Recently on a family holiday as we were driving through the busy streets of Jaipur, my six year old daughter suddenly burst into tears. Completely taken by surprise, my husband and I asked her what happened. She replied, “I feel terrible for the people on the street, they have no place to live in, not enough food to eat and the children have no toys to play with.”
At first my heart thought, “What a sweet, compassionate child.” But then my mind began to race. How do I begin to explain the poverty in our country and the brokenness of our world to her when I still struggle to explain it to myself?
There are so many things I could have said but honestly, I did nothing. I just held her close and teared up a little, thinking to myself, “This is just the beginning, my dear Ari.”
Very often I feel parenting is like a to-do-list, one urgent thing after another. I make sure there is food on the table, help my children with their homework, their music class, their art class and everything else we have provided to give them “the best life possible.”
While I want my children to be happy and raised well, I began to ask myself, “Is this the ultimate goal of parenting?” What happens when loneliness begins to engulf my children? What should I do when they begin to ask the tough questions. How should I respond when they begin to face injustice, insecurity, abandonment, failure, heartache and rejection?
I was challenged to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of parenting in light of the gospel. Just like you and I, our children need a Saviour too. No amount of checklists or amazing parenting skills can save them or sustain them. Only Jesus can. The gospel is not any different for children than it is for adults.
How can I help my children understand the gospel so they see, feel and hear its power in a crisis? I have experienced my heavenly Father parent me day after day in a few specific ways. I hope I can do the same for my children. He lovingly listens, patiently pursues and gently guides me back to himself.
The gospel is not any different for children than it is for adults.
Gospel Parenting Lovingly Listens
We often say things we regret and our children often hear things we wish they never heard. They have so many questions and we are always ready with quick answers. Whether our kids are toddlers or teenagers we often find it hard to hold our tongues. We are quick to correct them, console them, praise them, rebuke them and find solutions for them. But rarely are we ready to actually listen to them.
In Listen, It’s a Ministry, Dane Ortlund says “Listening isn’t just about not talking. Listening is proactive, it absorbs, it doesn’t sit back; it leans in.”
What does this kind of listening look like in practice? I have two daughters who are temperamentally different from each other. My six year old loves meeting new people. She is afraid to make mistakes and often apologises even when she has not done anything wrong.
My three year old is terrified of new people. She loves a challenge and struggles to apologise because she never sees herself in the wrong. Both have their own ways of expressing themselves and dealing with things around them. However, there is always something deeper behind their outbursts, emotions and behavioural patterns. Like us, our children need to be heard and helped.
As a parent I need to be able to lean in enough to identify and engage with the deepest needs of their hearts. What is my child actually struggling with? Is there a need for approval? Are they feeling shame, guilt, or pride? It is going to be hard work to identify their deepest needs but what motivates me to do this is the ministry of Christ himself.
There were days in my own life when nothing made sense. My soul was deep in anguish, I lacked faith, and I even questioned the purpose of my existence. In hindsight, I know I was never alone. Jesus was always listening. He never disappeared in my moments of weakness and doubt. In fact, he drew nearer to me and felt closer to me, standing as my advocate and my helper. God hears our prayers; he hears our concerns, and he bears our concerns on his heart.
I have to remind myself that often it is not what I can say to my children that can help them but the way I selflessly listen, engage, and draw them back to the one who can truly rescue and make them feel seen and heard.
Gospel Parenting Patiently Pursues
One of the things I find really frustrating is how fast my children can switch from being really obedient to outrightly disobedient. It is also tiring the number of times I have to remind my daughters about the things they should or should not be doing. I have caught myself saying things like, “How many times do I have to tell you this? How could you do this? Why don’t you ever pay attention? I knew this would happen and it serves you right!”
However, when I look at my own life I realise I am exactly like my daughters. I procrastinate, react in anger when I am wronged, get easily distracted and often pursue my own interests instead of what God is calling me to do. But how dare my children do these things? They can do it once. But twice?
Gospel parenting instils a longing and a desire for Christ which is far more superior than anything else this world can offer.
Gospel parenting does not ignore or minimise correction and discipline. We need to teach our children what is right and wrong. Without discipline there will be chaos and more importantly grace cannot be comprehended without first facing the seriousness of sin. But God’s love is patient in its pursuit of us.
When we ourselves understand the reality of God’s pursuing love for us it helps us to pursue our children, not simply react to them. God’s love for us in Christ enables us to remind our children that he will never tire of them, reject them, or abandon them by showing them we will never tire of them, reject them, or abandon them. There is nothing they can ever do that will keep God or us from loving them.
Gospel Parenting Gently Guides
In a world that is constantly chasing success, striving for power and seeking to please, I want my children to understand that knowing God is far more valuable than anything this world can offer.
In his book The Collapse of Parenting, Leonard Sax says, “…it is no use letting kids do whatever they desire unless we have first educated their desire. As parents it is our job to educate the child’s desire: to instil a longing for something higher and better.”
In order to educate our children’s desires we must first check our own desires. We need to let go of our own expectations and dreams for our children and we need to stop comparing our children to what the world expects from them, or from us.
We must first learn to treasure and value Christ ourselves. When we do this we are able to guide our children, day in and day out, toward the things that really matter. Gospel parenting instils a longing and a desire for Christ which is far more superior than anything else this world can offer.
When my daughter saw those people on the street she was filled with compassion, despair, and hopelessness. No amount of great parenting can help her make sense of it. Only the gospel can help her and give her hope.
My prayer for parents is that we remain faithful in listening, persevering, and guiding them, knowing the outcome of our labour is not in our hands but in the hands of the Lord.
Through our parenting, may our children get a glimpse into the heart of God and may they learn to treasure Christ with all of their hearts. May the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort guide our children as they learn to listen to the unheard, pursue the abandoned, and give hope to the hopeless.