Don’t play with your food.

This is what I said to my son Sawyer at lunch time as he turned a half eaten apple slice into a “Guck Guck” (That is what he calls a motorcycle. The only somewhat reasonable explanation for this is the two syllable word “cy-cle” that kind of sounds a bit like “Guck Guck” if you don’t think about it at all.)

So as my son is pushing around his half eaten, golden delicious saying, “guck guck, v-room v-room” and parking his two wheeled braeburn beauty under his place mat, all the while leaving a lovely cider slick all over the kitchen table, I am left with the dilemma: Let him play with his fruit-cycles or address his desire to do what he wants.

I need to be honest here (as if I lie all the time), I didn’t want to address anything at all. I was enjoying a wonderful panini sandwich my sweet wife had made. I was taking a nice lunch break from a busy day, and it was really cute watching him be creative and play with his food. After all, he was, aside from a few motorcycle sounds, quiet.

Consistency in teaching moments, even when you don’t feel like it

Often when Sawyer is done eating, well everyone else is too, so I didn’t want to rock the boat of parental bliss, and it really is adorable watching kids be creative. However, in that moment, by God’s grace I started to be convicted because I realized a number of things that my wife and I had learned from our Faith Community Institute parenting class on Wednesday nights.

1. This is a step, albeit a small one, towards a child centered home. Letting my son do what he wanted because it was cute and inconvenient for me to address reveals that his desires are running the show, and this will not lead to lasting comfort.

Proverbs 29:17 (NASB95) — 17 Correct your son, and he will give you comfort; He will also delight your soul.

2. My inaction is an action that sends a message to both my children that they just need to obey when dad feels like being consistent. What a terrible reflection of what our Heavenly Father is like…He is always consistent in his justice and His mercy and grace.

Deuteronomy 6:6–7 (NASB95) — 6 “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.

3. We had stood firm with our first child Mackenna and addressed the playing with food, and had great teaching moments. Now, here is my daughter seeing the discrepancy in how we trained her and how we were training our second. What kind of impact would that have if it just grew into other areas, things like school work, dating, work ethic, finances etc. That inconsistency can be exasperating.

Colossians 3:21 (NASB95) — 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

4.My selfishness can mask itself really well. I just didn’t want to take the time and energy to train him. I didn’t want to think about why it was important for him not to play with his food. I didn’t want to be a godly father I just wanted to be an entertained observer with no responsibilities; but that begets a parent centered home that doesn’t delight in the privilege of raising children as a gift from God.

Proverbs 22:6 (NASB95) — 6 Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Modeling Christ-like patience in teaching moments

So out of conviction I said, “Sawyer, stop playing with your food”, which was better than my passiveness, but I realized it wasn’t enough. I just wanted him to obey quickly; I didn’t want this to be a teaching moment where I modeled Christ-like patience. I didn’t want to take the time to explain why not playing with your food is important. I didn’t want to explain where God fits into this. I still just wanted to do what I wanted, just like my son. (Also important to note is that it didn’t work, he just kept playing.)

So as I recognized my amazing privilege and role as a father, I took his little hands and asked him to look me in the eyes, and I told him not just did I want him to stop but I wanted him to also finish eating his apples. I then began to explain that we don’t play with our food because it 1. makes a bigger mess for mommy to clean up, and God wants us to think of others 2. It means it takes longer to eat our food and then others have to wait for us, which isn’t respectful of others time and 3. The purpose of us being at the dinner table is to eat and not play 4. We need to be good stewards of our bodies God created and eat food so we can grow. 5. There are people in the world who don’t have as much food and we don’t want to be wasteful (you can’t leave this one out because, most importantly, it’s true; but also it’s nostalgic as you know our parents said it to us.)

Was my 20 month old son able to understand everything I said? Probably not. But I know he understands more than I think, and I am really training myself just as much as I am training him. This is just one of dozens of daily moments that, if I don’t take advantage of now, will pass me by. If I don’t use these moment, each time I am given them, then before long I could be left wondering “what happened to my teenager”? “Where is God in his life”? My overall most important life goal is to please God (2 Cor 5:9), it’s not to get my son to do everything I want in the time-frame I want it.

Reflecting joyful obedience with a focus on God

The Lord was working in my heart to recognize that my purpose is to please God. I can do that by training my child to love and think of others, and to obey the authority that God has placed in their lives. It wasn’t simply about not making a mess – it was about taking the time to teach my son that God placed daddy in charge, and this is one way he can learn obedience, not only to daddy, but also to God. When my son obeys me, as I display and communicate consistent and reasonable expectations, he is in a better position to obey Jesus unto salvation.

I know that my son can’t perfectly obey me or God. But these conversations reveal both his failures, as well as mine, and are an opportunity to share the need for us both to be forgiven in Christ. I need to take these opportunities to point my son to Christ, and that rarely happens when I let him do whatever he wants because it is easiest on me. Maybe you are fighting that parenting battle as well? To do what pleases you, verses what pleases the Lord. Keep fighting to keep your focus on God.

Now, if we ever bob for apples I am sure my son will be thoroughly confused, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it. As long as I am joyfully focusing on my role to constantly train, and viewing my children as a gift from God, I know that God will give me the strength to please Him and to navigate any situation.

Psalm 127:3–5 (NASB95) — 3 Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. 5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

Dustin Folden
Pastor Dustin Folden and his wife Trisha joined the Pastoral Staff in 2010. They have two children, Sawyer and Mackenna who absolutely love children’s ministries, mostly because of the singing and snacks. Pastor Folden shepherds the 9:30 worship service, oversees the Adult Bible Fellowship ministry, as well as serves in the Biblical Counseling Ministries.