Or act, in short, like other kids
Who make their parents flip their lids.”
But with the patter of little feet
Come forty million words to eat!
It is my firm conviction that if you’re a preacher and you intend to preach sermons on parenting, you need to get them preached before you have kids, or at latest, before they get out of elementary school. At least you can pretend you know what you’re talking about.
Having said that, I want to say a few things to our parents about something I believe is the most powerful thing you can do for your children as they are growing up.
We bring our children home from the hospital – these little bundles of joy – so fragile – and yet more durable than we can ever imagine. We lay them in their cribs in their newly painted nurseries where we have spent hours dreaming of this day. And we are both excited and terrified.
Nine months of pregnancy, 36 hours of labor, “It’s a boy! It’s a girl!” And then the real work begins. Long nights, 2 am feedings, exhaustion, and we stand looking at them sleeping so peacefully and dream dreams for their future. Who they will become, all the wonderful things they will do with their lives. And more than anything else, that they will grow up knowing how much we love them.
Not all of us got that. I’ve done enough counseling through the last four decades to have talked with men and women who struggled with life because their mother or their father were incapable of expressing that love. And if they didn’t get it growing up, they continued to search for it as adults. And usually that search ended in frustration and emotional pain that played itself out in any number of destructive substitutes.
And some of you know what I’m talking about. You never felt like you measured up. You disappointed your father and fell short of his expectations for you. Instead of affirmation and love, he was more often emotionally absent and physically distant. Maybe your mother withheld her approval, thinking she was encouraging you to do better, but you finally just gave up all together because the bar was always moving and never attainable.
David Seamans, a Christian counselor, tells of a young woman he counseled who could never get on with her life – never could open up and love anyone unconditionally. She told him how, in growing up, she could never do anything that pleased her mother, couldn’t ever meet up to her mother’s expectations.
She took piano lessons and worked very hard for one recital and her turn came to play and she was flawless. Her teacher leaned over and whispered, “You were perfect.” She ran down the steps of the stage to go sit with her mother, who was silent for about ten minutes, and then leaned over and whispered loudly, “Your slip was showing the whole time.”
You may have experienced what Esau experienced so long ago. Esau, you’ll remember, was the oldest son of Isaac. It was the practice of the patriarchs to bestow a blessing on their oldest son as they passed on to them their birthright. Now, Esau was a fine young man and had become the provider for the family. He was also shortsighted and impulsive. Years earlier, his younger brother, Jacob had talked him into giving him his birthright for a bowl of soup. So, the birthright, or inheritance was already Jacob’s, but the blessing was something different. It was that moment when a father laid his hands on his child’s head and affirmed his love for him and pictured his future.
You remember the story of how Rebekah, Isaac’s wife conspired with Jacob to deceive Isaac, and when Isaac had sent Esau out to prepare a meal of wild game, Rebekah prepared a meal and had Jacob go in and serve it to him and he in turn received Esau’s blessing as firstborn. When Esau came in a little while later, with the meal his father Isaac had requested, Genesis 27 says, Then he said to him,
“My father, sit up and eat some of my game, so that you may give me your blessing.” His father Isaac asked him, “Who are you?” “I am your son,” he answered, “your firstborn, Esau.” Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!” When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”… Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?” Isaac answered Esau, “I have made him lord over you and have made all his relatives his servants, and I have sustained him with grain and new wine. So what can I possibly do for you, my son?” Esau said to his father, “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!” Then Esau wept aloud.
Esau’s life was short-circuited by the deceit of his brother and by the inability of his father to give him the blessing he had longed for. And though we don’t have a formal ceremony of blessing in our cultural way of doing things, that blessing is still a crucial part of a parent’s gift to their children and when that blessing is withheld it affects their lives in ways that ripple throughout their lifetime.
A few years ago I read a book by Gary Smalley and John Trent entitled, The Gift of the Blessing. In that book they gave substance and detail to what it means to bestow that blessing upon your children. To give them that blessing, not just in a one-time dying breath, but in an on-going, life-long kind of way.
And so, for a couple of weeks, I want to share what this blessing looks like and how to give it to your children.
The Hebrew word for “Blessing” in the OT is one of the most important words in the Bible. It was used over 640 times in the OT alone. The word “Blessing” held four crucial functions:
First, it affirmed identity, and second, it bestowed meaning and purpose.
Do you remember the very first thing God did after creating us? In Genesis 1:27-28, we read: So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
In Genesis 12, when God chose Abraham to create a people through him that would be his people, The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:1-3)
In both those passages, you hear God’s claiming them as his own – giving them an identity as his very own people. We’ll hear echoes of that in 1 Peter 2:9-10: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
And more than just an identity, they have meaning and purpose in life. Adam and Eve were to be God’s family and join him in the work of bringing order and fruitfulness to the earth. Abraham was to take God’s blessing upon him and spread that blessing to all people. And in a similar way in 1 Peter, God’s people are sent back out into the world to declare the praises of God and invite others to join us.
Third, the blessing called upon God’s protection. Listen to Jacob’s blessing upon Joseph: “Joseph is a fruitful vine, a fruitful vine near a spring, whose branches climb over a wall. With bitterness archers attacked him; they shot at him with hostility. But his bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber, because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with blessings of the heavens above, blessings of the deep that lies below, blessings of the breast and womb. Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, than the bounty of the age-old hills. Let all these rest on the head of Joseph, on the brow of the prince among his brothers.” (Gen 49:22-26)
And then finally, the blessing was used to mark an important rite of passage. Whether it was a birth or a marriage, or on the passage of leadership from an older generation to a younger, a blessing was used to mark significant milestones in one’s life.
So think about how important those elements are in a person’s life:
Affirming who you are and whose you are.
Giving meaning and purpose in life.
God’s protective arms around you.
Launching into the next part of one’s life.
Let’s look briefly at the five elements that comprise the blessing, and then in the next couple of weeks we’ll look more closely and in greater detail at those elements.
Smalley and Trent liken them to the necessary elements of gardening. Every flower needs soil, air, water, light and a secure place to grow (where its roots are not constantly being pulled out). When these five basic elements are present, it is almost impossible to keep a flower from growing. The same is true of the basic elements of the blessing. Let me give you the snapshot:
A family blessing begins with meaningful touch. It continues with a spoken message of high value, a message that pictures a special future for the individual being blessed, and one that is based on an active commitment to see the blessing come to pass.
Think how powerful touch is in a relationship. Several years ago we were friends with an older couple in our congregation. The husband died and Janelle was left alone. We had moved in the meantime and saw her about a year later. We asked how she was doing and she said, “Pretty good, but you know what I miss most? Felix’s hugs.” We need them to survive and to thrive.
The second element is the spoken message. Now, most of our communication in a family is functional and on the surface. But we need to hear and to impart words of love and acceptance and affirmation.
In addition, those words must attach high value. Just because you don’t say negative things doesn’t mean your children assume you value them. To value something means to attach honor to it. In fact, this is the meaning of the verb, “to bless.” In Hebrew, the root word behind “to bless” literally means “to bow the knee.” Words of blessing should carry with them the recognition that this person is valuable and has redeeming qualities. In God’s word, recognition is based on who one is, not simply on how well one performs.
Fourth, the blessing involves picturing a special future for the person being blessed. Now that doesn’t mean we impose a course upon our children and force them into following a career path we choose for them, nor live vicariously through their accomplishments. But picturing a special future means that we help them to see their potential in whatever they choose to do.
When our children were little I would stand in the door of their bedroom watching them sleep, thinking of what they would do and who they would become. The Gospel writers say that when Jesus was little, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” It’s important that we help our children see their future through our encouraging words.
And with those words of affirmation, we make an active commitment to do everything in our power to help them be successful in whatever they choose. That means spending time and being involved and walking alongside our children as they grow and explore the possibilities for their lives.
And let me add, that while we are speaking primarily about the blessing we bestow on our children, we can apply this to any relationship in our life. Our husband or wife, our friends, our physical brothers and sisters, and even our brothers and sisters in Christ. And it’s never too late to get started. People respond to being blessed at any age. We innately hunger for it. When God blesses us, his intention is that we pass on the blessing to others.