Few emotions are harder to deal with than betrayal. Whether a child completely rejects our faith or passionately disagrees on some secondary issue, almost all parents feel some degree of betrayal.
We all know conscientious, faithful parents who have raised their children a certain way only to see their children reject those beliefs—and we share in their pain. The pain is not merely personal. We also mourn—and worry about—the multiplex of consequences that these decisions might render in the lives of our children.
Even when it is a relatively small issue, we can feel hurt and react strongly. We raise our children to believe a certain way and to do certain things and we can feel crushed when they decide differently.
Recently, Leslee and I were engaged in conversations with some of our adult children that brought us face-to-face with a little taste of these feelings.
Some of the issues discussed were practical. Others were of secondary theological importance. We were having trouble getting them to see—and accept—our point of view. Ultimately, we reached the conclusion that in a few cases, our children did not fully agree with us. Note: this was harder for me than Leslee.
There was a time when based on what I had been taught by people who purported to know THE right thing to do in practically every situation, I might have said, “You’re wrong! We are your parents and you have to do what we say because the Bible says so!” Over the years, I have had that thought motivating what I said, if I did not spew those exact words. But this time by God’s grace and mercy, I didn’t do that, but my displeasure while veiled to the kids was clear to Leslee—and she addressed this with me later that day.
The Gospel Comes to the Rescue
My point in this article is to share how the gospel message, namely, my identity as a new creation in Christ helped restore me and also reminded me the goal of parenting which in those conversations I struggled to remember.
Why Parents Argue With Their Children
First, let’s answer the question, why do we argue? James 4 says warring desires are the reason we argue. As parents, the uncomfortable truth is that we often argue because we (although we usually don’t realize it in these moments) are fighting for righteousness. It is easy to find identity in our children, especially when they do well in life. We love that feeling of spiking the ball when sharing our children’s successes with others. Conversely, we tend to be silent or evasive about their failures because they feel like our own. When reality does not meet our dreams, we can easily slouch into thinking that our parenting report cards (our righteousness) reveal a less than average or even, failing grade. As Paul Tripp says, “Parenting is a miserable place to look for identity.”
What is True?
So, who are we as imperfect, poorly performing parents? We are perfect in Jesus. Our righteousness is completely provided and sealed in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. No amount of failure as individuals or parents erases that. No amount of success enhances it either. Where we have blown it, we are forgiven (1 John 1:9). In fact, we have the promise of Romans 8:28-30 that all things work for good. This promise encompasses our failures (and those we perceive in our children) because God is God and he keeps his promises. What we do still matters. We can’t give up. This message compels us to re-engage the battle.
All of this is the essence of what Leslee told me after the conversations I mentioned. Honestly, at the time I was irritated because I knew she was right and that I needed to hear it. But it was the truth, humbly and graciously spoken at the right moment. God promises in John 8:32 that the truth shall set you free. But the truth of our union with Christ is more than the truth that frees us from our poor parenting grade. It is really the purpose of parenting to begin with.
Truth is What we Teach our Children
As parents, we seem to end up whether we know it or not, approaching our task as one of molding our children in our image—or some more glorified image we have conjured up. We envision good-looking kids, who have at least a B+ average, the best manners, getting culturally respectable jobs and marrying spouses that we hope were raised better than they were. We prefer trophies but settle for above average. But does God even care about that?
Man looks at the outward appearance. God looks at the heart. A child can look different from our ideal but still have a passionate heart for God. I need to hear that, and so do most Christian parents. It is a heart for God that is most important to him. How does God change the heart of a child from an idolater to one whose heart loves and seeks after him? The same way he does for us.
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). He became sin that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21). God has brought us into an irrevocable, gracious, loving, eternal relationship with himself through Jesus Christ. We are in Christ. Therefore, we have a new identity. We are new creations in Christ; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). We are new creations with new life, now. Clearly, we are not perfect and will never be without sin in this life because we are in between the already and the not yet. But what defines us, assures, and motivates us to live more like we are in Christ, is solid as a rock.
Truth Produces Joy
The joy of this good news is unsurpassed by almost anything else in the Christian life. The tragedy is that it is little talked about around the dinner table because we are all so busy with our own little worlds that we fail to take time to collect its life-giving nectar. It is tragically overlooked in our devotional practices. It does not impact our minute-by-minute decisions like it should. When we hear it proclaimed to us, it does not stop us; it rarely registers as anything since it can feel like church jargon. But it is the wisest counsel; it is the truth we desperately need. The confidence we gain from this truth is the rocket fuel the Holy Spirit uses to animate our faith in pursuit of Christlikeness.
We and Our Children Need the Same Message
God is good. He is good to us and he is good to our children. We and our children need a solidly passionate focus on the grace we have been given in Christ. As this is our focus, we, through our Helper are better able to navigate the difficult conversations and seasons of discontent with humility, grace, and confidence.
We can win and still lose if we try and force our children to agree with us on everything. We can lose and still win when this fundamental truth defines and compels us.
Our riches in Christ, exercised by daily faith through the Holy Spirit, are what free us to live more like Jesus. We need to help our children do commerce with those riches so that they make their choices in all matters of life from the victorious position of who they are in Christ.
This is not fairy dust but powerfully practical because it meets them at the crux of every problem: desires. Our desires are formed out of an understanding of who we are. When we’re reminded of who we are in Christ, that he has already given us what we need in our union with him, we are satisfied with him and not trying to suck the life that only Christ can give from everything and everyone around us. I, along with my children, need to learn this fundamental reliance on him, and not anyone, or anything else.
We Are Never Betrayed
As I bring this article to conclusion, I think back to the conversations I mentioned at the beginning—I realize that I really have no good reason to feel betrayed because despite my insecurity, I am rooted in Jesus Christ. Ultimately, my mental well-being, my “grade” in anything is not earned by anything other than Jesus. I am free from my own self-condemnation and the judgement of others (1 Corinthians 1:10-17).
On Judgement Day, I think I would be disappointed to hear my Savior say, “Well done, Eric. You have convinced you children of your secondary opinions.” When I’m thinking as a new creation, I know I would much rather hear, “Well done, Eric! You have faithfully shown your children the riches of my Beloved Son.”
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