I admire the gutsiness of Paul. In his letters to Jewish and Gentile Christian communities, he is willing to chastise but he is also willing to hold himself up as an example to follow. In his first letter to the Corinthians he clearly defines “the bar”, spelling out what immorality is and that the Church should not be slack about it (particularly in chapters 5-6) and describing and defining the roles that the Church should build on and develop (in chapters 10-14). I think as parents we get stuck in these modes– here are things you shouldn’t do and here are the things you should do. Of course, this is essential. We need to be the ones setting “the bar” for our kids because the world will set a very different one for them.
But smack in the middle of the book, Paul steps out of the role of passive teacher and offers his life as an example to follow: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Cor. 11:1. I don’t know about you, but I do not wake up every morning and say to my toddler, “I’m going to be a shining example of Christ in every situation today, so watch closely and learn,” but that is essentially what Paul is saying. I think as Christians in general this is something we all need to work on but as parents to young kids it’s essential.
I had planned to go back to work after my daughter was born, first at 6 weeks and then at 6 months but life was so insane at those times I decided to wait even longer. Finally, or what seemed like ‘finally,’ she became a toddler and she was more independent and I thought I would finally get some personal and professional space that had been engulfed by the very clingy, very needy, colicky baby. On days when we were home together alone I wracked my brain for things to do and for a long time it seemed like I would try to teach her things, she would watch for a second and then run the other direction and try to create a mess in that direction or find some dangerous object that I didn’t realize was a dangerous object until she was trying to gag herself with it. I felt like my skills as a teacher (and even just as an intelligent human being!) were being wasted. But all of a sudden one day, she picked up one of her stuffed animals and hugged it, kissed it and rocked it as I had modeled for her several times without seemingly making any impression on her at all. It was like a light bulb moment that all first parents have. I taught you something and you learned it. YAY! It made me realize that my efforts did matter and for me at least it confirmed that while she is a little sponge I want to be the one impacting her the most.
Yeah, that’s the easy part. Those moments are important. Those are the moments when we intentionally set “the bar” and we are in teacher/preacher mode. But what about all the other moments of your day? What about when you just wake up and you’re a mess? What about when you’re making dinner? Or even when you’re taking a shower or using the bathroom?! Personal space is a luxury when our kids are little and I remember distinctly one day when I ran into the bathroom and my toddler followed. I had toys set aside for her in the bathroom but of course they weren’t as interesting as what I was doing. Here I am dying for a moment of privacy and my toddler wanted a ringside seat to the show, trying to get me to move around so she could see better. I remember laying my head in my hand in defeat and frustration. I didn’t want to be a teacher I just wanted to go to the bathroom for crying out loud! After I got done, she asked if she could try and to my utter amazement (with no prior potty training) she used the potty (both jobs! Yeah, you can so tell I’m a mom, right?).
In that moment I had a total change of heart. I didn’t want to be on the pedestal all the time as the teacher of life, but that’s what I am for her. Even in my most vulnerable moments, she is learning what it means to be a human being and most importantly a Christ-follower. Paul realized it wasn’t just enough to say to people “This is how it is, now do it!;” he put himself out there as an example to follow. There are two important things to realize about Paul’s decision, though. One is that he was intentional. He knew that he was putting himself out there for criticism but he was bold. In those harder moments we need to recognize, accept and own the fact that we are examples for our kids. He also didn’t do it in his own strength. He doesn’t tell us to follow his example because he himself is perfect but rather because Christ is fully sufficient and he is following Christ. We’re not going to be perfect, but we need to strive in our own spiritual lives to let Christ become more and more as we become less and less so that in every situation (even in the shower!) we are modeling what a wonderful Savior we have.