One of the most convicting verses in all the Bible says “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged” (Colossians 3.21).
It reminds parents, especially fathers, of how easily our parenting stirs discouragement in our children.
The idea of provoking reveals the temptation toward discouragement we all face. The text doesn’t warn us to take care so that we don’t create discouragement within our children; it warns us that we do not provoke them. The word provoke can mean to stir-up or stimulate.
You never want to provoke a sleeping bear. You desire to let it lie where it cannot hurt you. The same is true with discouragement. It lies dormant within all of us, but it can easily be brought to life.
No one has the ability to provoke discouragement within children like their parents. (See: Parenting and Authority–Who Has the Final Say)
Discouragement is present within all of us. This reality should greatly influence how we parent because we must proceed with tremendous caution so that we do not awaken the discouragement which is present within our children.
There are three primary ways in which parents provoke discouragement:
1. Acting or Disciplining Erratically
A lack of consistency can provoke our children, leading to discouragement. Consistency allows a child to understand how and when someone will react. It allows them to see patterns and interpret how their actions influence life. By being consistent in our lives and with our children, we are teaching predictability, security, and cause/effect.
Whenever we act erratically, we are teaching our children it doesn’t matter what they do. We train them that their actions do not have predictable consequences. If we hug them one time and fly off the handle the next, what is the point of a child changing their behavior? How can a child feel safe and secure if they have no idea how Dad is going to react?
Erratic behavior trains a child to resign themselves to a world they cannot influence. It causes them to lose heart and hope. Acting in a predictable way, encourages them to understand life and how they positively influence their environment. It gives them hope of God’s transforming power in the lives of people. (See: Sometimes It’s Better Not to Play)
2. Passively Implying We Do Not Care
While there is a crisis of absentee fathers in our country, there is a second crisis of fathers who are physically present but emotionally and cognitively absent from the lives of their children. (See: What a Child’s Mistake Reveals About a Parent)
In passivity we are telling our children they are not important enough for us to care about. We are saying other things are more important than them. While it might be a false conclusion, it is an understandable conclusion when children of passive fathers lose heart, because if they aren’t important enough for their fathers to care about them then how could they ever be important enough for God to care?
We passively imply we don’t care when we are apathetic about the important things in their lives–school, church, friends, feelings, hopes, and dreams. When passivity about the important things is married with an aggression toward the less important things (like how many wins their team has in a season), it tells the children they are not important.
3. Failing to Model Courage
If we lose heart, our children will likely do the same. God’s plan was for our first models of God’s presence of love to be our dads and moms.
One of the greatest gifts a parent can give their child is a constant hope in life, love, and God. By guarding and keeping our hearts, as well as trusting in God, we can show our children how to deal with difficult times or difficult people.
As a child ages, a parent should intentionally reveal more and more of their personal thoughts and struggles with their children. By doing so, they can communicate strengths and weaknesses from their experience and empower their children to emulate their successes and avoid their failures. (See: Parenting–Too Involved, Not Involved Enough)
We cannot give our children what we do not have. If we want them to be encouraged, we must model hope for them.
One of the primary roles of a parent, especially fathers, is to instill hope within their children. We have tremendous power to either stir discouragement or to place courage within them. It takes intention, thoughtfulness, and an abundance of mercy for parents to keep from discouraging their children.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.”