Ecclesiastes is not what you would call a “feel good” book in the Bible. At best it is a “feel bad but understand God is in control” book. The writer of Ecclesiastes is excellent at looking at the world and making poignant observations. The problem is that his observations do not read like a manuscript from a motivational speaker. Rather, most of the book seems like it was written by a depressed but very successful man at the end of his life. Regardless, the book has much to say about life in general.
There are very few fantastic parenting stories in the whole of the Bible. Most parents in the Bible are failures. Jacob plays favorites, David, a man after God’s own heart according to God, had a child who was a rapist and murder, and most of the kings if Judah and Israel had terrible children (just like their father’s). The only truly great set of parents we find in the Bible is Mary and Joseph. I’m not sure that even counts because they had Jesus, the son of God, and I call that an unfair advantage. In light of the failures of God-honoring parents in the Bible I see parenting as serious business.
Shortly after my 19th birthday I took my first job as a paid youth worker. That means I have been doing youth work for 13 years. Since that day I have consistently worked with Christian teens in a variety of capacities. I don’t have any teenage kids yet, but in 2 years I will. I don’t think being the parent of a teen will be any easier for me because of my youth ministry experience. If there is any advantage, it is one of perspective. Perspective is great but it does not make dealing with an unruly teen any easier. I don’t write this as a parenting expert, much less a teen parenting expert. I write this as an observer with a good perspective.
I looked at Ecclesiastes to see what it has to say about raising kids. Granted, Ecclesiastes doesn’t speak directly about parenting but it gives us some great insights that speaks to many endeavors including parenting. Here are 5 things I have learned from Ecclesiastes about parenting.
1. We should enjoy our job as parents Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 tells us to enjoy our time on earth, even our toil. Being able to enjoy the tough job of a parent is indeed a gift from God. The late nights, dirty diapers, trips to the doctor, dirty looks, and especially enduring puberty is a heavy toil every responsible parent faces. All of this labor could be viewed as useless work, grueling labor, or even punishment. The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us to enjoy our time and this also means time with our children. Therefore, as much as we are able we should find pleasure in our job as a parent.
2. You, or I, don’t have everything figured out as a parent Ecclesiastes 8:16-17 tells us that the world is too complex for us to completely figure it out. Not only is our whole world too complex to figure out, subsystems within our world are far too complex for any human to understand. This goes for the family system as well. The problem with our kids is that they have a brain. I know, many of them don’t seem like they use it too often but I promise it’s there. With that brain comes all kinds of ideas that are not like the ideas of the parents. Why is it a good idea for a guy to buy and/or wear skinny jeans? I don’t know, but my son sure thinks it’s great for him. That is a little problem. Just like when your toddler won’t potty train or your elementary school child won’t share, little problems are not fun. They can feel like huge problems but remember they are not. Huge problems are bad. I don’t even need to name them because we have all seen them. You don’t have it all figured out. There is no way to do everything right. To handle every situation correctly is a unachievable dream. You can wrack your brain and you may never understand why your child does this or that. There is no way to guarantee success in parenting, there is no fool-proof plan that will ensure every child does what is right all of the time.
3. Despite your best efforts you might still fail Ecclesiastes 9:11 speaks about the how the fastest person does not always in the race nor does the strongest win the fight. We are told “time and chance may overcome them all” as to why this happens. What does this mean for parents? It means that even if you are the best parent ever you can still have very messed up kids. Doing everything right does not even guarantee success. This also works in our favor at times. Sometimes despite terrible parenting kids turn out great. As a parent you cannot control everything your child experiences. Those uncontrollable experiences can shape your child in ways you never intended.
4. Don’t ever give up Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 talks about agriculture and business. The writer tells the reader that NO person knows the future, NO person can gets a guarantee of success on a new endeavor, but EVERYONE should work for success. Life is a mystery. Obsessing over what could happen will get you nowhere. In fact too many parents spend too much time “watching the wind” or “observing the clouds” (Eccl 11:4) that they are always on the defensive. You cannot plan for every scenario and attempting to do so is futile and keeps you from real parenting. This also means that you cannot rest on the achievements of your past. If you have raised a great 10 year old you are to be congratulated. Don’t rest on that accomplishment. Your work is not done, it’s just different. Likewise, if you have raised a not-so-great 10 year old all is not lost. Don’t ever give up as a parent.
5. Be careful and follow hard after God Sure this last point could be two points but the two go hand-in-hand. Ecclesiastes 12:12-14 concludes the book of Ecclesiastes. It is a warning to the reader telling him that there will be many people more than willing to give him advice. Many of them will have good things to say because one cannot exhaust the wisdom of God. But when it all comes to an end you only have to give an answer to God for what you did here on earth. Therefore, above all pursue God and trust him fully. Give your whole life to him, even your kids, as he is the only one who can judge both actions and motives.
Hopefully you aren’t depressed by my look at parenting according to Ecclesiastes. My aim was to give you better perspective and encouragement. These observations might not make things easier but I hope it can help you enjoy the time you have with your kids. As we all know, enjoying things is always fun… 🙂