When I was little, I had a child's pocketbook story that illustrated, in soft pastels, the fruits of the Spirit. I could recite them in thirds like a clumsy waltz: "Love, joy, peace. Long-suffering, kindness, goodness. Faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Mom, what is long-suffering?" I kept these fruits close and studied them, for they were the marks of good Christians and mature people.
Patience was my nemesis. "Help me to be patient and kind!" I mourned daily, prayerfully. As the oldest, I regret how often I bossed my siblings and acted without love and gentleness. I didn't struggle with lack of faithfulness much; I was very loyal to others and while I might have felt unfaithful if I only read my Bible once per day, I placed the highest priority on my time in Scripture. My love for Jesus and desire to be found faithful drove me to invest in my spirituality.
But without a doubt, the most challenging fruit was self-control. It covered everything about me ~ watch what filled my mind, guard my thoughts, don't eat too much, don't overreact, watch what I say, exercise, and so forth. And as I grew, my concerned parents were careful to shelter me according to their best judgment from negative influences, ungodliness, the "world", and anything detrimental. Their control ~ of me, my environment, and my spiritual and psychological growth ~ was the result of careful consideration and their understanding of Scripture and righteousness.
The adult child
The onset of adulthood is a convoluted subject within many conservative Christian homes. The legal age of 18 doesn't always carry weight for those concerned with being "not of the world." Yet as children mature and reach adulthood, healthy parents will relinquish the control they assume upon their offspring and trust them to God. However, as we see all-too-frequently within authoritarian households, excessive control upon adult children creates serious stumbling blocks that must be removed before we can continue to become spiritually, physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy and mature.
Within Christian parenting, an oft-quoted Scripture is found in Proverbs 22. "Train up a child in the way he should go," says verse 6, "and when he is old he will not depart from it." How this is done varies from family to family ~ rightfully so ~ and should even vary from child to child. But there is another passage with similar wording that caught my attention recently. God, the ultimate Parent, speaks to us:
"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you." (Ps. 32:8-9)
The only way we can fully be open to His instruction, teaching, and personal guidance is to be self-controlled. Essentially this means not harnessed by any other person. With deep respect for parents trying to get it right, this also means that when we as adults are under the control of our parents, we are not fully submitted to God. And as long as we aren't wholly submitted to our heavenly Father, as long as we look to someone else, rather than the Holy Spirit, to instruct and teach us, our hearts will be divided.
"But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi’; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ." (Matthew 23:8-10)
Unfortunately, many Christian parents treat their adult children as though they must be harnessed with bit and bridle so that they will "come near you" ~ do what they want, meet their needs or ideals, achieve performance and desired behavior. In their zeal for producing godly offspring, many well-meaning parents insert themselves in their adult children's lives in ways that are deeply inappropriate and hinders them from growth and maturity.
Addressing the effects of this does not mean they are inherently bad parents or that we aren't loving or loved. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Healing from over-control and surrendering to the transformation of the Holy Spirit in our lives is crucial to our growth ~ because it is when we walk in the Spirit that we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Our parents (or pastors, husband, and friends for that matter) cannot walk in the Spirit for us.
Please join me next week for my new series about control.
Question for you:
As an adult, perhaps even married with a family of your own, what areas of your life are still controlled by your parents? Physical control is what we think of most, but what about emotional control? Mind control? How does this affect your thinking, your living, your decisions, emotions, your significant relationships? This isn't to cast blame or to find fault, but to identify the areas of our lives that need to be healed and placed in order for God's glory.
Note: adult children from controlling households know the difference between over-control and simply "not getting their way." Comments that accuse or somehow suggest that the child is merely rebellious or restricted or prohibited from doing "what they want" are not helpful or edifying and will be deleted.