I lost my cool, and in a moment of exhaustion, I threw the remote across the room and it shattered. No TV for anyone.
I didn’t know parenting would be this hard.
I remember one moment that summarised my whole 2020 parenting experience. It happened in that last hour before all the kids go to sleep. It had been a rough, long, and tiring day so I turned to Netflix to get us through. In our family, the kids like to stand up next to the television, treating it like a touch screen as I flick through the options with my remote. Then it happened. We found a show they wanted to watch, or so I thought. One of our children liked the show and the other didn’t. So, we searched again. The next option had the other child enthralled and the first child dejected. We tried again. Then we tried again. Then we tried again. You get where this is going. What was supposed to be the home stretch turning into an uphill battle and, truthfully, I lost my cool. As the children stared at the screen, I stood behind them and in a moment of exhaustion, I threw the remote across the room and it shattered. No TV for anyone. The kids turned around in shock, I lied and told them I had dropped it. They called me “silly daddy”, just then my wife came home to save the day. Bless her.
I didn’t know parenting would be this hard. I really didn’t. I had no concept of how difficult it would be to manage our three kids, with three different personalities, plus my own. This year has been hard. But it’s also brought with it a kind of theological reflection that my soul has needed. It can be easy to run to Google when you’re floundering as a parent, and sometimes this is the right thing to do, but, what I’ve found is that the greatest comfort I’ve received as a parent and the greatest steps forward I’ve taken as a parent, have come through the hope I’ve found in the Gospel.
J.D. Greear is right when he says,
The gospel is not just supposed to be our ticket into heaven; it is to be an entirely new basis for how we relate to God, ourselves, and others. It is to be the source from which everything else flows.
What Greear wants us to understand is that we don’t depart from the Gospel once we’re saved but we actually return to it as our daily bread to wrestle through all matters for life and godliness, and yes, this even includes parenting.
So, here’s 7 ways I’ve been encouraged by the Gospel in my parenting throughout 2020:
1. The Gospel declares that my identity is not found in my performance
I’ve found it easy to feel like a failure as a parent.
I’m not defined by those ugly moments nor my best moments. I’m defined by something different all together.
I only need to string together a few tough moments and then all of a sudden, I feel the temptation to be defined by those moments. The truth is, I’m not defined by those ugly moments nor my best moments. I’m defined by something different all together. Ephesians 1:4 tells me that before the foundation of the earth I was chosen in him. This was a choice God made to include me in His heavenly family as a son. This was before a single beat of my heart. God gifted me, by His grace, the greatest identity a living creature could have. I am a child of God, not by works but by his grace. I didn’t earn it, therefore, I can’t un-earn it.
There’s a temptation every day to slump my shoulders when I feel like I’m failing. There’s also a temptation to puff up my chest when I’m doing well. Neither suits my Gospel identity. I was called a child of God by grace and I am sustained by His grace. That is the hope to which I cling.
2. Because my Gospel identity is not found in my performance, I’m free to admit when I’m feeling overwhelmed
Because my identity is secure in Christ, then I don’t need to pretend I’m something that I’m not. Our first two children slept through the night at a very young age. Our third hasn’t. I don’t know why. Our four-year-old used to do whatever I asked him, but lately he’s become defiant. I don’t know why. Our second child is never hungry, and our eldest child is never full. I don’t know why.
Through the Gospel, I’m reminded that I don’t need to pretend to be more competent than I am. I don’t need the unhealthy comparisons, the unrealistic expectations, the constantly shifting goalposts. I can admit when I’m feeling overwhelmed because my lack of wisdom and ability does not affect my Father’s affection for me nor his acceptance of me.
3. The Gospel reminds me that my children need more than what I can give
It’s a true blessing being a parent. These are the times where my children look at me like a superhero; when I walk in the door at night and they’ll scream with glee. I remember looking at my own Dad the same way. But the Gospel reminds me that I can never be all they need. They need to grow in the knowledge of God and they need a community.
It takes a village to raise a child. A church-village.
Yes, it takes a village to raise a child. A church-village. Because we are limited, imperfect creatures that cannot be all things to all people, God has given us a people! I’ve found that my family is at its strongest when I’m the most connected in with the resources God has given me for parenting.
Acts 2:42-47 reminds me that the very first church in the Bible saw it as their mission to meet each other’s needs. This is one of the marks of a healthy church. We all win together; we all run through the weeds together. Calling upon help from the body of Christ isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that I’m embracing a very good gift God has given me.
4. The Gospel reminds me that the goal of parenting isn’t behaviour management
Our four-year-old has learned that he has an opinion about how our house should be run. Every request I make needs a justification. Because of that, there’s a real temptation in me to think that the highest goal of my parenting is to change his behaviour. Once that’s done, then I’ve succeeded.
But the goal of Christianity isn’t behaviour management. Anyone can follow rules without their being any genuine heart change. As C.S. Lewis said: ‘Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but dead people live.’
What I’ve found helpful is allowing the Gospel to teach me to lead a child’s heart, not just their actions. When my eldest is too rough with his young brothers, I want, not just to correct his behavior, but to develop his compassion. I want him to love what God loves. So, now I’m saying, ‘God loves your brother. We want to be kind to the people God loves.’ Honestly, this only appears to work some of the time. But I’m standing by my Gospel conviction that seeking to grow their hearts is a better strategy than fostering counterfeit Christlikeness.
5. The Gospel reminds me that even though I’m a parent, I’m still a child
In Matthew 7:11, Jesus uses the language of Father, not just for His own relationship to God but also for ours. He includes me. He invites me in. I’m able to share in part of the unique relationship the Son of God has with his heavenly Father. So, Jesus says, ‘… how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!’ God delights to give good gifts to his children. To me!
God invites me into his family and promises to hear me, answer me, and to give me everything I need
Sometimes I can think, ‘Oh to be a child again …’ Well, the gospel-reality is that the moment I became a Christian, I forever became a child! I know that the dream to be a child again is often tied to the desire to avoid paying bills or handling multiple responsibilities at 5.30am. I get that. But being a child of our heavenly Father is even better. He invites me into his family and promises to hear me, answer me, and to give me everything I need. If I’ve prayed and I haven’t received it’s because God has a better way.
I’m encouraged to serve my children, not just as their parent, but also as God’s child.
6. The Gospel motivates me to love my children when I feel all out of love.
God doesn’t define love as most of our culture does. He defines love through a remarkable demonstration: ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Rom 5:8). God’s love is altogether different. He loved a people who could give him nothing back that he didn’t already have. This is our model. We’re fuelled by the model of Christ’s love, knowing that we can love our children even though it’s hard, often thankless, and at times overwhelming, because that’s exactly how we were loved.
When I’m running on empty with my children, sometimes I genuinely need a break. But I always need to remind myself of how God has loved me. His generous love enlarges my generosity. His merciful love fuels my mercy (even when my kids continue in their rebellious ways). And isn’t this exactly how God found me? How he found you?
We don’t need cuteness and cheeky smiles to help us to love our children (though those things are welcome). We need only remember all Christ has done for us by his grace and mercy.
7. The Gospel motivates me to never give up on my children
In 2 Peter 3:9, Peter responds to those growing impatient on the Lord’s second coming. He says:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Peter is saying that the Lord has not yet returned because he is patient. He’s delaying his return—after which there will be no more chances for repentance—so that more people can turn to him. How merciful and patient is our God!
I can lose my patience. Sometimes I feel like I’m telling my child off for the third time before they’ve even had a chance to hear the first time. I wasn’t saved until I was in my teens and even then, I spent years as a lukewarm Christian, if there even is such a thing. Yet, God was patient and kind to me. This Gospel truth encourages me to extend patience to my children beyond what seems possible.
May God’s patience propel our parenting. May it remind us that the God of all patience has called us to be salt and light in the world; to reflect the love he has for us to everyone, including our children; to be fuelled by the tenderness, mercy and patience he has shown to us, his children.
 J.D. Greear, “The Missing Gospel” in Masterwork: Essential Messages from God’s Servants (Nashville, Tennessee: Lifeway Christian Resources, 2011), 7