Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord and the fruit of the womb is His reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them: they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate" (Ps. 127:3-5, KJV).
In the twilight of his day, a mighty but aged warrior stands on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a vast sea of possibilities, potential and dreams. He ponders the path that led him to this hour of reflection on a life full spent. He sees what he accomplished, the kingdoms he established, the enemies he vanquished, the home and family he loved and the good name that proceeded him throughout his long, earthly tenure.
As he gazes into the vast sea of possibilities that lay before him, there is no regret in his mind or heart.
Years earlier, in the prime of his strength, he had realized his limitations. So he had taken his children one by one and, like arrows in a bow, aligned their lives toward destiny. When the bowstring was pulled back, pungent with purpose, he aimed and shot.
Some of the arrows went further than the others, a couple changed direction in midcourse, and one even left the kingdom. But each child shot out further than the man thought they would, and in their own unique way they became an extension of the man--a heritage and a legacy that would live on long after the warrior's work was finished.
Bent before the flight. As church leaders, we often find that our lives parallel that of the warrior. The expectations placed on us, both personally and in ministry, rival those deeds of great faith enumerated in Hebrews 11, as we subdue kingdoms, stop the mouths of lions, quench fire and turn armies to flight.
All the while we are preaching each week, attending countless meetings, living stellar personal lives and displaying perfection in our family life. At the end of our labors, some of us will find ourselves in the twilight of life, standing on the cliff and looking into the sea with regret. We will face the rude awareness that in the midst of the intensity of our lives, we had squandered the heritage of the Lord.
Like the warrior, we may have once seen our limitations and the gift that was given us in a full quiver of children. But when the time came to aim and shoot our children toward their destinies, we were shocked to find that little Susie was a bent arrow, Johnny was broken into two pieces and Billy was missing from the quiver.
Webster's Dictionary defines heritage as "something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor." When the Psalmist states that children are a heritage from the Lord, it reinforces the understanding that the Lord gave us our children. But when the children are in our hands, we have the potential to develop and aim their lives in such a way that, shot from our parental bow, they become a heritage unto us--an extension of who we are.
The combination of being a public leader and a parent is fraught with land mines. As leaders, we carry the burden of living both a public and private life. I hope the public life is a reflection of the private, but more often than not the public expectations press a leader into the wearying task of maintaining a positive public posture even when the hearth and heart are in disarray.
As a parent, our need to maintain our image is often transferred onto our children. Instead of admitting that our babies are normal children with normal child issues and attitudes, we draw them in as a sideshow to our public presentation. We do not allow them to be normal, but instead expect a perfection that parallels the image we convey to the general public.
As leaders we loose, bend or break our offspring when we demand that they be showcase children and fail to allow them the right to be normal and develop without our scrutiny and the scrutiny of others.
The scrutiny of the perfect. Our desire that our children be flawless and live up to a prescribed image is often motivated by our own insecurity. We fear that our identity will come under question if our children do not reflect the right image.
Out of our fear we offer our children conditional love: "If you perform according to the script, I reward you with my love. But should you forget your lines, enter from the wrong side of the stage or fail to generate a standing ovation, I will withhold portions of my love. Your acceptance in my sight is based on your performance, and your performance is important inasmuch as it helps me maintain my image for my public."
If this is our relationship with our children, in the end we lose the legacy of ministry we desired from them. But worse still, we lose the more valuable commodity of their love and support as they loathe themselves, us and ultimately resent the church for robbing them of normalcy.
In forcing our children to conform to our image, we fail to remember that our children are first a heritage from the Lord. He has given them to us to care for, nurture and love. They are like arrows to be protected in the archer's quiver until the day they are shot forth into their destiny.
Children were never intended to be taken out of the quiver and put on display in the trophy case of your ministry. Even when you aim them like arrows in the right direction, you cannot determine that they will hit the bull's-eye. Yes, they are your children--but they are foremost the Lord's.
Ashamed at the gate. Psalm 127:5 says that the mighty man's children "shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies in the gate." When we place our children in the awkward position of playing a scripted role in the drama of our personal ministry and public identity, we raise children who may be unable to stand at the gate or speak with our enemies without shame. We find that our children turn to the same routes of escape from a painful reality as our non-Christian neighbors--drugs, sex, alcohol, even suicide.
How many ministers are ashamed of their children and relegate them to a backroom closet of the church? How many children are there who hide from the saints and die in the shadows of great men?
It is when we allow our children to develop into who God has uniquely created and called them to be, and when we do our best to protect them from our (and the public's) scrutiny, that they can eventually stand without shame. When we push them to stand at the gates in the public eye before their time, and to live up to our unique expectations and call, we risk losing the heritage of the Lord.
Perhaps the arrows are best directed when they are allowed the chance to be sharpened slowly over time, through the abrasions that all of us must face, and to be chiseled into what God intended for them to be in future years. In the meantime, it is more important to be their fathers than their pastors.
It is more powerful to shoot them from the strong bow of love and acceptance than to manipulate them for some temporary grandeur that dulls the heart and dims the wit of what God's gift was to us as men. While our children may not always be ready for the showcase, it is important that we do not ruin them by overexposure to the harsh, glaring light of notoriety, nor to the other extreme of dimly lit closets, where we tend to hide the flaws that accompany all of us who are but mortal men filled with divine treasure.
The answer is simple: Love heals the heart of children by covering a multitude of sins. A father girds, guards and guides his children. Please do not allow the nomads who run through our churches to alienate the children, whose ultimate position should be one of love and care.
A son is worth far more than a listener is. A daughter is much more valuable than the opinion of a critic. Thank God for fathers who keep the light on for prodigal sons and are not afraid to love the sons who smell of the hog trough they have been in. These fathers are more like God than those whose standards exceed their solace.
Why should the prodigal sons come home if all they will find is the pastors at church and the porch empty?
My prayer is that when they do come home, we as leaders are not so busy protecting our image that we miss the chance to win our children. *