The Key to Good Parenting: Know You Are Loved (On Parenting, Part 2)

Another sacred meeting between father and son. On a silent night, in a holy moment, with head covered and hands raised to heaven, Jesus closes his eyes in sweet communion wi--[child screams]…Arms fall. Shoulders shrug. "Not again. Can’t I get a moment of peace and quiet around here?" 

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What would Jesus be like as a parent of little kids? I know. I know. He didn’t refuse the little children who wanted to be around him, (even though they annoyed the disciples). The KJV says it this way, “He suffered the little ones to come unto him.” I like that because part of me wants to know that he really suffered. I mean, if we are to believe that Jesus “was tempted in every way, just as we are—yet did not sin,” as Hebrews 4:15 tells us, I want to know that he knows what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night multiple times to change diapers or peed-on bedsheets or to feed screaming, demanding midnight monsters. To me, feeding 1 at 5am with a positive attitude seems more miraculous than feeding 5,000 at 1pm. 

What if parenthood was more about what we learn in the way of patience, gentleness, service, humility and NOT what we are trying to beat out of our children (selfishness, demanding, unthankful, bratty, spoiled, sulky, awful attitudes). It's easy to act out of fear as a parent. It's easy to extrapolate their two- or three- or fourteen-year-old behavior and think, “oh no, what if they act like this as an adult? I better do something to teach them how wrong this is.” When these ways of thinking become predominant, we resort to control, punishment, more and more rules, lectures and shouting. Trust me. We know. Like I said in my last post, we are on our fourth child. 

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But how do we continue to bear fruit of the Holy Spirit that our kids have the privilege of eating? And if fruit have seeds, can we expect that our kids will learn, and bear fruit of their own, just by eating our fruit? Perhaps the best kind of responsibility flows from being loved, and not from being yelled at? Can we use gentleness to fight fire? Is it possible to quell rebellion with patience and grace instead of anger? I believe this is where the gospel—the real-life example of love on display even to the uttermost—has something to say to how we parent. 

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God asked me recently, “Why are you so hard on yourself?” I answered, “Because I think it’ll help me stay sharp and more productive.” His reply: “How’s that working for you?” Me: “Uhhhhh, not so great.” And then I realized that the way I parent is simply an outward expression of the way I treat myself. And the reason I treat myself with certain unattainable expectations is because I still harbor terrorists in me that are holding out against the influence of grace. 

I want to do it myself. 

I want to prove to myself or to so-and-so that I can.

I want to know that I’m worthy and capable. 

I want to like me.

Hm. There it is. The scared little boy in me that wants to be something bigger than me. And wants to be seen and recognized and praised. But this angst, this negative energy rarely ever works, and in most cases seems to fuel the opposite (more addiction, failure, depression, pressure on family and relationships, brokenness, etc.). And when it does work (success, power, influence, praise), it still doesn’t work because it’s never enough. This is beautifully represented by Hugh Jackman’s character P.T. Barnum in “The Greatest Showman” who’s endless drive for more never fills the hole. 

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But the gospel teaches us that all of the things we long for and hope for our kids (obedience, thankfulness, good attitude, positivity, productiveness, and influence) are free gifts from Jesus. In the words of Jackman’s P.T. Barnum, they “are right here in front of me.” Religion promises to get you to nirvana, but it justifies it’s existence by framing a false reality—that nirvana, heaven, or a better me, is somewhere way off in the distance or over the rainbow. And it’s going to take a lot of hard work to get there. Even in our downtime, the long list of what we could be doing, or learning, or exercising leaves us feeling like we’re always falling short, never satisfied. We can’t turn off anymore. In contrast, the good news is that all of these things are already ours and come from regular meditation on Jesus. 

The story of Jesus isn’t about more lists of how to be better or do better. The goal of the New Testament isn’t to create a new religion, but to dramatically convince the world of the intent and character of God, to prove to something much deeper than our conscious mind that we are valued, loved, accepted, cherished, and delighted in. It is to disarm and condemn all of the spiritual powers that we allowed to mutiny our goodness and authority on earth, such as anger, violence, wrath, control, self-righteousness, harshness, sexual immorality, oppression, exploitation, greed, self-interest, etc. All this by meditating on—by simply remembering—Jesus. 

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He died an excruciating death, unwilling to call down legions of angels, unwilling to think only of his own life, unwilling to yield his integrity and character to the pressures of religion or the threats of an empire, believing against all evidence in the goodness and potential of human beings to rise to greatness, to be fully who he made us to be. Jesus’ death and resurrection and the whole message of the New Testament came to undo the rigid, militaristic, disciplined, ascetic way of life of Judaism. God’s intention for blessing and life and peace and freedom in it got hijacked by harsh, violent, perfectionist, religious men. So, he had to scrap it. It wasn’t perfect anyway. Paul describes it as an inferior covenant, a shadow of what was to come, a disposable guide book that was meant to lead them to the real deal: Jesus. He also said that if righteousness—or legal, practical or moral perfection (or just tight abs)—could be gained by hard work and rule-following, then Jesus died for nothing. Ouch!

As awesome as our egos tell us we are on our best day (or after a Tony Robbins conference), we’re actually not all that impressive…We’re pretty pitiful actually and only have so many best days in one life. But being our awesomest, best self all the time (so we’ll like ourselves better) has never been the point. The point is, we’re cute. To God. All the time. On our most dressed-up days and our stay-in-pajamas days. In our mess-ups and our clean-ups. In our disasters and in our most heroic deeds. We are, all the same, consistently worthy of affection, because he’s our dad. It warms his heart just to see us try and try again. And he knows we’re going to fail fifteen hundred times before we get it, but his joy and pride over us is just the same on every try. 

That’s the spirit that needs to infect us, wash over us, fill us, invade our hearts daily. The spirit of absolute, passionate, powerful love. For me. For you. For us. For the hope of our future together. He believed in it. He died believing in it. And it was only by that undying belief that it was made possible. Because it was demonstrated to us—dramatically, passionately, and powerfully. His body died, but his hope never extinguished. The flame of his faith in you and me never went out. His resurrection is the exclamation point to all of this. This is communion. This is what it means to remember. What He Did because of Who We Are. And all the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control—flow naturally from this state of wonder, of thankfulness, of gratitude that our lives have been saved…not just from something, but for something unimaginably incredible—to be fully and freely ourselves, each playing our part in the context of love in a deeply connected community that is itself deeply connected to every other community. We touch everyone by loving the person right in front of us. 

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And, for us parents of small kids, that person in front of us is most often one of our children. We’re trying as hard as we can to surrender our trying…and our control and our need to make our kids perfect, and let their emotions explode into the cushion of our self-control and peace and safety and patience. “A gentle word turns away wrath,” says Proverbs. We don’t often have the gentle word on our lips, but when we do, it seems to really work. When we don’t, we deal with wrath—some of our own and some of our kids’—and we always apologize in the end and make up. It comforts us knowing that God’s love always absorbs wrath and always drives out fear. And we are learning how to apply that in every area of our lives in practical ways. If it can’t be put into practice, then it’s all just fluff, theory, religious ideals that can never be experienced. But we don’t believe God’s promises are like that. They are real. They are for the nitty gritty. They are ever-present and available. 

May He multiply those promises and their fulfillment for your life—in this day—in a hundred new ways. Bless you, parents and children of all ages, to know at the deepest level your acceptedness, your settledness, your freedom. Holy Spirit is filling you right now with another baptism of his love. Stay there. Keep staying there. And when it starts to get awkward and the thought enters your head, “ok, I need to go do something,” hold that thought and keep staying in the reality of his absolute love for you. Now take that awareness with you and go do that thing. And do the next thing, still in the light of the awareness of his love. And talk to your kids in that same light and awareness. Abide and bear fruit. And keep abiding. You’re loved. You’re loved. You’re loved! 

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Now see what that does for your parenting.

Please leave comments below of your own testimonies and stories of trying to put this into practice.