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The Art of Intentional, Non-Anxious Parenting

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

The kids were maybe 4, 6, and 8. We had a Saturday morning together, and I had a plan. I grew up in a family that valued a strong work ethic and planned to instill the same in my children. In my mind, they were old enough. So on that fateful Saturday morning, the kids and I went outside to pick up sticks from the recent storm.

All went well…for about 5 minutes. Then the kids were done with the job. Mind you, the work was not completed. They were just done. As they started to complain, I started to lose my mind. I was not about to raise children who didn’t know how to work, and in those brief moments, their futures began to flash through my mind. Anxiety and anger rose, and what was to be a teaching moment became one of my (many) parenting failures.

What went wrong? Nothing really, at least on their part. The problem was that I was placing too much weight on a single moment. As crazy as it sounds, on some level I feared that everything was riding on THIS moment. And that seems to be the recipe for anxiety. Can you relate?

If we are not careful, parenting can feel like every day is THIS moment. Maybe it’s a conversation with our child. Maybe it’s a particular occasion for discipline. Maybe it’s a ballgame or a test. Whatever the occasion, when we make any moment the ONE moment, we’ve lost sight of our true goal in parenting.

As important as a healthy work ethic is, it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal for Christian parents. The ultimate goal should be to point our children to a heart-shaping relationship with Jesus Christ. Out of that relationship, all other aspects of our parenting will flow, including a work ethic.

But how can we ensure our children will know, love, and follow Jesus? The short answer is that we can’t. Rather than sending us into despair, that truth is meant to grow within us a sense of dependence upon the Lord, and in that sense of dependence, to let go of the urgency we place on individual moments.

Let me offer an alternative. Rather than the individual moment, as parents let us focus on a thousand moments (or thousands of moments). Maybe this will be a helpful illustration. Are you familiar with the concept of the photomosaic? It consists of a thousand tiny thumbprint images which are formed together into a single cohesive image. I’ve come to believe this is the most helpful way we can think about our work of parenting.

No one image creates the whole, but every single image contributes to the whole. So that fateful Saturday morning didn’t define my children’s work ethic, just as it didn’t define my success or failure as a parent. But, it did contribute to their understanding of work, just as the memory of my failure contributes to my understanding of parenting.

The photomosaic approach to parenting offers two practical points of encouragement to those of us who are in the thick of raising children. First, it frees us from the anxiety of the moment. When we come to understand that the weight of our child’s future does not rest on any single moment or event, then we are beginning to come to a place where we can let go of the pressure. We can begin to be a non-anxious presence for our children, and we can actually enjoy them.

Secondly, we come to realize that the fuller image we are shaping does consist of those individual thumbprints (or moments). While none of those single moments will form our children completely, each of them contributes to who they are and will become, so we are to be intentional with all of them. It is an illustration of intentional, non-anxious parenting. But it still seems like a lot is riding on our parenting. And there is. This is a high and holy calling, but our effectiveness is ultimately dependent upon the One who has called us to parent.

Philippians 1:6 offers hope for the Christian in many facets of life. There, the Apostle Paul is writing to encourage the church in Philippi that their growth in Christ and eventual share in glory with Him is dependent upon the One who began that work in the first place. He writes, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

By extension, I believe Christian parents can find the same comfort as we cling to the promises of God. What He starts, He finishes. So let us be instruments in His hands, but let us trust in the work of our Redeemer. And in trusting in Him, let us parent with intentionality, freedom, and joy.

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