I asked my 14-year old daughter how a parent might effectively demonstrate love for a child. She reflected for a few moments and then replied, “By pushing me out of my comfort zone.”
Her answer surprised me. This is my reserved, introverted daughter who generally hesitates in taking “risks.” In fact, she was livid a year ago after I’d decided to insist she attend the Bible camp with which our family has been associated for years. She’s always loved the camp and delighted in roaming its grounds with her sister for the week each year when my husband has been a camp speaker. But she loathed the idea of being a “real camper” – bunking with a handful of other girls rather than with her family, putting herself “out there” with strangers, following the camp’s formal programming. So when I felt I had to “nudge” her into giving it a shot, she balked. She didn’t disrespect me, but she wasn’t shy about expressing her disdain and trying now and then to convince me of my error.
As it turns out, she had a blast. She popped into my cabin once on the first afternoon, but after that I only saw her when I was out and about. She was genuinely happy all week, and one of the first things she said on our drive home was that she couldn’t wait to return.
In hindsight, she’s said she understands why I had to “push” her, and she’s thanked me for it. I’m grateful for her affirmation because – truth be told – I wasn’t completely sure I was doing the right thing.
You see, there’s a huge difference between pushing or shoving and nudging. The latter demonstrates love – at times, each of us does need encouragement to step out in faith – but the former most definitely does not. A loving mother bird knows just when to nudge her babies out of the nest to test their wings. But if her instincts went terribly wrong and she shoved them out when all they’d sprouted were pin feathers, or refused to let them come back after their first attempts, she’d be unarguably cruel.
So the “trick” is to distinguish between inexcusable shoving and appropriate nudging. God’s given instinct to animals. But we’re human beings – created in His image – so we get something even better. We get His very Spirit, who permanently indwells each person who embraces Christ as Savior.
There’s no formula for discerning a nudge from a push. An appropriate nudge for one child will be a hateful shove for another, even among siblings. And what works in one family might be woefully wrong for another.
We can read well-vetted child development books. We can seek advice from trusted, like-minded friends. And we must definitely aim to become experts on how God has individually wired each of our own children. All of that can help as we seek to discern what’s right for a particular child at a particular time. But, ultimately, we must choose to relinquish ourselves to the Spirit’s leading in matters related to all of His Fruit. We can trust Him to direct us correctly because He obviously loves our kids even more than we do.