It’s common to think of parents as ones who instruct kids in the way they should go or in what is proper behavior and right thinking. But how often do we think of parents as ones who ask for forgiveness or say they are sorry to their children? That’s risky business.
In The Gospel-Centered Parent, one key idea is that of parents becoming the family’s “lead repenters.”
The book shows that this is possible because God is for you as a parent and he loves wayward children, evidenced by the giving of His own Son. You are free to admit that you are acting as a wayward child in the context of relating to your own kids. Ultimately this points your children to Jesus, not you, to be saved.
I recently learned about a letter my friend wrote to his adult children. He’s a person who was captured by the reality of the grace of God after his children had moved out of their early childhood. He had some regrets. And he felt he needed to tell his children.
He gave me permission to share it. I hope it encourages you, as it did me.
Dear Alison and Hope,
Your mom and I couldn’t be more excited about our two handsome grandsons and two gorgeous granddaughters! These little ones have fantastic parents. Enjoying them and just thinking about what they will be like as teenagers and adults takes me back to how little your mom and I knew about babies, much less how to raise four of ’em who came out swinging, one after another.
We had to call a friend to tell us which part of the diaper went forward. I’ll never forget Adaire Graham’s fantastic advice to not freak out when kids eat bird poop off picnic tables because it is probably cleaner than the kitchen floor. I remember how traumatized we were when we were thrown into raising kids, and unfortunately, it reminds me of all the mistakes I made as your dad.
You both grew up in a day when “self-esteem” was God. And we bought into it! I wanted you to believe that you have unlimited potential if you just work hard enough, perform your best, and do a lot of nice things.
On the drive to school, I pushed you hard for grades, to respect adults, and to not use the toy box lid to slide down the stairs. I pressured you to work harder on the soccer field, to push through pain, and to believe totally in yourself.
With your mom, I wanted to raise law-abiding, high-performing citizens. It didn’t occur to me until later that we were in fact trying to raise little Pharisees. That you know and love Jesus Christ today with all your heart is a pure miracle, given that we basically tried to raise nice people rather than grace-loving Christians.
It’s not “self” esteem that we should have wanted for you, but esteem for a big, strong God who can pick you up when you sin, fall, and mess up—what we humans do without any help at all.
The truth is that you don’t have unlimited potential as we told you, but you can know God who is able to do in you far more than you ask or imagine. You can’t work your way into God’s favor like climbing a ladder of good works, but you can believe that he has done the work by perfectly fulfilling God’s law for you, in your place, as your substitute. That you are nice to old ladies, try hard, and obey your elders is great, but moralism and performance-ism (the food of little Pharisees) will only lead to perfectionism, judgmentalism, and disappointment. The truth is that none of us measure up.
Hope, the day when you were four or five and in timeout and came running up the stairs to tell us that you asked Jesus into your heart, I was excited but I shouldn’t have sent you back to finish your time in timeout. I should have taken you into my arms said, “Oh Hope, that’s the best news I’ve ever heard! You now know that God loves you, not because you are good or do nice things, but because he chooses to love you. He loves you so much that he took your sins to the Cross with him so that he could begin to live inside your heart.”
And Alison, when you returned from New York beat up and broken down, I shouldn’t have unloaded more rules and regulations on you. I should have hugged you for a long time and said, “No matter what happens to you or what you do, your mom and I will always love you. Always! And our love is so imperfect compared to God’s perfect and more wonderful one-way-love. Nothing can separate you from his love. Nothing!”
Your mom and I love our beautiful grandchildren so much, and we are very proud of their parents. Please do better than we did to teach them grace. Nothing is more important than for them to see in you a dim reflection of God’s unconditional love, a reflection that will lead them to consider the real thing.
The way of the world that is measured by “try-harder” “do more” “performance-based” religion (self-righteousness, self-esteem, self-realization, self-confidence) only leads to despair and a lack of humility. God is forever awaiting Father who is so pleased when we come home late that he forgets to be mad. Please raise kids who know that God loves them before they even care about being good or bad. Learn from our mistakes and be better parents.
With all our love,
The Gospel-Centered Parent
This small group resource will help you see your parenting in light of God’s good news! Practical yet theological, simple yet deeply biblical, this text will help parents live out the biblical principles of faith, repentance, and faithfulness to their calling as parents with their children.