I’m in awe of people who run 26.2 miles and live to tell about it. My husband, Dan, used to run marathons. He tells me that training for a marathon involves running a lot, eating right, and getting plenty of rest. Physically running for that long may not be in my makeup, but as the parent of adult children, I see parenting as a marathon of a different sort.
The Old and New Testament both stress the importance of parents raising up their children in obedience to the Lord:
Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; … Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…. (Deuteronomy 11:18-21)
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right… Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)
And obedience is not a one-time act; it’s a marathon of a project. In order to be a Christ-honoring parent, you need to “run many miles,” “eat right,” and “get plenty of rest:”
Run Many Miles
When I was raising three young children, there were days that I felt like I had run 20 miles. Chasing a two-year-old around the park or walking an 8-year-old to a friend’s house or supervising the crafts of a 6-year-old, while making dinner, will wear anyone out. There was inevitably a steady stream of talk, questions, and goofiness. I distinctly remember thinking, I cannot answer one more question! But, I did. Then came years of shuttling children, and their friends, to events and practices of all kinds.
Those moments were opportunities to teach my children as we “walked along the road.” I didn’t always recognize that, but occasionally I made the most of them. My sprint mentality to parenting was to make sure my children had a wonderful and problem-free childhood, which I now know is unrealistic and foolish. A marathon perspective would have been to treat their problems as possibilities for new confidence, growing maturity, and increased faith in the Lord and knowledge of themselves.
Run many miles and take advantage of teachable moments as you are running.
The night before Dan ran the Chicago Marathon, I made him spaghetti, and he ate quite a bit. Runners need carbs to fuel their race.
Parents of young children need to fuel their bodies for sure, but feeding their souls is even more important. Prayer, time in the Word of God, and a community of Christians who will support you are the nutrition most necessary for a parent’s work. It can be difficult to find time for these things because the schedule of a parent of small children is full. Spiritual food is still essential.
Parents are often consumed with the daily needs of their children, like lunch, homework, piano lessons, and basketball practice. Time in prayer and God’s Word will lift their view to the long race, the marathon, the bigger picture, which will renew them to take the next step.
The Bible was my constant companion during my hands-on parenting years, and I don’t regret one second of the time I spent in the Word of God. The Bible that I used in those days is now falling apart, marked with blue, red, purple and black ink, and I’ll never throw it away, for it holds a record of passages that I memorized, answered prayers, and my own spiritual transformation.
How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way. (Psalm 119:103-104)
After eating his fill of spaghetti the night before the marathon, Dan should have gone home to ensure he could get a good amount of rest. I asked repeatedly, “Don’t you need to get some sleep?”
The day of the marathon that year was unusually hot, and it was rough running. Dan finished, but he hadn’t run in the time he had hoped.
Parents want to run the race well, and the way to do that is to rest in Christ’s accomplishments. In sprint mode, I regularly worried about the next hurdle that my children would have to clear. Spiritually, I was unsettled. One day, taking a walk and praying, I finally realized that God loved my children even more than I did, that he had a good plan for their lives, and that it may not be the same plan that I had imagined for them.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Ephesians 1:3-4).
When we learn to rest in what has Jesus has already done, the marathon of parenting doesn’t seem quite so daunting. He has made salvation possible for us, and in so doing he has also prepared us for everything we will be asked to do in this life. Parenting is no exception.
Run the Marathon Well
One of the most difficult aspects of parenting is handing over control of our children’s lives. When they are very young, there’s no question. The parent makes all the decisions. But, as they grow, the wise parent lets them begin to make decisions themselves and sometimes bear the consequences of their unwise choices. In my experience, that was stressful.
Jesus gave us an example of handing over the reins when he was about two years into his ministry, and he sent his disciples out on their own to:
“…proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.” (Matthew 10:7-8)
The disciples had been watching Jesus doing those very things. But now Jesus called them to go and teach, heal, raise the dead, and cast out demons. Parenting involves a similar experience: Children watch their parents live while they are toddlers, in school, and from a distance. Finally, they must become adults themselves and live their own lives.
No parent lives perfectly or teaches their children flawlessly, but the long view of a parent’s life is powerful.
Parenting is a long-term project, a marathon, not a sprint, and we need to run the race well, to fuel ourselves with prayer, Bible study and a community of believers, and most importantly, remember to rest in what God has already done for us through Jesus Christ.