I would like to pass on to you one of the insights God gave to me as a father. This truth was like a great “change everything” discovery when God impressed it on my heart and mind. It was like a secret passcode that unlocked so much understanding in how I dealt with my children, how I raised them, interacted with them, changed expectations I had on them, and the way I coached them, trained them and dealt with them.
I have spent the last almost 42 years using this truth, pondering its depths of meaning, and application to my fathering, marriage, ministry work and human interactions.
Matthew 7:12 states this: “Always do for other people everything you want them to do for you. That is the meaning of Moses’ teachings and the Prophets.”
Wow, did you get that? Do you see this? The entire meaning of all Moses taught and all the Prophets was to treat other people the way you would want to be treated! This is what I love about Jesus. He takes all the complicated laws of Leviticus, many in Exodus, in the Prophets, and sums it up in one simple, graspable statement of divine truth!!
Incidentally, this has been my model for teaching and preaching for the last 32 year, and all my years of fathering. Making the complex simple, easily understood, easy to relate to, and wisely attractive.
My friends, this is a game changer for any who will grasp the simple but profound insights that come from this eternal, divine truth. The insights here for fathers in our parenting is astounding. It is like cracking the kid code. I could write so much on this truth. We could apply it to business, to church, to relatives, to all our relationships, and all our dealings with people. However, I would like to focus on this truth as it relates to our children.
I have reworded this truth below, as God allowed me to understand the great facets of this truth.
Deal with your children the way you would have wanted to be dealt with when you were a child! Treat your children the way you would have wanted to be treated when you were a child!
Often as an adult, we only see things through our adult eyes, through our years of experiences, and our grown-up perspectives. These are of course vital and important. What we really need to grasp is this: How could I best deal with my child as the child that they are? How could I best help, understand and train my child?
Children are all going through things we went through, or felt, at their age, but most of us have forgotten about it. We are too busy with our adult life and all the things on our plate. This causes us to miss the vital importance of human understanding and insights that we gain when we put ourselves in their little shoes. Don’t misunderstand me, of course, they need us to say no to them. Of course, they need us to give them good boundaries and they can’t have candy for every meal instead of real food. The reality is this: Most of us dads do quite well with saying no. “Don’t do that! Stop that! Get down from there! You can’t have that!” Where we fail most is in dealing with them in an emotionally insightful, understanding, and effective way that wins their respect and confidence, and trains their hearts, and causes them to want to follow where we are leading them.
When I reword Jesus’ eternal words, “Deal with your children as you would have wanted to be dealt with as a child”, it opens up a huge stream of thoughts, insights, understanding, and practical answers to many things. Allow me to illustrate.
When I was young, approx. 8-10 yrs. old, my mom wanted me to play the piano. She had the best intentions in the world. She was not trying to be mean or inconsiderate. She loved music and noticed I loved music also. She wanted me to learn to play the piano and started me on lessons. However, I was not interested in playing the piano. Eventually, I was allowed to quit. Several years later, in junior high, my dad thought I would be a good trumpet player. He loved Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. So, they started me on the trumpet. I learned some, played in marching band, and unbeknownst to them, got severely picked on and bullied by a guy who always sat next to me in band practice. The truth was I was not interested in the trumpet either.
What I really wanted to play was the drums!! I had rhythm and used to get into constant trouble for drumming my fingers on my desk in school. However, I was given the impression that drums were not a real spiritual instrument, and told I couldn’t play them. Again, my parents meant well, and in their defense, drums were never played in church services in those days!
Eventually, I started to sing, and sing, and sing. By high school, what I realized I really wanted to learn was the acoustic guitar. I eventually got one and began to learn basic chords. I eventually learned to write and play my own songs.
In fact, if you would want, you may hear my CD of songs here:
My music became a means of expressing things to God, and in fact was like balm to my soul, through the tremendous challenges, heartaches, and pains of life and ministry. For a long time, it was like medicine for my soul.
Here is how this impacted my fathering, as I applied the concept of dealing with my children as I would have wanted to be dealt with as a child. I made a conscious decision not to push music or an instrument on my kids. Rather, my goal was to inspire in them a desire and love for music and deal with them the way I would have wanted to be dealt with. I let them watch me lead worship, sing specials, play my guitar and sing to them in their rooms at night when they were little. I did not force an instrument on them, that they had no interest in playing. I waited and watched for the smallest signs of interest in my child, then fed that interest in a way that had meaning to them.
Here is how it worked. In 1979 I recorded an album called “Made For Your Heart.” Eventually, a friend put it on a cassette tape. My oldest daughter Celeste, when she was about 3-4, would take that cassette into her room, shut the door, and play it and sing along to every song. It had a lot of meaning to her to hear her daddy sing. Sometimes, Kathy and I would sneak open the door, just enough to watch her, and she would be singing with all her might, with little tears running down her face. She had that kind of sensitive heart and felt those songs so much. We did all we could to encourage her love for singing and help her.
When my son Jeromy was 15, he and Celeste started attending Normandale Community College. They were doing post-secondary studies there. One day, Jeromy came home and said, “Dad, they have a classical guitar class. I would like to take it. May I use your classical guitar?” I didn’t think twice. I said, “Absolutely son, I would be honored to have you use it.” Within approx. 2 weeks Jeromy could already finger pick every song I had written and played. I took him aside and told him, “Son, you have a tremendous gift. You already play better than I do. Anything I can do to help you keep learning, you let me know. We can even get you another guitar.”
About a year later I heard Jeromy and Celeste practicing the song “Treasure” by Gary Chapman. They were going to play it at their youth group that night. It is one I played and sang so many times at home. It sounded great coming from the bedroom where they were practicing. Suddenly, I noticed Jeromy was trying to sing along. Jeromy had never been interested in singing before. As I sat outside the room, in the family room listening, I have to say that I was cringing inside. While Celeste had been singing since she was 3 and could really sing, Jeromy had not and he needed some real work on his vocals. It was going to be a train wreck. I sat outside the room, pondering this question, “Lord, what do I do? Teens can be so cruel, if they do this song, with him singing along, it will not go well, and they will get made fun of.” I know first hand how much that hurts. So, putting myself in their shoes, asking myself, “How would I want to be treated”, I knew I would want someone looking out for me, who I trusted, to tell me lovingly, I should opt out of singing along this time and explain why.
So I opened the door, and said, “Kids, that song is really coming along. Jeromy, you play that better than I ever did, and Celeste, your vocals on that are just tremendous.” All that was true. I then said, “Jeromy, I want to ask, were you thinking of singing along with Celeste tonight when you do that at the youth group?” He said, “I am.” I said, “Son, you know I love you right?” “Yes, dad, I do.” “Son, your guitar playing is wonderful, and Celeste has been singing since she was 3 years old. You just started to sing along to this song tonight. Buddy, you aren’t ready to sing yet on this song. Your vocals need work and more practice. If you sing tonight on this song, you will end up being embarrassed as teens can be very cruel. If you let me work with you on vocals over the next few months, I can help you make lots of progress.” Though it was hard, he took that advice, and they did the song that night and it went great.
My daughter Jessica didn’t really show a whole lot of interest in music until one night we all watched the movie “Sister Act 2” as a family. Lauren Hill performed the song “Joyful, Joyful”, and it was awesome. Jessica fell in love with that movie and with Lauren Hill. Several years later, in 1998, “The Miseducation of Lauren Hill” came out. I bought it for Jessica and she would go up into her room and sing along to those songs over, and over, and over again. I was stunned as she could match all of Lauren’s inflections and expression. That girl had soul. I will never forget the first time I played my guitar for Jessica to sing, she was about 14 at her first high school Christian leadership training in Myrtle Beach, SC with me and she sang the song I wrote to Psalm 23. The people were blown away when she was done. You see, I patiently waited, treated her as I wanted to be treated as a kid, and fed her interest once she revealed that genuine desire and interest.
Here is my version of Psalm 23 put to music. I think it would bless your soul.
My baby boy is Micah. Micah, of course, watched with admiration as all his siblings did their music. He watched his brother play guitar and his siblings sing. When Micah was about 11, he started asking me for an electric guitar. I admit I was hoping he would play the acoustic. I gently tried to persuade him to try playing Jeromy’s acoustic first. Nope, over and over again, he asked me to play the electric guitar. I could see Micah really had the desire. So, I called a very good friend, who was a tremendous electric guitar player. Micah had seen him many times play at our church services. I asked him if he would give my son lessons. I wanted to set Micah up for success and a good teacher would be critical. He said he would be honored to. I then got his advice on the right guitar to buy, the right amp, etc. I went to Guitar Center and picked out the coolest Fender Strat I could find, a cool amp, and a snakeskin guitar strap. Once again, using the insight of, “How would I have wanted to be treated with my musical interest as a child?”
I brought it home, and snuck in the house, and hid it all downstairs. Then as a family, we gathered in the family room as I had called a family meeting. I said, “Micah, all of us have been talking and you have way too much time on your hands. So I have a surprise for you. You have to promise me you will use it for an hour a day.” I had him go over and uncover the Strat guitar that I had hidden underneath some blankets and wow, he exploded with joy. Jumping up and down. He did indeed play an hour a day, he was thrilled to get lessons from his teacher, and eventually, believe it or not, Micah now plays a Taylor acoustic.
Micah wanted to sing, as he saw all his siblings singing. I was heartbroken, because of all my children, Micah did not seem to be able to carry a tune. When I would sing, and ask him to repeat it, he just couldn’t match the notes right. Once again, I asked myself, “God, how would I have wanted to be treated?” I knew I would want someone to believe in me, help me, and pray for me every day, and ask God to make this possible. That is what I did, for years, I prayed, and prayed, and asked God to help him learn to be able to match pitch and tones. I will never forget the first time I heard him lead worship, playing his guitar and singing, I was in tears.
All of my children have used their music to serve God and His people for almost 2 decades now. Jeromy writes songs, plays in prisons, and shares the gospel with inmates. Often his sister Celeste goes with him. Micah and Celeste also led worship together for years and Jessica has used her singing as well. Jeromy and Celeste led music at our large church conference for years. I have often been left speechless, and in tears after hearing them sing a song to God.
I sincerely believe that all of this happened because of the incredible insight God gave me when he said, “Mark, deal with your children the way you would have wanted to be dealt with as a child/kid.” I didn’t push my desire on them. I inspired them, I exposed them to great music, and I envisioned them for a life serving God and others, using their God-given gifts and abilities. I nurtured their desires once they revealed them. I treated them the way I would have wanted to be treated.
I know. Some of you are thinking to yourselves, “Mark just let his kids do what they wanted. He let them do the easy stuff and never asked them to do the hard stuff, cause hey, who wants to do the hard stuff?”
Let me illustrate again. Of course, I knew my kids would need to learn to work hard. You are thinking, “Mark, most kids would rather play than work.” I knew my children would want to have spending money. I knew they would actually want to succeed in life and not fail. I again, asked the question, “How would I want to be dealt with as a kid?”
Then, I inspired the kids and helped them get a paper route. Celeste was just old enough to have a route, Jeromy was not, nor were the other 2 kids. However, no one could tell me, the other kids couldn’t help out. I wisely chose a route that was once a week, not every single day, as neither Kathy nor I, with all we had going on, could help them succeed in that. Then, I personally helped them every single week. I set up a little paper route factory in the living room. I carried all 500 papers into the house for them. I got things all neatly arranged and set up so it was a smooth operation, and all the kids could succeed at their tasks. Once they were sorted, bagged and in the box, I carried the stuff to the van. I put the little factory stuff away. Kathy or I would drive them around on the route following them to ensure their safety and some warmth, for breaks in the van, during the brutal Minnesota winters. I treated them as I would want to be treated. They did this route for almost a decade, eventually passing it onto their younger siblings. They earned very good money for their age and got to do it as a team. I celebrated their achievements and work success. I never threw them to the wolves, so to speak, or into the deep end of the pool, standing on the side, saying, “Swim kid, kick, or sink!!!” I would never want to be treated that way.
Deal with your children the way you would have wanted to be dealt with as a child.
Do you see the power in this? Do you grasp the keen insight and emotional understanding this truth gives you in dealing with your children?
I close with a true story. Many years ago, I was speaking at a conference for couples/parents in another state. My theme centered on this, “All we need to have a great marriage is the teachings of Jesus.” I then proceeded to focus much time and attention on what I have shared with you in this article. Treat your spouse, treat your children, the way you would want to be treated. I expounded on it using many simple, easily understood, real-life illustrations.
At the end of the conference, a woman and her husband came up to me. They were about 10 years older than I was at the time. She said, “Mark, I have my Ph.D. in Family Life Counseling. I have a private practice, and I am also a professor at a college. I have never heard anything so profound as you shared this weekend. I cannot wait to get back and share this with all my students and my clients.”
Dads, please hear me on these matters. Please give careful thought and attention to what I pass onto you. The things I share with you will transform your fathering, your parenting, your marriage, and make you more effective, successful and wise. These are all insights and wisdom that God gave to me through the years, and I have practiced and applied them all.
Helping you become a Strong Disciple,
Because of Jesus,