I was the perfect parent before my babies were torn out of my womb. I had all the right ideas, all the patience in the world, ideal spiritual disciplines and aspiring dreams. Then sleepless nights, endless vomit, meltdowns (mine and the baby) and learning to discipline-myself-to-discipline-my-child put all those ideals in a Crazy 8 Ball, shook them up, and came up with “Reply hazy, try again.” Yes, well Mr. Crazy 8 ball, I am sleep deprived and running on fumes most days…so yes, I will try again tomorrow. Parenting is the hardest job in the world. You will never be prepared enough for this simple reason: no one has ever parented your child. And furthermore, you have never parented your child. Why didn’t they come with a handbook, clasped in those tiny little fists of theirs?
Full disclosure, this post should really be called, “Help! I am Parenting Teenagers!” As I enter the teenage parenting years, I am reminded more and more each day that I am not in control of my children. They are learning to make their own choices, find their own voice and practice independence. I have laid a foundation for what God-centered living looks like, but at the end of the day they have to make their own choices and find their own faith. And it is God who changes their hearts. Not me. I have no power in me to give them a heart that loves God. Only God has that kind of power. Only God can stir up faith and the will to make good choices within them.
So how do I approach parenting my children in light of my powerlessness to save them and change their hearts?
Create rhythms of God centered living in the life of my family. The easiest routine to start is when they are babies. When you put them down for bed at night, sing a song like Jesus Loves Me and pray over them. When they get to be toddlers and school age, pick songs from your church worship song list so that they can memorize the words for Sunday mornings. Read a page or two from The Jesus Storybook Bible or the Big Picture Story Bible. Then pray for them. Ask them if there is something particular you can pray for them. Or use that time for prayer requests from friends and family. At dinner rotate who prays for the meal. Go to church on Sundays to create a routine of corporate and community worship. Let your children see you reading your Bible. Let your children see you stop and lay hands on a friend and pray for them. Show them that living for Jesus is normal, ordinary, expected, and fulfilling. Do not be afraid to cry in front of your children, or to share your hurts and fears with them in an age appropriate way.
Teach your children to apologize and ask for forgiveness when they have sinned. And train yourself to model that repentance and gospel restoration in your marriage, in your family and in your community. Children model what they see and experience. We have the opportunity to shape their little hearts with every conflict and struggle. We are the most tangible experience they will have to knowing God the Father. Dane Ortlund writes in his book Gentle and Lowly, “At the center, our job is to show our kids that even our best love is a shadow of a greater love. To put a sharper edge on it: to make the tender heart of Christ irresistible and unforgettable. Our goal is that our kids would leave the house at eighteen and be unable to live the rest of their lives believing that their sins and sufferings repel Christ.” Let us be purposeful in our love and tending toward these little ones.
Preach the gospel to yourself daily
This actually might be the most important rhythm you can create for your family. What do I mean by this? We remind ourselves that Jesus loves us so much that he died for us. That he has given us ALL the grace (John 1:16 says “And from Jesus’ fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”) and mercy we need to live this life. His mercies are new every morning (Lam. 3:22-23 says “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness”) – meaning there is hope! Jesus offers full forgiveness when we come to him and confess our sins. We are not condemned or punished for yelling at our children, or for neglecting to keep them safe from harm. We do not get a badge for wearing our mom guilt on our shirtsleeves. We are not condemned for harboring bitterness in our hearts toward our husbands. Fill in the blank.
Instead, Jesus has paved the path toward all grace and all forgiveness and all acceptance for those who place their faith in him. We parent out of this foundation of grace, which then allows us to extend all grace to our children. This has been my prayer for my parent-heart this month – that I would extend grace to my children, when they are rude and disrespectful, just as God extends grace to me every second of every day. That I would love them no matter what, just as God loves us through Jesus no matter what. As Dane Ortlund also writes, “ We cannot sin our way out of Jesus’ tender care.” And neither can our children.
Jesus is gentle and lowly. He deals with us gently, always. My prayer is that in my parenting I will also be gentle in my love and discipline toward my children, and humble enough each day to confess that I am a sinner in need of God’s grace and mercy in my heart and in my parenting.
Parenting in our Weakness
Preaching the gospel to ourselves also teaches us that Jesus has given us power through the Holy Spirit to live our lives for him. (“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” – 2 Timothy 1:7) As we lean into Jesus and rely on him, we can ask him to equip us with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Left to my own devices and power, I sorely lack in all those areas. Especially when I am pushed to my limits and my patience and understanding flies out the window. And have you noticed that most of our anger toward our kids comes out of a place of hurt and fear? We sacrifice our entire being for them day in and day out, and yet on a dime they can turn into ungrateful little monsters. Yet, the beauty of the gospel is that we, ourselves, turn into little ungrateful monsters toward God. And he still loves us. And he equips us within his very own being, through the Holy Spirit, with all that we need to parent. We can come to him empty and running on fumes – in fact, this is how he wants us to come to him! For in our weakness and humility, Christ is strong (2 Cor. 12:10: “ For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”).
And as we learn to parent out of our weakness, relying on his power to work in and through us, an added benefit is that our eyes open up to his work in the lives of our children. For he loves them more than we ever possibly could.