Raising Kids in the Midst of Conflict (Ministering to Squabbling Brothers and Sisters)

post by Chris Cardiff

I am continuously amazed at the selfish nature of our flesh. Over the weekend I was reminded that this life is about one thing… more accurately, it’s about our One Lord who is found in three Persons. The reminder came in the form of this statement - “I get to do this…”. Whatever it is we are given opportunity to do, it is not because we HAVE to do it. It is because God, in His great love for us and His great mission here on earth is ALLOWING us to do it. We truly GET to be a part of His plan.


At first blush, most of us think of “doing” as some kind of physical action or activity. The truth is all of our actions are simply an outpouring of our beliefs and values. Thus the first thing we “get to do” is actually sit at Jesus’ feet and simply “be”. This activity will reap incredible dividends if we will truly die to the temptation of always having to be busy and simply be. This lesson is of primary importance when preparing to and in the midst of raising children to pursue the Lord.


Sherri and I are the blessed parents of three unbelievable gifts from God named Lauren (24), Lindsay (21), and Daniel (16). They are all pursuing the Lord in their own way and Sherri and I are amazed at our Father’s love for allowing us to be a part of their lives and walks with the Lord. But while they are gifts from God, they - like all of us - are far from perfect. In their younger years, sibling rivalry was an ever-present challenge. The words of James 4:1 were never far from our thoughts when these times resulted in intense arguments. James reminds us the our quarrels and fights are because of the passions that war within us. We are constantly battling our flesh and will be until our days on this earth are done. This can be especially visible with kids who are not only passionate in their pursuits, but are also still early in their realization that there is a whole, wide world out there that does NOT revolve around them.


While these times can stretch any parent (and we were plenty stretched!), God allowed Sherri and me to view these times as opportunities to teach the gospel. This realization hit me one night when we were on our way home from AWANAs. The AWANA program is very intentional about having kids memorize scripture. On the ride home, Lauren and Lindsay got into an argument over something, the source of which has been long forgotten (isn’t is amazing that the lessons learned in the midst of conflict far outlive the memory of what the conflict was in the first place?). When we got home Sherri and I sat them down and I put on my “wise father hat” in order to really teach them a deep, life-long lesson. After about five minutes of waxing eloquent and receiving nothing but blank stares, both Lauren and Lindsay said something to the effect of “yeah, this is just like I Corinthians 13” - which they then proceeded to quote. That was an important lesson for me - don’t try and teach anything without it being directly from God’s word. If you are a parent having challenges now in teaching your children the gospel I can’t encourage you enough to first be bathed in scripture and prayer, and then keep it simple! My kids being exposed to scripture and seeing the Spirit work that scripture out in them was, and continues to be, amazing.


As the years moved on, and the problems became more serious than “who had the toy first” or “it’s my turn to ride in the front seat”, Sherri and I were ourselves more challenged to be diving into prayer and the word deeper ourselves. We had learned, and continue to learn that you cannot impress anything into your kids that you’re not doing yourselves. Telling them what to do and living out the gospel in front of them, speaking only after action has been taken, are completely different things. The latter will work with much prayer and love - the former might work temporarily but will not result in lasting fruit in your child’s life. We relied heavily during this time on Romans 12:18 which tells us, “If possible, as much as depends on you, live at peace with all.”. Our kids were beginning to deal with larger issues in life in which the black and white of childhood was giving way to those pesky, gray-area matters of relationship. Even with the walls of the Cardiff home, things were not always clear cut. Again, prayer and time in scripture was not only valuable, it was absolutely vital for survival - not just entering this period but for all of life to come. There are times when you will feel that unity and peace are unattainable - and for seasons of life they might be. The key is to KEEP fighting for peace and unity. And fight these challenges NOT with human weapons but with spiritual ones. I know it sounds like a broken record but prayer and scripture, along with godly counsel from those who have traversed these waters before will serve you well.


Reminding our kids that not repaying evil from evil, but seeking to do good to one another and to everyone (I Thessalonians 5:15) is our calling. We make much of our “calling” today in many ways. I firmly believe that every follower of Jesus is called to live this out. And make no mistake, it is HARD. Even today we continue to deal with situations in our children’s lives where this counsel is paramount. As our children grew and became adults, it was our responsibility to not merely look at them as our earthly children but to look upon them as younger sisters and a younger brother in the Lord. Armed with this perspective it makes it easier to truly give this counsel expecting them to seek the Spirit and other godly counsel (hopefully including Sherri and my counsel) to discern how best to live this out. Notice I said “easier” not “easy”. Any parent who is living for the Lord and desiring to follow and have their precious children follow the Lord understands there is nothing easy about this. But the rewards for these temporary challenges are eternal and are infinitely weightier than the challenges themselves.


We have also tried to be consistent in teaching our children that “love covers a multitude of sins”. (I Peter 4:8). It is so easy to subscribe to other people’s definition of success and to instill those values, and the goals that go into obtaining those values, into our children. And these are HARD things to unlearn. We have tried to instill in our kids that it is NOT goals, tasks, or earthly rewards that measure success - it is loving God and loving others. When in the midst of either sibling rivalry or the issues of life that all of us and our kids face, remembering that love is what exhibits our claims to be children of God is what truly matters.


As I notice what I've written so far I see that a key to ministering to my kids in conflict (or anytime) is scripture. While we must be careful to not use scripture only in times of correction, it must be established as authoritative in the home. I'm thankful that my kids love the scriptures. It frees Sherri and I from having to appeal only to our God-given parental authority and allows us to point to our common authority. I didn't have to direct my kids to read their bibles daily. They learned it by the example (though imperfect) of their parents.


I remember an interview of Julian Lennon, the son of John Lennon. He was asked if his dad ever pushed him to play an instrument and be musical. He responded, “No,” because there were instruments all over the house so music became a natural part of his life. It was saturated with it. I pray that the same would be true of all of our homes in regards to scripture, that it is part of the fabric of our home and its importance is naturally observed and understood, immersing our kids into a life of worship.


As you read these words that we have shared, it is important to note that these words represent our intentions (and at times our actions). We have made many, many, many…. you get the idea… many mistakes. I remember a staff member at Apex coming into my office several years ago and sharing that his wife was pregnant with their first child… an exciting and weighty moment and that weight was evident. As we talked he said words to the effect, “I am afraid I’m going to mess my kid up”... to which I replied, “Don’t worry about it - you will”. Thanks be to God that He, as the perfect Father, is there to guide us, to comfort us, and maybe most importantly to REDEEM all our efforts in raising kids in the midst of turmoil. We all make mistakes with life and that spreads to the raising of our children. If you take nothing else from these words, please take this - love your children UNCONDITIONALLY and constantly point them to JESUS. Our best intentions and plans will fail, love and our Lord Jesus never will.