The other day, I read an Instagram post from a Christian mom I follow. She talked about sending our kids out into the world - school, a birthday party, sports - and wanting them to "stay on the straight and narrow" while they were away from her.
She went on to discuss how we can train our children so that they will "stay on the straight and narrow" while they are out from under our direct supervision.
Important stuff, right?
Except this exhortation actually misses the entire point.
This Approach to the "Straight and Narrow" is Already Off-Path
The Instagram post didn't mention a specific verse, but if I had to guess, I'm thinking she was considering one like this:
Enter by the narrow gate for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction and those who enter by it are many for the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life and those who find it are few. Matthew 7:13-14
I don't know if I would have referenced this verse specifically, but the concept of "straight and narrow" was definitely a paradigm for my early parenting. I imagined that as I went on in my Christian life and I read more, learned more, and studied Scripture, my parenting practices would become narrower and narrower as I refined the perfect way to do everything and discovered more about God's instructions for us.
But if that is how we are thinking of the Christian life, then we've already missed the narrow way that this verse is talking about.
The verse above is talking about the gospel. The "narrow way" is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation and trusting in his perfect righteousness on our behalf.
If we imagine the "narrow way" as specific practices of parenting or of anything else, then we've already done what we all tend to do daily, which is to stray off the path by seeking to earn God's acceptance through our behavior.
What makes this hard is not that it involves a ridged set of practices, but because it runs directly contradictory to our own human tendency to be self-saviors!
The Suffocation and Exhaustion of "Straight and Narrow" Parenting
If we use the concept of "straight and narrow" as a model for parenting decisions instead of as a model for the way to reconciliation with God, we end up with a very fearful and suspicious view of our Father.
You see, our God is so tender and gracious. He knows our frame. He understands our weaknesses. And he gives us a lot of freedom.
Remember that the scriptures were written for all people for all times, not for one narrow swath of the population, such as white, suburban housewives living in the 1950s (or any other segment of culture at any other time that we might be tempted to put on a pedestal).
There are plenty of decisions that aren't outlined in detail in God's word. But instead of embracing the freedom he offers, we fear that he's tricking us.
Do We Serve a Sneaky God?
Imagine a husband says to his wife, "Where do you want to go for dinner?" And she says, "I don't know, I don't care. You pick."
Instead of feeling freedom, the husband might feel a little nervous. Even though his wife says she doesn't care and she's happy for him to pick, he may suspect that there is actually one particular thing that she has in mind and unless he can read her mind, pick up the clues, or guess what she's thinking and choose that thing, he's going to be in big trouble.
Isn't that how we sometimes imagine God to operate? God says there are many things that are acceptable choices and there are many good ways to approach all kinds of parenting issues, but we're fearful that he's really just setting a trap for us.
We suspect there really is only one right answer but God won't come out and tell us exactly what it is.
So we have to work really hard and bend over backwards and pray and cry and try to connect the dots of Bible verses and figure out what that one secret thing is that God wanted us to do so that we can get it all right and be on the "narrow way" and continue to receive God's blessing and favor!
Whew. It's exhausting just to contemplate!
But that is not how our God operates.
He's not the guy at the state fair playing whack-a-mole, poised with his hammer, ready for us to take a step or try something so that he can just whack us over the head, "Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!"
Parenting with Freedom in Christ
Our heavenly father delights in us! He is pleased when we say, "Lord, I want to do this well. I want to do what glorifies you." In fact, he's so glad when we turn to him for wisdom that he heaps it on us in overflowing amounts!
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5
And by the way, the verse above doesn't mean that if we put enough back-breaking labor into praying and study, God will reveal the secret answer that he's keeping hidden from everyone else.
It means that if we ask him, he will gently guide us in thinking the way he thinks and trusting his good providence to us and to our children.
He will use our parenting - especially our frailties and failures - to remind us where we find our hope and who it is that holds us without letting go!
True "straight and narrow" parenting isn't about training behaviors. It is about continually pointing our children to the cross of Christ and letting them see us take our cares and sins there to leave at his feet.