I’m not an experienced parent. I’ve only been doing this for a little over a decade, and by God’s grace, I’ve got a lot more time to go. Almost daily, I will look at Jana and say some form of this question: “Do you think every parent constantly feels like they don’t know what they’re doing?”
I hope the answer to that one is yes. But even in the midst of all the fumbling around we do as moms and dads, I can see the Lord’s faithfulness over seasons as He continues to press the gospel further into our lives, and one of the areas that’s most evident is in the way we parent.
When I found out Jana was pregnant with our first child, we spent a long time looking at baby bible verses, working out how we were going to raise our child, and how we were going to make sure the Lord was a big part of their life. I didn’t go into parenthood thinking I was going to be a perfect father but I knew that He would be there for me the entire journey.
See, once upon a time I thought of the gospel as a moment in time decision that had eternal implications. And while that may be true, if that’s all you ever see the gospel as, then you are falling radically short of approaching the fullness of its implications. Jesus likened believing the gospel to being born again. That is to say, belief in the gospel causes such a profound change in the life of an individual that you can only liken it to starting over, but this time with a new heart. New tastes. New desires. New priorities. And so on. That newness that comes as a result of new birth in Christ trickles down into every area of life, including our parenting.
The gospel, then, shapes our parenting just as the gospel shapes everything else about who we are and what we do. How does that shaping happen? I’m sure in different ways for different people, but here are four ways I’m seeing right now that the gospel is shaping my parenting:
1. It compels me take my parenting seriously.
If the gospel is true, and it is, then all of us who once were enemies of God have been brought into His household and given a seat at the table. Former rebels and outsiders have been adopted into His family, and now God is forever more our Father. As a parent, then, we have the incredibly weighty responsibility of modeling the fatherhood of God to our children.
It is sobering to consider that the primary picture my children will have of God as their Father will come through me. It makes me think deeply about the way I discipline them, the way I care about the things that matter to them, even the words I greet them with every afternoon. All these things matter because though they might seem like every day, run of the mill decisions that are here one moment and gone the next, they accumulate into something much larger than that. They come together, by God’s grace, in such a way that a child will think, If my earthly father loves me like this, how much more must a perfect heavenly Father love me?
2. It allows me to not take myself so seriously.
While the gospel compels me to take my parenting seriously, it also allows me to not take myself so deathly seriously at every turn. This is really an acknowledgment of reality because I, like you, am a ridiculous creature. I’m double-minded, fearful, confused, and even downright gross. I am a laughable creature. That is particularly true as a parent in which I constantly feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.
Instead of despairing at my lack of knowledge and experience, the gospel reminds me of my “creatureliness.” And I am allowed to laugh heartily at my own ridiculousness because God sees that ridiculousness even more deeply than I do and loves me still. As a parent, I am free in the gospel to go all out, do the very best that I can, knowing that just as it took God to awaken me to see my cold, dead heart and my need of Him, so will it be with my children. Ultimately, it is God’s work and not mine that will melt the hearts of my kids.
3. It enables me to allow my kids to pursue their own interests.
In other words, I don’t have to be “football dad.” And you don’t have to be “pageant mom.” I’m convinced that one of the ways we can fail our children most heartily is if we insist that “our thing” be “their thing.” So we push and push and push to make them the top student, the cheerleader, the athlete, the whatever because that is not only what we are most comfortable with, but because it was either something we excelled at doing or something we wish we would have. The gospel frees us from having to force our children to live out our latent desires for ourselves in them.
Because of the gospel, we don’t have anything left to prove because Jesus has proven everything in our place. We don’t have to justify ourselves, especially through our kids, because we are already fully justified in Him. When our own insecurity and compulsion toward that self-justification is taken out of the equation, we can joyfully embrace the individual makeup of our children who might or might not share our same affinity for a given activity.
4. It frees me to apologize often.
I have to do this. You probably do, too. That’s because no matter how hard we try, we will fail our children time and time again. The question is not whether we will do so; the question is what happens afterward. Will we be the people who justify ourselves before our babies, because we are still trying to earn everyone’s approval, including our own children? Or will we be able to simply acknowledge our failure without that self-justification and offer a simple apology?
In a very broad sense, the gospel allows us to own our own sin, whether it’s a sin against our neighbor down the street or one that lives within our home. We can truly and completely apologize, taking full responsibility and without explaining all the mitigating circumstances, not offering an “I’m sorry, but…” or an “I’m sorry, if…” but simply “I’m sorry.” And then move on to try again.
The gospel shapes everything about us, including the way we relate to our kids. In this, too, God is working to complete His good work in us. And He is faithful to finish what He started.