To submit, according to Merriam- Webster, is to “yield to governance or authority” or “to yield oneself to the authority or will of another.” I could talk how difficult it is for a self-centered toddler or teenager to submit to the authority of his or her parents, but the reality is that it is difficult for any of us to submit to any higher authority. Yet we all submit to something throughout the day, whether we realize it or not, sometimes joyfully and sometimes begrudgingly.
Jesus said in John 6:38, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” Jesus is our ultimate example of submission. Jesus submitted to the will of His Heavenly Father, working miracles and works through Him in his life and even unto his death on a cross. His final earthly submission to God, which appeared to be a disaster and a plan gone astray, actually led to life eternal for those who believe in Him.
In other words, Jesus lived out the proverb: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6) A great deal of wisdom comes from submitting to the Lord. Both verses point us to God and away from ourselves.
The Hebrew word for acknowledge is “yada,” and means to know or recognize. In order to live out this verse of scripture, I must know who God is and thus who I am in relation to Him. Likewise, our children must know who God is and who he or she is in relation to Him.
The Gospel illustrates this relationship. God is a loving, perfect, all-powerful Father. He has my best interests at heart and is wholly good. On the other hand, I am an imperfect, sinful human whose best attempts to be “good” still fall short. We then point our children, and ourselves, to the cross. At Calvary, I am the rescued. He is the Rescuer. His extreme love for us—that He would die for our sins—rightfully demands and joyfully leads us to submission.
Teaching our children to submit to the authority of our Heavenly Father can be translated, especially for young children, as an extension of obeying the earthly parent. Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live a long in this land.’” All authority comes from God, whether that looks like a parent-child relationship or teacher-student. When children learn to obey someone they see in the flesh, it is easier to submit to a God that they cannot physically see.
Years ago, a mother wisely told me that a mother cannot expect her children to act respectfully and obediently in public if she does not enforce that same behavior at home. If my children will not sit still and stay at the dinner table, I’m going to assume they will be walking laps around the restaurant table as well. So, we practice sitting at the dinner table at home, in a low stakes situation. When my child is invited to a nice dinner with a friend, I can trust that, even out of my presence, he knows how to act at the table. I also know that he can and will listen to the instructions of the other parents. He has practiced submitting his will to the will of the adult with whom he is dining.
Our children should see, too, that when they do submit to rules within our homes that life works better. There is a logical reward and benefit. A child learning to walk is rewarded when he “comes to mama” with hugs and excitement. A child learning to look both ways before crossing the street will be rewarded with increased freedom. A child who comes home immediately when asked will continue to be allowed to leave the home to play with friends.
Along the same lines, children are happier and safer when they submit to rules that are in place for their well-being. When my child turns sixteen, it is in his best interest to stop at all stop signs and red lights; that law is meant to keep him and us safe. We, too, experience a measure of peace and safety when we stay within the boundaries that God has given to us – whether that is faithfulness within a marriage or refraining from gossiping at the PTO luncheon. It is for my own good that God asks for my submission to his law.
Finally, when life doesn’t go according to my “plan,” as it so often doesn’t, Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs me to rely on the Lord, to say that His plans must be better than mine, and to trust Him again and again. There is such wisdom in in relying on the Lord. Actions truly speak louder than words when children watch parents react to the disappointments of life. Telling your children examples of God’s faithfulness in your life or in their lives bolsters the examples in Scripture, teaching them to be on the lookout for God’s faithfulness and goodness in their own lives.
As parents seeking to teach our children wisdom before they leave the nest, it can feel like a lot of pressure. But let us take Proverbs 3:5-6 to heart in our approach to parenting. We must trust him with our children’s lives; we must submit to his authority over our parenting; we must remember that He is faithful. He is good, and His plan for us and our children is good. Let us find rest in that wisdom.