My parenting playlist has multiple tracks on repeat. “Did you brush your teeth?” goes out to four children at least twice a day. “Don’t forget your chores” is the tune of every Saturday morning. “Please put your shoes away” is in the queue more often than I can count. To those I add “Did you read your Bible?” and “Remember, we’re doing family worship at 7:30” nearly every day.
You don’t have to stay long in my house before you’ll hear me repeat myself.
For me, this has been one of the hardest things about parenting. If you’d asked me before I had children, I would have told you that, sure, I’d probably have to repeat myself a few times with a 2-year-old, but I would never have imagined that, fifteen years in, I’d still be reminding people to comb their hair.
Decades and kids later, parenting has starkly revealed my temptation to impatience. As the day goes on, my tone shrills with each repetition. My mouth grimaces as it forms the same words again and again. My scalp bristles with the affront of the third person in a row who wants to know, “What’s for dinner?”
Better Systems or a Better Heart?
Probably, I could implement more efficient systems in my home to reduce the number of times I have to say the same thing. I’m sure there’s an Instagram guru somewhere who would sell me a cute chalkboard with a daily checklist guaranteed to save my maternal breath.
But my kids aren’t an assembly line product, and I’m not sure I want to outsource the reiteration of important truths like: “I love you,” and “Look to Jesus,” and “Did you read your Bible?” Some things just have to be said.
What’s more, even optimal family logistics won’t reorient my heart away from impatience. Having solved the problem of reminding people to hang up their jackets, I’m sure I’d move on to being upset about their need to be helped with math or grammar during homework time. I’d be frustrated by talking them through the steps of conflict resolution yet again. I might even resent the fact that they keep thinking salvation is something they have to earn by being good—no matter how many times I’ve told them it’s all of grace.
I can’t silence the fact that the problem I have with repeating myself is a problem with my own heart.
The problem I have with repeating myself is a problem with my own heart.
Paul, the Patient Parent
But in my impatient parenting the apostle Paul shows me a more excellent way. Right in the middle of his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul says, “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you” (Phil. 3:1).
Paul knew all about repeating himself. As he traveled throughout the known world, preaching sermons, planting churches, and writing letters, he told and retold the gospel message. Only heaven will reveal exactly how many times Paul proclaimed “Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2).
In particular churches, he also had to review lessons that congregations had forgotten or ignored—or that were especially important. With the Corinthians, he repeated the basics of the Christian faith (see 1 Cor. 3:1–2). With the Galatians, he issued multiple warnings against listening to false teachers (see Gal. 1:9). And with the Philippians, he commanded them four times in the space of four chapters to “rejoice!” (Phil. 2:18; 3:1; twice in 4:4).
Paul’s letters are filled with things he had already said. But, unlike me, he doesn’t repeat himself through gritted teeth.
So, what can we learn from Paul’s example that can help us become patient parents?
Keys to Patience
First, in Philippians 3:1, Paul writes that repeating himself is “no trouble.” This is surprising because our impatience often stems from the fact that repeating ourselves seems like a great deal of trouble. To regularly remind my kids to make their lunches, brush their teeth, and do their homework usually feels like a burden—and not a trifling one.
But Paul shows us that out of love for others, being patient should not be an imposition. Jacob labored seven years for Rachel, and “they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20). Paul yearned for the Philippians “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8), so it didn’t bother him to repeat himself a few times. We ought to value our kids so much that saying the same things again and again is no big deal.
Out of love for others, being patient should not be an imposition.
Second, Paul says that his repeated exhortation is “safe for you” (Phil. 3:1). Paul recognized that he could do great good to the Philippians simply by being patient with them. Similarly, our patient words to our kids can encourage their hearts, equip them with truth, spur them to obedience, and point them to Christ.
To daily and gently remind my kids to be kind, to work hard, and to look to Christ is not incidental. I have to remind them because they—like me—are prone to forget. When I say it again, it shepherds their souls to a place of safety.
Jesus, the Patient Parent
Ultimately, the patient “parenting” of Paul mirrors that of Jesus, of whom Isaiah prophesied, “a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isa. 42:3). If God had not been long-suffering with us, we would have been instantly consumed by his wrath.
Jesus has done all these things as if they were “no trouble” to him because they are safe for us, his beloved children.
But, as it is, our Lord has borne patiently with us: forgiving our sins, giving his Spirit to us, hearing our prayers, and instructing us in his Word again and again. He has done all these things as if they were “no trouble” to him because they are safe for us, his beloved children.
And so, in Christ, I can field regular questions about snacks and repeated reminders about family worship with grace. To say the same things to my precious kids is really no trouble for me, and it is safe for them.
Read more from Megan Hill in her kids’ book about a girl who learns that the local church is ready to help: Meg Is Not Alone (Crossway/TGC Kids, November 2022). Parts of this article are adapted from Patience: Waiting with Hope (P&R, October 2021) . Used by permission.