Parenting books tend to make everything sound so simple. So cut and dry. Very equation like. If this, then this. If your child disobeys, then you help them evaluate their heart motive, then you discipline them if necessary, then you affirm your love for them, then you send them back out into the world as productive, cheerful, God-honoring members of society. Boom, boom, boom. If you follow this time-honored equation, your kids will be born again in no time.
Okay, maybe the books aren’t quite so extreme, but you get my point.
In recent years, however, I’ve discovered something that has made slightly less enthusiastic about parenting books: my children are insane. No doctor would diagnose them as insane, but they are insane nevertheless.
When my children sin, it doesn’t happen in nice, linear fashion. Sin simply detonates in my house. Charis selfishly tells Ella that she can’t use the coloring book. Ella screams at Charis, then throws a pair of scissors at her. Meanwhile, Gwendolyn is pulling the Windex out from under the sink and getting ready to clean out her mouth. It really is like a scene out of some sort of demented sitcom called “Dad In Charge”, starring Ray Romano or Tim Allen.
When this happens, I dutifully wade into the fray, trying to sort out who did what and trying to keep Gwendolyn from poisoning herself. I try to figure out motive and heart issues. I try to discipline appropriately. I try to bring the Bible to bear when appropriate. But most of the time, things don’t go according to the book. Many times Ella is beyond reason, and is simply screaming and throwing herself on the floor. When she gets to that point, the only thing I can do is send her to room until she calms down. Charis is currently in a stage in which she denies all culpability in every situation. She has the innocent martyr act down really well. No matter how much I push the issue, she swears she is innocent. Gwendolyn…well, Gwendolyn is two, and she is a maniac. A cute maniac, but a maniac nonetheless. And to top all this off, I’m often dealing with my own sinful heart as I’m trying to help my kids deal with their sinful hearts. I wonder if I can get a reality TV show deal?
My point in all this? I’m going to parent my kids as best as I can, according to all the wise principles I’ve learned from the Bible itself and authors. But when it comes down to it, God absolutely must be the one who saves my kids.
The hearts of my children are too messy, my wisdom is too limited, and my heart is too sinful in order to successfully shepherd my children into the kingdom of God. Only God can do that, and that actually gives me a great amount of comfort. I firmly believe that God will save my children. I also firmly believe he will use all my successes and failures as a parent in order to bring about the salvation of my kids.
I see my own life as a prime example of this. My parents were the absolute greatest, without a doubt. But like so many other parents of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, they were reading parenting books that placed a heavy emphasis on behavior and little emphasis on the heart. Talking to my dad now, I know that he regrets the times when he placed too much emphasis on my behavior and too little emphasis on my heart. (For the record: my dad majorly changed his stance on this, and began seriously emphasizing the heart.)
My parents made lots of mistakes and God still saved me. I’m making lots of mistakes, probably more than my parents, and yet I’m still confident that God will save my kids. Why? Because he is faithful to use my our frail, small efforts. Because he often works in spite of me. Because he loves my kids even more than I love my kids. Because he is good. Because I regularly pray that God would supernaturally cause my children to come alive to him, and I know that he answers prayer.
Don’t freak out about being the perfect parent. You’re not the perfect parent, and you never will be. Simply seek to be faithful, and then entrust the results to God. He won’t disappoint.