Recently I watched an online video called, "Gospel Parenting," by one of the Tripp brothers. (Confession: I don't know the difference between the Tripp brothers.) It was really good. Really good. I agree with him 100%. (Confession: I only watched half, because it was incredibly painful.)
Why would a person watch parenting videos, after it's over, after it's too late?
Oh, the guilt.
Oh, the regrets.
I tried, I really did. I loved my children wholeheartedly, and still do. More than anything, I wanted them to grow up loving and serving Jesus. I also wanted to get some sleep sometimes, and to have a reasonably clean, organized home. I also wanted peace within family relationships: obedience, and siblings who did not fight with each other. Wanting these things--rest, order, peace--sometimes resulted in selfish parenting, parenting from a heart that was personally unhappy with the way things were, rather than because I was trying to teach my children about the grace of God through Christ.
Mr. Tripp speaks about this other kind of parenting: parenting the heart, intentionally, with an emphasis on grace and redemption. I actually tried to do this. I read some Tripp books before it was "too late." I tried to learn and implement grace in the way I related to my children, but I wasn't very good at it.
I messed up. A lot.
And yet, I still hold out hope.
Because it isn't about me. Even if I had been a perfect parent, which is an unfeasible goal, there would be no guarantee. Because we do not save our children. Jesus saves our children. We can try to parent a heart ("Shepherd your child's heart," Mr. Tripp teaches) -- but it is only God who can change hearts. Only the Father can draw a soul into His eternal kingdom. Praise God, it depends on Him and not on me.
This is not to excuse mistakes and failures, but it is to hold out hope. We have an almighty, sovereign God who loves the world (John 3:16) and desires that everyone would understand the truth and be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4). If God is for us, who can stand against us (Romans 8:31). . . or against the children we love?
There is a thing. I'm sure I used to fall into it myself. It's this thing where we look around at the people with the prodigal sons and daughters, and we analyze what they did wrong, so we can be sure we don't do that.
We bring all these charges:
They let their kids eat too much sugar.
They let their kids watch too much TV.
They don't monitor what their kids are doing on the computer.
They don't let their kids get dirty.
They hover over their kids.
They don't pay enough attention to their kids.
They put their kids into too many extracurricular activities.
They work all the time, and don't do anything with their kids.
They don't have family devotions.
They make family devotions long and boring.
They don't spank.
They punish for irrational things.
They are angry all the time.
They don't explain consequences clearly.
They think their kids are always right.
They don't follow through with what they say they will do.
They skip church.
They buy their kids everything they want.
They get their kids out of trouble when they should let them learn a lesson.
They let their kids take their phones to bed.
--And on and on and on--
It's a litany of explanations for parental failure. We analyze and evaluate, and then we determine that we will not fall into any of those errors, so we will be assured that our children will grow up to be smart, beautiful, God-fearing, productive citizens with good jobs, who will always have the best of relationships with us, because we have parented so effectively.
But there is no guarantee. No guarantee.
I've been on both sides: the side of self-righteous judgment of other parents, and the side of spectacular failure of my own. (I am sure, under the sovereign rule of God, that this is no accident.)
It's the sin of Job's friends. Job's friends looked at Job's suffering, and they were horrified to see his pain. This is how their minds processed it: "Job is suffering terribly. I am not suffering the way Job is suffering. I do not want to suffer the way Job is suffering. Clearly, Job is being punished for a grievous sin. I will not commit a grievous sin, because I do not want to experience such horrible suffering. I will exhort Job to confess his sin and repent of it, so that God can end his suffering."
Do you see? Do you see the parallel?
We want to know how we can control outcomes, so we look at other people's misfortunes, and we determine that we will not make the mistakes they made that got them there. Like Job's friends, we want to consider the parents of rebellious children and assure ourselves that we have not made the mistakes that landed them in their predicament.
Job said again and again that he was blameless, that he had not sinned. We know absolutely that he was not a sinless man, because all men are sinful. There is no-one who is righteous apart from the grace of God. Job was not implying that he was a perfect person. What he meant was, "I've not done anything in particular that God is trying to teach me not to do. I've not sinned more--and, in fact, I've possibly sinned less--than you, my friends."
This made his friends crazy. Why? Because they wanted to be able to know that they were exempt from the risk of going through what Job was going through.
As parents, we want to know that we have done all the things to make us exempt from going through what the parents of prodigals go through.
But there are no guarantees. It isn't about our performance as parents. There is no legalistic formula that parents can follow to get perfect kids.
Now, there is value in learning from other people's mistakes. Certainly. Similarly, we cannot take the truth that, "There are no guarantees," and use it as justification for not trying to do our best. We have to try to teach and influence to the best of our ability, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we will do well, and sometimes we will falter, and regardless of our performance, outcomes will vary. But we have to strive--with God's help--to discern a good path and walk it, because our actions are what we, personally, are accountable to God for. We are accountable for our actions, not the outcomes of our actions.
If we love our children and faithfully do our best to shepherd them, repenting of our errors and asking for forgiveness, God will be glorified in our efforts, regardless of how our children turn out.
If we parent selfishly and badly, and are unrepentant about our shortfallings, then that is on us. Even if our children turn out well, growing up to love and serve the Lord, their success does not vindicate us.
I don't know anything. What I thought I knew, I suspect was not right--at least, not entirely. I know I was sometimes harsh when I should have been gentle, and I sometimes caved in when I should have stood fast. At times, I cried when I should have laughed, and I despaired when I should have trusted in the Lord. I also loved my children deeply, worked hard, poured out as much as I could, and seriously prioritized their needs. I made intentional efforts to teach them about Jesus and to get them involved in places where they would be encouraged in the faith by others. I prayed without ceasing. I tried hard, and sometimes I still fell flat on my face.
All the advice I have at this point is based on what I wish I had done better:
- Be gentle and kind. Encourage.
- Learn and model humility.
- Remember how much Jesus has forgiven me, and extend that same grace.
- Always hope, because God is faithful and good.
- Be thankful, and let thankfulness overflow in observable joy.
- Thank God for the future.
- Trust God, because everything is in His hands.