Parenting books make everything seem so simple. If you do the right things, keep the gospel central, pray the right prayers, shepherd your child’s heart, bring grace to the face, be simultaneously affirming and firm, then your children will most definitely become Christians. The books make it sound almost like parenting is some sort of math equation: Good Parenting + A Christian Education – Bad Influences = Salvation.
Unfortunately, many of us buy into this sort of deterministic mentality when it comes to parenting. We believe that we can mold our kids into God-fearing, Bible-loving, church-attending, tithe and/or offering-giving Christians. When a child walks away from Jesus, we think that it was somehow the parents fault. If only they had been more firm in their discipline. If only they would have kept him out of the public school system. If only they had been more faithful to teach him the Bible.
Now, granted, there are Bible verses like Proverbs 22:6 (“Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.”) which provide us with some general principles about parenting. God does place a high value on parents teaching their children about the gospel, sin, and the Bible. God does call parents to faithfully train their children in godliness. Teach your kids when you go out, when you come in, etc. Godly parenting matters.
I’m doing my best to obey these principles found in Scripture, but I gotta be honest: most of the time I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.
I have three young girls. Charis is 7, Ella is 4, and Gwendolyn is 2. Charis is a high achiever who does really well in school. She also has inherited a big, fat self-righteous streak from her dad. Ella is my cuddle bug middle child who also happens to have a hair trigger temper and is just learning the ins and outs of lying. Gwendolyn is cuter than a bucket full of puppies. She also gets very upset when I tell her, “No.” She has perfected what I call “the flop”.
When Charis is in full-on self-righteous mode, I do my best to shepherd her heart and preach the gospel and all the other things I’m supposed to do, but a lot of times the end result is her still insisting that she didn’t do the thing I watched her do. When Ella is in raging bull mode, there is no shepherding going on. I’m putting her in her bed until she stops her banshee screaming. And Gwendolyn? Don’t even get me started.
My point is not that my parenting doesn’t matter. My point is that I am absolutely convinced that only God can save my kids. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart of the unbeliever is, “…deceitful above all things…who can understand it?” I can’t fully understand the swirl of thoughts and desires that motivate my children to sin or obey. I can’t unravel the mysteries of self-righteousness or anger or lying. I can’t make Jesus look beautiful enough to convince my kids that He is better than sin. I’m a sinful parent trying to teach his sinful kids about a great Savior. My parenting most definitely will not save my kids.
So do I despair? Absolutely not! God is in the business of using weak, frail messengers to proclaim the message of salvation. He uses those who are weak so that no one will get the glory except God himself. This is what Paul was getting at when he said:
For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:29)
This is such good news! As a parent, I’m free to admit that most of the time I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t have to look like I’ve got it all together. I don’t have to try to make other people think that I’m Super Parent, able to diagnose a sinful heart with a single word. On my best days, my parenting is a mixed bag of Bible, desperate prayer, confusion, anger, repentance, hugs, and ice cream. When my kids get saved, I will loudly proclaim that I did some watering, Jen did some watering, Sunday school teachers did some watering, but God caused the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6).
Parents, you can stop acting like you have it all together. We’re all in on the secret.