I’m one of those fathers who enjoyed watching his sons get into fights. My son is now 17. For years he has looked for fights, engaged in fights, and won fights.
Now, while you’re still forming your opinion about me as a father, I should clarify.
Seven years ago my son Jared and I enrolled in a karate dojo together. The fights he experienced were in a square with refs and sparring pads at karate tournaments. While Jared was competing in the teen divisions, I was across the gym competing in the “old men” division. Those were good days.
I remember one tournament where Jared was up against a very skilled fighter. He was repeatedly overwhelmed with his opponent’s flurry of kicks and punches. I began to feel sorry for my son. Then it happened. Jared was backed into the corner again . . . and he exploded with an amazing combination of strikes and kicks that sent his opponent across the square. Score.
What shocked me, though, was that Jared’s combination looked familiar. Too familiar. Then it dawned on me—he used a combination I often threw when backed into a corner. In other words, what came out of me in tough times came out of my son too. I was training him by my example, even when I didn’t realize it.
Parents, this is not limited to karate tournaments. Fact: we teach more from our actions and reactions than from our instructions. Sin makes us unknowing hypocrites, but Christ can produce in us actions worth imitating.
Any word and behavior (Proverbs 4:24–27) that comes out of me as a parent is merely the overflow of my heart. “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). My actions when times are tough or when my guard is down confirm where my heart really is.
For that reason, I cannot afford to ignore the Fall (Genesis 3). Adam and Eve were real. They disobeyed God and brought on the Curse. I sin because it is my nature, inherited from Adam. I am a fallen person who is constantly walking away from God, prone to worship anything but God (Romans 1:25). But God pursued me, regenerated me, intercedes for me, and conforms me to His image (Hebrews 7:25; 2 Corinthians 3:18).
So the place to begin addressing your children’s reactions is to study your own heart. First, it will help you understand and relate to their struggle with their sin. Identification with others produces meekness (Galatians 6:1). Second, it will give you an opportunity to show your children what treasuring the gospel looks like. Desperation over my sin produces hunger for God’s righteousness (Matthew 5:6). Finally, it will create the starting point for engaging their hearts. If you model before them how God’s Word transforms your life, you may see them respond under pressure with combinations you never dreamed they could do. Initiative—intentionally engaging your child’s heart—produces disciples (Proverbs 23:26).