I was recently driving across town with our daughter Paige when a car pulled into our lane and abruptly hit the brakes. Before I had a chance to respond sweet little Paige erupted from the backseat, “OH COME ON! YOU ARE A HORRIBLE DRIVER!…right, Dad?”
Being a parent is a humbling endeavor, isn’t it? It seems hardly a day goes by when I don’t drop the ball in front of my kids in some way, shape or form. Fortunately, our three little ones are still too young to fully understand just how depraved their dad is, but a day is coming when they are going to realize neither of their parents are the superheroes they once thought we were.
Mom loses her cool. Dad occasionally suffers from turrets while driving. Sooner or later they’ll realize mom and dad are painfully imperfect.
As a parent, it can be tempting to try to hide all of my shortcomings from my kids. I think this is probably true of a lot of us, especially we Christian parents who desire to raise our kids in a certain way. We don’t want them to make the same mistakes we’ve made. We don’t want them to have to learn so many things the hard way. We hope and pray our kids manage to do it better than we have.
But if we’re not careful, this can put an awful lot of pressure on us parents. It can lead us to think we need to get our act together and ascend the heights of parental or moral perfection, lest our kids find us out and promptly run after Satan. For those of us all too aware of our own inability to do this, it’s tempting to pretend.
But here’s what I hope will be a welcome bit of good news to all the other imperfect parents out there: our kids don’t need perfect parents, just repentant ones.
The kids I see struggle the most as they grow older often come from Christian homes where a high moral code was projected and expected, but where repentance was rarely modeled. Mom and dad expected a certain amount of righteousness and perhaps they themselves truly lived it out, but their kids never got to see their parent’s humanity. They never saw their parents fail like Peter, or doubt like Thomas, or wrestle with God as Jacob did. And because they never saw it modeled for them, they didn’t know what to do when they themselves inevitably failed, or struggled to believe, or needed to have it out with God. Some eventually came to conclude their faith was somehow broken because it wasn’t as easy as mom and dad made it appear.
On the other hand, many of the kids who come from Christian homes that I see thrive the most as they grow older had parents who were as human as any; and they didn’t try to hide it from their kids. They talked about the challenges of living a life of faith. No questions were off limits. Sin wasn’t downplayed in a cheap grace sort of way, nor was it swept under the rug. Instead, their parents were quick to own their sin and ask for forgiveness. These are the kids who always seem to come out of the wilderness standing. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
One of the central messages of the bible is that striving after the law always ends in death. It either leaves us puffed up with pride when we feel we are doing it well or devastated when we realize we aren’t. Both suck the life out of us and our families. But grace? Grace is different. Grace takes the pressure off. Grace invites us to obey out of rested thankfulness, rather than duty or fear.
Parents who center themselves on God’s gospel of grace are free in a way that few parents are. They are free to fail, and they are free to let their kids see them fail, because Jesus has succeeded on their behalf. Every misstep is just another opportunity to turn back to God as they celebrate how good He is, not how good they are. The pressure isn’t on parents or their kids to be perfect because they know Jesus was perfect for them and that is enough. Like Paul, they are free to say to their kids with humility and thankfulness, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim 1:15).
So parents, lets put to rest the idea that in order to raise great kids we’ve got to aspire to the heights of unflinching personal holiness or parental perfection. Breathe a little. Remember that grace is good news precisely because we are so bad at times.
You fall short. God knows it, you know it, and your kids know it (or they will soon). Invite them in. Offer them not just your answers, but your questions too. Let them see the way you follow Jesus, the good, the bad and the ugly. And perhaps most importantly, let them see you own your sin, calling it what it is, and then point them to the God who loves us anyway.