It had to happen eventually. The precious little boy who stole my heart when he was born last year recently began doing his part to corroborate the doctrine of original sin. I hoped he would be amazingly compliant and have little need of discipline. But the reality of his sinful heritage both from his first parents, Adam and Eve, and his biological father and mother, has begun to surface, prompting me to read stacks of books on parenting.
Though I initially turned to the pages of some popular Christian parenting books and found them quite helpful, I decided to broaden my scope a bit, just to be thorough (read: desperate!). I had heard about a lot of moms reading Bringing Up BéBé. It’s an exploration of French parenting written by an American journalist, Pamela Druckerman, who lives in Paris and is raising her children there. It turns out that many French parents operate with a few basic assumptions about the nature of children and the role of parents that are not only helpful in informing our parenting, but also in reminding us of the character and nature of our heavenly Father as revealed in the book of Habakkuk.
According to Druckerman, “French experts and parents believe that hearing ‘no’ rescues children from the tyranny of their own desires” (74). Despite what some modern philosophies espouse, the French seem to understand that not all of our desires are good, and we ought not get everything we want. In fact, we know from Scripture that quite often our desires are not only misguided, but also sinful and destructive.
In Habakkuk, the prophet begins by lamenting the unrighteous behavior of God’s people. He says, “Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth” (Hab. 1:3-4). God’s people have turned away from following his law to fulfill their own sinful desires. The result is chaos. Habakkuk is essentially appealing to the Lord to say “no” to his children, to stop allowing them to dishonor his name. The Lord assures Habakkuk that he has the matter well in hand. He is “raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation” who will be his instrument of judgment (Hab. 1:6). The nature of God’s holiness cannot allow sin to go unaddressed forever. He will act when he is ready.
An important word in the French parental vernacular is “attend,” which means “wait.” Druckerman observes that within French families “there’s a conspicuous lack of whining and complaining” largely because children are taught to wait well.
How much of our own complaining to the Lord is born out of our discontent in having to wait? Much of Habakkuk’s conversation with God was a result of his impatience for God to act. He complains, “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help and will you not hear? Or cry to you `Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2). In this case, Habakkuk’s desire is good. He wants God’s name and glory to be vindicated.
Still, the Lord’s answer is to wait: “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay” (Hab. 2:3). The Lord was providentially orchestrating the events of Habakkuk’s day, and he is doing the same in ours. Our part is to “quietly wait,” as Habakkuk resolves by the end of the book (Hab. 3:16). And we can do that because we know that God’s character is just and holy, and he will do what is right and good.
‘It’s Me Who Decides’
Druckerman notes that an important aspect of the French parenting philosophy is a strong belief in the family hierarchy, which places parents firmly at the top. A common phrase she hears among parents is, “It’s me who decides.” This is not to say that the French advocate tyrannical parenting, but both parents and children are clear that the parents decide.
The same is true of our heavenly Father. After God assures Habakkuk that he will bring judgment against Judah, Habakkuk protests God’s choice of the unrighteous Chaldeans as an instrument. Isn’t that so often the way we react? We ask God to do a particular thing, and then when he does it, we complain about the way he brought it about. (Almost anyone who has prayed for patience can attest to this.) As the Lord then assures Habakkuk that he will also take care of the sins of the Chaldeans, he concludes with a sober reminder for us all: “the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him” (Hab. 2:20). The Lord is reminding Habakkuk, and he’s reminding us, “It’s me who decides.”
By the end of the book, Habakkuk has worked through his frustrations and complaints, and he finally determines to rejoice. No matter how the Lord may bring about his will, though the circumstances may be difficult, Habakkuk decides, “Yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (3:18). The Lord has guided Habakkuk through his frustrations and brought him to a point of rejoicing by helping him realize that his deepest desire is for the Lord himself.
Isn’t that the goal of Christian parenting? Our “no’s” and “waits” and “it’s me who decides” are all about pointing our children to the Lord so that he, as their perfect Father, can sanctify their sinful desires and give them what they truly desire: himself. Ironically, my quest to be a better parent also taught me how to be a better child.