It’s always been difficult raising Mark. From a very young age his temper was a problem. He was kicked out of kindergarten for violent behavior towards the other children. The screaming was one thing. The shoving another. But once he began biting and stabbing other kids with pencils the school’s guidance counselor knew that something had to be done.
The rage only got worse through the years. Mom and dad had been punched, spit upon, kicked, yelled at, threatened, shoved, and had become ninja-like in their ability to dodge flying objects hurled forth from Mark’s angry hands. The smallest things seemed to set him off. His reaction was never proportionate to the offense against him.
Mom and dad tried but eventually the authorities had to step in. Mark spent most of his days in and out of psychiatric hospitals, juvenile detention centers, and various group homes. Nothing seemed to work. He still raged.
Eventually Mark got old enough to “make his own decisions”. Once his juvenile record was expunged Mark was a free man. Somehow he was able to mask all of this anger for awhile. It looked like his life may begin getting on track. But eventually the rage won over. Mark is now homeless. He spends most of his days around all that is of ill-repute. Prostitutes, crack-heads, everything that would make a mom forcefully turn her daughters innocent eyes away from.
What’s worse is that Mark is even outcast among the outcast. His anger is so consuming that nobody wants to be around him. And he will occasionally lose his temper and violently hurt people; but because these are people of such low status it mostly goes undetected. Undetected by authorities at least. Many of the homeless have banned together to try to somehow confine Mark and chain him down for their own protection. But nothing seems to hold down his rage.
Across town you are introduced to Samuel. Though they went to the same grade school Samuel and Mark are totally different. If you look inside Samuel’s closet you will not find a stack of pornography magazines, no racy love letters, no dark secrets. Instead you will find a tattered but still honorable AWANA vest filled with badges displaying his Bible knowledge. Samuel still can rattle off the 10 Commandments in order.
You’re a smart reader so you are assuming that Samuel must only have head knowledge. Surely he has some dark secrets. Of course he has sinned but he’s not a bad kid, at all. He really does do his best to keep all of the 10 Commandments. He’s never committed adultery. He’s not an angry guy, he’s about the nicest kid you could meet. He doesn’t steal, he doesn’t lie, he’s everything that a mom and dad could want out of a son.
He’s successful too. He is young but he has great management skills and innovative ideas which is causing his online business to boom. He’s quickly becoming very wealthy and is beginning to hold a great position of authority. Samuel is well-respected in the community.
Which Kid Do You Want to Claim?
Mark’s mom probably isn’t very quick to bust out her photos highlighting Mark’s life. Samuel’s mom on the other hand wears a very proud World’s #1 Mom Button on her sweater. Obviously parents would rather have obedient and successful Samuel’s as their children. Few parents would leap at the idea of being the primary caregivers for the Mark’s of the world.
Hopefully you know I am going to make a point. Some of you may even recognize these two characters. Mark’s story is taken from the demon-possessed man in Mark 5. Samuel is the rich young ruler from Luke 18.
Note how their stories “end”…
Mark: As [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, ‘God home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.
Mark met Jesus and in his desperate state he came to realize that the only one that could bind his rage was the Strong Man who came to destroy the works of the devil. Mark came to realize that his life had been a perpetual cycle of God-belittling sin and a constant chiseling away at the image of God in his life. Mark was becoming less human. But Jesus restored him.
Mark’s story ends with him being a missionary and telling his friends (I guess he had a few left after all) about what Jesus did for him. Mark’s life ends with people marveling at the greatness and power of God to restore somebody so broken.
Samuel: When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.
Samuel met Jesus while hoisting his mantle of self-righteousness and looking for one more badge to put on his AWANA vest. He was never able to get past the report card that Jesus’ gave of his heart. “Mom and grandma always told me I’m awesome, everything in my life is evidence of the blessing of God, who is this Jesus guy to tell me I’m lacking something and I can’t get another badge!?!?”
Samuel’s story ends with him turning away from Jesus. And where Mark’s story ends with people marveling at the greatness and power of God, Samuel’s story has disciples “astonished” (Mt. 19:25) and it seems somewhat discouraged at their own abilities to be saved. One causes vertical praise the other causes horizontal befuddlement.
What this means for parenting
First, parents of Mark’s ought to be cautious in not only blaming their own parenting skills but also at giving up on Mark. There is nothing in the gospel account about this demon possessed man’s parents. We have no idea if they were good, if they raise him right, if they abandoned him, or if they were members of the occult that opened the gateway for his demon possession. But what we do know is that Redemption found Mark and his life ended in praise to the glory of God.
Secondly, parents of Samuel ought to be careful that they do not rest on their laurels, look at little-Sammy’s successful life and pat themselves on the back for applying all those good biblical principles. It’s possible that you could be raising a good little Pharisee that can’t wrap his heart around the fact that he needs Jesus because he’s just as alienated from the Lord as the naked Mark who was hanging out in places of ill-repute.
Lastly, we need to be so smitten with Christ and so enamored with His gospel that our goal for our children is to see God glorified in their lives. Many parents would be happy with having nothing more than a successful little Samuel in their life. That’s not the goal. Little kids that love Jesus is the goal. And little kids that love Jesus do not come from making sure they get AWANA badges. Having kids that love Jesus comes from them having horrifyingly glared at the depth of their sin but also drinking from the deep fountain of His grace.
Would you be content with years of parenting a Mark if ended in God’s glory? Or are you simply striving for a successful Samuel? Do you want your kids to be clothed true robes of righteousness—no matter the brokenness it takes to get there? Or are you content with junior blissfully jaunting through life wearing his fig-leaves of self-righteousness only to be found naked and ashamed before the living God?