By Fraser Venter

In the film “Ray,” starring Jamie Foxx, there is a moment when the young Ray Charles has become blind, and he must learn how to navigate his home now without the use of his eyes.

In one scene, Ray struggles with this new reality and cries out for his mother. In this moving depiction of struggle, Ray’s mother is watching her son work in this new place of growth, knowing that if she continues to rescue him similarly, Ray will not learn the new things he must learn. At the end of the scene, Ray learns how to navigate this new place of living, all under his mother’s watchful eye. Ray then calls his mother and has a different understanding of who she is and where she is. She embraces him, and Ray asks, “Why are you crying, mama!” She responds, “Because I am happy, baby.”

God does not rejoice over our suffering but sees our struggle and is nearby. He knows what can be produced in us is more significant than his rescue. It’s a new formation of who we can become (as discussed in my book “Navigating Transitions”).

Parenting is learning how to navigate our transitions while simultaneously doing so with our children in each life stage. Developmental psychologists debate how many stages of human development we go through, yet all would agree we do go through them. If you are a parent, you not only see these stages but must learn how to engage in each of them — recognizing they all require new skills, insights, patience, and practice.

Recently, I was asked to share a short devotional with Men’s Ministries International (MMI) on the incredible privilege of “Embracing Fatherhood at Different Life Stages.” Although I was deeply honored by the request, I immediately did two things.

First, I asked my children (now 28 and 30) what they thought. As you can imagine, they had lots of insight to share about my parenting skills. This is an important goal in parenting: creating vulnerable spaces as a parent and child at each stage to discover who we are: our faults, praises, and all the in-betweens.

Second, I shared with MMI that the moment we think we have become experts on parenting or have found the latest new resource that makes us feel like experts, we are not. We must continually lean into the self-revelation of Jesus as a model of what parenting looks like and hold on to the grace that when we don’t get it right, God is gracious in the messes we make as parents, not just as children.

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“As our faith develops through stages, so should our approach to parenting.

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Theologians and spiritual directors have different conclusions on how to interpret 1 John 2:12–14. I personally see the passage as a representation of our discipleship journey but also it reveals to me that God is fully aware of our life stage developments, and each stage has its own unique characteristics and responsibilities. Throughout Scripture, we have both the recognition of our identity as children of the King and our call to maturity. Then, of course, Jesus turns it all upside down by asking us to have faith like children but also to abide, grow, and bear fruit. As our faith develops through stages, so should our approach to parenting.

Confusing the Stages?

One of the challenges we have in parenting is that we mix up or confuse the stages. For example, we ask our children to be more adultlike and then ask our adult children to stop being so childlike.

An illustration that has always helped me in this is the idea of an acorn and an oak tree. The acorn is as mature as the acorn is going to be at the stage of its development. We can expect and hope the acorn will someday be an oak tree. Inside the acorn is the full capacity of that being true; however, our goal as parents is to create environments where at each stage they can grow, be exposed to the climate (hardships), break ground and establish roots.

We can’t keep calling into our children a future that they have not yet learned how to steward in the present. As the acorn (child) grows into an oak tree, we can’t keep treating them like an acorn, hoping to somehow keep them there. As they become oak trees, they are naturally more independent, but the root system underneath is where interdependence occurs both with us and, most importantly, with Jesus. At some point, when we have shaded them, they will become our shade.

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“Parenting, for me, is the constant reminder and resorting back to saying, ‘God, I trust You.’

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Rescue or Release

Parenting means embracing each stage with discernment regarding our responsibility to rescue or release. Ultimately, those are lessons of trust and learning to let go of control. Parenting, for me, is the constant reminder and resorting back to saying, “God, I trust You. I am not in control of everything that happens, but I can partner with You in loving my children both in the current stage and through to the next stage, I trust You have what is best for me and them.”

I think Luke 15:11–32 is placed in the Bible for a couple of reasons. One reason is that, as parents, we will all have prodigal and righteous moments with our children. These moments can be a handful, but they present such a beautiful incarnation of grace in the steadiness of discernment and differentiation about how to treat each child. They remind us again to say, “God, I’m going to be steady like You. I’m going to trust in You, and I’m going to release the control that I want over my children.”

I have been in these moments as both a child and a parent, and I believe I will be on a continual learning curve all the days of my life.

From Bottle to Cups to Glass

In our stages of faith, we all start out as infants. We cry out, and God responds.

In parenting, when our children cry out, we respond. When our children fall, we respond and pick them up. When our children are hungry, we feed them. In this stage, there is a beauty of intimacy in the relationship, but it is mostly nurturing. Yet we all know God’s heart is more than just that, and so must our parenting develop to become more like Him.

So the next stage is introduced: every parent and child must walk through the dreaded day of moving from the bottle to the sippy cup. In this liminal space, where much angst occurs, the responsibility of moving from nurturer to developer is introduced. Allowing the child to hold their own cup. Yes, they will ask for it, and yes, we may still respond, but we are now helping them develop a relationship of communication that urgency is not provided every time they want something. Part of our role as parents is to help navigate between letting go of what comforted our child at one point and moving to a place of new understanding and responsibility of relationship.

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“Remember our failures are not final nor a representation of our value.

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Every step requires trust. Is the lid still on it? If they spill, it’s not a big spill. If they make a mistake, it’s not a problem. We can navigate that space if they reach for the bottle instead of the sippy cup. We don’t have to get angry or feel we must fix it. This is a normal part of their growth to want to reverse back, but we help our children see there is more ahead of them than living with what is behind them. Then comes the next stage — moving from the sippy cup to the plastic cup.

Now comes more responsibility, as what they hold on their own has more consequences when it spills. We are teaching our children that provision comes with stewarding what’s in our cup. In parenting, that can be one of the most nerve-wracking times to let them have more and more responsibility. These are the moments we are teaching our children to become the hero of the story with all the glory and mistakes that come from that responsibility. It’s calculated as we recognize when the plastic cup falls, it’s still not a tragedy, but it must be cleaned up. Remember our failures are not final nor a representation of our value.

Then we move from plastic to glass. They must reach a point where what they’re stewarding in their hands is more fragile and that, as parents, we are not protecting them from places where they will encounter broken glass, both caused and received. They must learn that when glass falls off the table onto the ground, it shatters. It doesn’t just get the resilience of coming back on the table. Here in this stage, we teach them the depth of forgiveness, lament, and repair.

Our children need to learn what it means to suffer and to break not by our hands, but the reality of the cultural world in which they live. Things are fragile, and they’re called to steward themselves and in others. As they grow, date, work, and experience singleness or marriage, they will need to learn what it means to navigate both the beauty and fragility of what’s in their hands and hearts. A glass implies your children are learning how to control what they have and the responsibility of that ownership.

The goal is that what they have in their glass (heart and hands) is shareable. In the final stage — although it is never final as we should always be developing — we move from being concerned with what is in our glass to what we might pour into others.

One of the things we must model to our children is what it means to be servants in the kingdom and to understand that not all their needs are going to be met, but we are still called to help meet others’ needs. There’s something that we develop in our children that moves to the heart of more of the fullness of who Christ is.

Stewarding the Destiny

Ultimately, as the process of parenting moves through these stages, there’s backward and forward. There’s falling. There’s getting back up even to the point when they’re at the glass stage or the pitcher stage. Not all of that’s going to be perfect either. But our responsibility is to come alongside in the environment and continue to make our children the hero of the story — not to fix them, not to control them, but to learn how to teach them how to trust, how to develop, how to learn from the past, how to be responsible, and how to steward the present and next season.

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“Every time you hit the wall with your children, every time you’re about to lose your mind, you’re experiencing the privilege of a formation experience with your children.

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Your children are not really your children. Before they were formed in the womb, your children were God’s children (Jeremiah 1:5). Our Father in heaven held our children and prophesied destiny over them. Our responsibility as parents is to steward the destiny that every child has been given. That’s why Free Methodists feel so strongly about life issues. If a life is ended at any time, a destiny is stolen on the planet.

As parents, when it’s all said and done, I hope that all of us hear: “Well done, good and faithful servants.” There’ll be no titles. There’ll be no little letter behind my name. It’ll just be: “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

I also hope — and I have a feeling — that God is going to pay attention to how I did with the stewardship of relationships because the Imago Dei is His highest value. He’s not as concerned with our time, treasure, and talent as He is concerned with relationships. My highest priority is that I would stand before the Lord and see clearly that my wife and my children were stewarded well in becoming Christlike and living out the destiny and dreams that I get the privilege of being witness to.

Every time you hit the wall with your children (at any age), every time you’re about to lose your mind (you know, every week), you’re experiencing the privilege of a formation experience with your children. These experiences remind me: “God, I’m just a steward. I’m responsible for loving them as You would, but ultimately I trust You, and I give them back to You. I desire that I would give them back, if not in better shape, the best shape that I can do on this side of heaven.”

Bless you as you go on this journey of parenting. It’s not an easy road, but remember that our God is a just and gracious parent. May you hear the whisper of God over your life like Ray’s mom: “I’m happy. Baby, I’m happy.”

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Fraser Venter, D.Min., is the strategic catalyst for love-driven justice on the Free Methodist Church USA Executive Leadership Team and the author of “Navigating Transitions.” He previously served as the lead pastor of Cucamonga Christian Fellowship in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and as a superintendent of the Free Methodist Church in Southern California. He earned his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees at Azusa Pacific University, and he is currently enrolled in the Master of Arts in Justice and Advocacy (MJA) program at Fuller Theological Seminary.

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