What character is required so that we can be part of what God is seeking to do in the lives of our children and not in the way of it? What needs to be done, we can’t do, but we have been chosen to be a ready tool in the hands of the One who is ready and able to do it. If you want to be a sharp and ready tool in the hands of the great Author of change, here are three mentalities that need to shape your parenting.
1. You Need to Parent with a Process Mentality
It’s important to make the mental/spiritual shift from viewing parenting as a series of unrelated corrective encounters to viewing parenting as a life-long connected process. Since change is most often a process and seldom an event, you have to remember that you can’t look for a dramatic transformational conclusion to your encounters with your children. Seldom is change the result of a dramatic moment. So you have partial conversations and unfinished moments, but in each moment you are imparting wisdom to your child, each moment you are exposing your child’s heart, each moment you are building your child’s self-awareness, each moment you are enlivening your child’s conscience, each moment you are giving your child great God-awareness, each moment you are constructing a biblical worldview for your child, and each moment you are giving the Spirit of God an opportunity to do things in and for your child that you cannot do.
The wise Father of you and your children designed parenting to be a bit-by-bit, piece-by-piece process. He has called you to take advantage of the little moments of life to take little steps with your children. He has called you to be content with adding another piece to their view of themselves, God, others, and life. He has called you to be content with adding another piece to their moral/spiritual awareness. Here’s what parenting is: it’s unfinished people (we parents) being used of God as agents of transformation in the lives of unfinished people. And, yes, it is true that like you, your children will leave your home still unfinished. One of the last things Jesus said to his disciples is that he had many more things to teach them, but they were not at that time able to bear them. So he promised them that he would send another teacher to complete his work. The world’s best teacher had a process mentality and because he did, he was willing to leave his work to unfinished people (see John 16:12–15).
2. You Need to See Parenting as One Unending Conversation
As a parent, I find this mentality incredibly freeing. Let me explain. You are freed from the pressure of needing to get from your child what you are never going to get in a single conversation. You know that this conversation is only one moment in an ongoing conversation that began when the child was born and will probably not even end when your child leaves your home. You are liberated from having to load your hopes for your child into one conversation, because you know that you live with this child and you will get many more opportunities.
You see, God loves your child even more than you do, and because he loves her, he has put her in a family of faith, and he will expose what is wrong with that child again and again so that you have opportunity after opportunity to take yet another step in the process of awareness, conviction, commitment, and change that he has called you to be part of in the life of your child. So each day you look for another opportunity to advance that critical conversation one more step and because you do, you don’t consider those moments where correction is needed to be interruptions or hassles, but gifts of grace afforded you by a God who is at work in the hearts and lives of your children. So you’re not mad at your children for needing you; you’re happy for another opportunity to continue the process. Here, in a phrase, is what you are committing yourself to: many mini-moments of change.
It may be a few moments at bedtime; it may be a brief talk at the dinner table; it may be a few carefully chosen words at the mall; it may be a few comments after school; it may be a back-and-forth discussion in the SUV. But you’re called to be thankful for each one and for the incremental steps that are being taken to rescue, restore, and transform your children. You get up each day aware of what will be required, but thankful that for another day you can take more steps with your children in the most important process in the world.
3. You Need to Parent with a Project Mentality
Instead of being reactive as a parent, you must live with your children with a sense of project. What does that mean? You know your children; you know where they tend to be weak, blind, tempted, and rebellious, and where they struggle. So you look for opportunities to address what God has shown you about the needy heart of each individual child. What this means is that every day you look to engage your child with consideration of what you already know is important. You point out simple little things to the four-year-old and much more sophisticated things to the teenager, but in each instance you move the conversation along because you are parenting with a sense of project. And because you are, you are ready to capture another God-given opportunity.
Because most of us don’t parent with a sense of project, prepared for when God will give us the next opportunity, our parenting tends to be reactive. Surprised that another problem has called us into action, we react to the moment in the best way we can. The problem with this is that reactive parenting tends to be emotionally reactive. Because we are not carrying around with us this project mentality, we tend to see these moments as interruptions and hassles, and because we do, we tend to deal with them emotionally. What this creates for your child is an irregular and inconsistent authority structure. Yesterday, you weren’t doing well emotionally so the racket in the house drove you nuts and you yelled at your kids. Today, you are feeling good and the same noise level that got them in trouble yesterday doesn’t get them in trouble today.
Sadly, rather than growing in a sense of need for and submission to the authority that God has placed in their lives, many children become emotional weathermen. They have come to understand that the rules of the house tend to change with the emotion of the parent who is present. So they’re constantly checking the weather in order to gauge what they can get away with and what they can’t. Because parental engagement and authority have been inconsistent, their submission to it is inconsistent as well. The conversational process is not being advanced, the children are not growing, and the parents are not the tools of change that God has appointed them to be. We can do better.
Following the Father
If you want to be part of the Father’s process in the lives of your children, you have to commit yourself to being part of doing it his way. Let me say it this way: if you are going to be a tool in the hands of the Father, you need not only to submit to his work, but also to commit to his character. Now, permit me to be honest. What gets in the way of good parenting is not a lack of opportunity. What gets in the way of good parenting is not the character of your child. What gets in the way of parenting is one thing: the character of the parent. We turn God-given moments of ministry into reasons to be angry. We respond with impatience to moments where patience is required. We are self-righteous in moments where we’re called to confess that we are more like our children than unalike. We throw threats at moments where quiet wisdom is what’s needed. We take personal offense in places where we’re being called to compassion and understanding. We’re often mad at our children, not because they have broken God’s law, but because they have gotten in the way of the laws of our peace and comfort. There are times when we are demanding when we should be serving. And sadly, there are moments when we are mad that our children need us to walk down the hall and parent them once more.
If you are going to be a tool in the hands of the Father, you need not only to submit to his work, but also to commit to his character.
The kind of parenting that I have described in this chapter takes patience, humility, self-control, submission, gentleness, love, faithfulness, and joy. Let’s be honest here: none of these character qualities are natural for us. It would be right for all of us to say, “If that’s what’s required to be a good parent, then I will never be one.” But the good news is that we have not been left to our own strength and resources. Did you notice something about the list of character qualities that are necessary for us to be part of God’s process in the lives of our kids? These character qualities all come out of Galatians 5:22–23. They are what’s popularly known as the “fruit of the Spirit.” I want you to think about these qualities with me for a moment.
If you view these character qualities as moral goals that you have been tasked to achieve, they will seem unattainable and discouraging to you. Here’s the radical truth that as a parent you need to understand. These character qualities are not a moral standard that God lays before you and waits for you to achieve. No, they are the moral gifts of a God of glorious grace. What does this mean? It means that God knew that apart from his intervening work on our behalf, we wouldn’t have a prayer of these character qualities ruling our hearts, and therefore, shaping our responses to our children. Not one of these characteristics is natural for sinners like you and me. Sin casts each of us not only into a moral drama, but a moral dilemma. What is the dilemma? It is that what God assigns to us, what he expects of us, and what he wants us to be part of, we are unable to do because we don’t have the natural character to do it. But the good news is that the message of the Bible isn’t that God puts an undoable standard before us and then sits by and judges us for our failures. No, the message is that God puts an uncompromising standard before us, then sends his Son to perfectly meet that standard on our behalf, so that we can be free to admit our failures and go to God for help. The cross of Jesus Christ means I don’t have to deny my struggle as a parent, I don’t have to act as if I’m something that I’m not, and I surely don’t have to hide from the only One who is able to help me.
But there is more! The Galatians 5 passage teaches me that God blesses me not only with forgiveness, but also with new potential. Jesus died not only to forgive me, but by his grace to also transform me. The list of character qualities that we have been considering is our gift of his grace, given to every believer. Jesus died so that unloving people would become loving, complainers would become joyful, fighters would become peacemakers, impatient people would grow to be willing to wait, and unkind people would become those known for their kindness. Between the “already” of your conversion and the “not yet” of your home going, this is what God is working on in your heart and life. He works through all the mundane situations, locations, and relationships of your life to progressively transform you by his grace. Your heavenly Father has you in his process of grace so that you will have what you need to be part of his process of grace in the lives of your children. He parents you with patient mercy so that you’ll be equipped to be able to parent your children with the same step-by-step grace that you are daily being given. And on the days when you are anything but patient, there are two things to remember. First, all of your failures have already been forgiven, so you can humbly admit them, confess them, and seek God’s help. Second, you need to remember that you are not trapped in your cycle of failure because a God of abundant grace is at work changing, maturing, and growing you so that progressively you are more often part of what he wants to do in your children and less often in the way of it.
Like your children, you aren’t left to parent yourself because God daily blesses you with his presence and grace, so that you can pass that same grace on to your children. Like you, they need to come to confess that they don’t measure up. And because they don’t measure up, they not only need your parental care, but even more importantly, they need the heavenly Father’s life-long and heart-changing agenda of mercy.
This article is adapted from Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David Tripp.
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