I cannot think of one time in the last 16 years of parenting where I have thought: “Oh man I am absolutely crushing this parenting thing.” If anything, parenting has been a constant exposure of my shortcomings, failures and inability to be who I want to be as a Dad. If parenting is an anvil and children are hammers, then I’m getting absolutely pounded.
Parenting has been a constant mirror. It has shown me the stubborn patterns, attitudes and thoughts in my soul. The things that I cannot rid myself of…the things that make me see that I need strength, wisdom, patience and help that can only come from outside of me. Parenting makes me desperate for Christ.
I have always loved the bizarre story of Enoch in Genesis 5. He’s that weird dude who never died for some crazy reason. He was known for walking with God. But the catalyst for his walk with God is rarely highlighted. In Genesis 5:21, we read that Enoch was 65 years old when he had his first son Methuselah and “then he walked with God.” The “then” is the money word—kids came along and Enoch stretched out for God. I connect with that.
Parenting is hard. How are you doing with it? I know, success is not what chases us down and tackles us in our parenting journeys. If there is one thing that chases us, rather haunts us—at least if you are anything like me— it’s guilt. Guilt for what I have failed to do, guilt for what I have done. Guilt for not being enough, not giving enough, not doing enough. Nagging guilt, it chases me.
It’s guilt that teams up with fear in my soul, the fear of failing as a Dad. That’s a biggy for me—a cardinal fear. I don’t want to fail my kids, my wife, my family. But guilt tells me, “man, that ship has already sailed.” This nagging guilt and paralyzing fear can lead me to a downward spiral (which it does plenty of the time) or it can fuel my desperation for Christ (which I pray it will do more of the time).
Gospel means “good news.” Parenting has plenty of bad news, good news is very welcome in this arena. Into this constant exposure, guilt, fear, sense of failure and shame comes news that is so good.
The good news is this: God’s posture toward us is not based on what we have done or have failed to do—it’s not contingent in any way on our performance. He does not assess me on the basis of how good I am as a husband, father or human being. He deals with me and you much differently.
I call Psalm 103 the Parent’s Psalm—this is good news. Take a look.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:8-14)
The character of God is constant, his posture unchanging. He is filled with compassion which equates to understanding and the willingness to suffer with us. He is marked by grace, which means he gives us what we don’t deserve. He is always patient, which means he is slow to be frustrated and slow to get angry. He is marked by love, which means he looks at us with fondness and great care.
This is how he engages tired, guilt-ridden, fearful parents—this is how he treats me. He doesn’t give me what I deserve. He gives me the opposite. He forgives me and forgets my failure. If there is one thing parents need, it’s endless access to a clean slate. I need the strength, energy and perseverance to get up again and again and again after I have screwed it up. This is what a clean slate from God does—it enables me to know forgiveness and to go again.
God knows my frame, he knows I’m made of dust—he doesn’t look down on me for my frailty, instead he has compassion on me. This is comforting my fellow struggler. God is not frustrated at you, he is understanding. Never do we see this more clearly than in Jesus Christ. Look at how he treats struggling people.
How does he treat the head-hanging parent? He comes to us with grace, compassion, love and patience. He weeps with us in our sorrow. He grieves with us in our pain. He bleeds for us in our sin. The cross and empty tomb mean a clean slate for us. The gospel means good news for struggling parents. Jesus is the hope of the parent. He is my hope and yours.