After a long day of seesawing emotions, rivers of tears, and volcanic tantrums, my son was exhausted. I read him a story and tucked him in bed for the night. Amid the crowd of his favorite blankets and cuddly stuffed animals, I squeezed in on the bed next to him.

I was disappointed by our difficult day and at my own failures to help him through it. I have learned that his heart is most tender, his soul most bare, in the quiet darkness, wrapped warm in his blue and red fire truck quilt, surrounded by all his favorite items. I snuggled with him, hoping to speak to him about the challenges of the day.

We talked about his behavior and his angry responses. I asked him what he wanted to tell God about his day.

“Mommy, I just can’t pray. Can you?”

I know that hesitancy to come before God messy and ashamed. I’ve felt the same way. It’s as though I think I need to be all cleaned up before I approach the throne.

I want to speak the gospel into my son’s heart. I want to show him Jesus and his need for a Savior. I want him to know that because of Jesus, he can come before God, messes and all. But so often my efforts at pointing him to the gospel fail in the midst of the heated moments and frustrating circumstances. I stumble through, feeling awkward and forced. And in his heightened emotional state, I don’t know that he hears anything I say.

But God is gracious and fills in those gaps left by my imperfect parenting. In the quiet of night, he gave me a moment, an opportunity to speak the gospel to my son when he was most spiritually sensitive and his emotional defenses were down.

Only Way

I did it the only way I know how: through prayer.

Praying aloud for my son to hear, I offered these words to God:

Dear Father in heaven,

We come before you tonight, tired from a long day. You know the challenges we faced today. You know how hard Ian battled with his emotions. In fact, you know all things, Father. You know all our weaknesses and failures. You know sin has a hold on us.

And that’s why you sent your son Jesus. He died for all the times Ian reacts in anger. He died for all the times Ian can’t obey. He died to rescue Ian from each and every one of his sins. 

Father, I thank you so much for Ian and the gift he is to our family. I can see the work you are doing in his heart, even now. I ask that you would continue to draw him to yourself and help him grow in his love for you.

But he can’t do it on his own. He can’t control himself in his own strength. He needs you. You gave us Jesus for that too. Because Jesus always obeyed his mother and father, his perfect life is given to us. Because of Jesus’ perfect life, when you look at Ian, you see Jesus instead.

I ask now that you would be at work in his heart tonight. Show him his need for you. Help him to learn to come to you when he is angry. Help him to know that because of what Jesus did for him, he can come to you anytime. Please give him the strength that only you can give.

Be with him now as he sleeps. Help him to experience your peace and to rest in your love and forgiveness.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

As I prayed this prayer, my son snuggled even closer. He rubbed his head against my arm, sighing contentedly. It was his way of saying his heart needed a cleansing gospel prayer.

Christ Came to Save Sinners

Honestly, it’s what my heart needed most too.

Sometimes all I can do is pray a gospel prayer aloud for my children to hear and learn that the only way to be cleansed from sin is by washing in the fountain of grace. Because isn’t that the only way to the Father? When we come to him, bowed low in brokenness and humility, admitting we can’t do it on our own, and laying all our failures at his feet, he reminds us: Christ came to save sinners.

He came not for the healthy, but the sick. He dined with the outcasts and touched the unclean. The messes we accumulate in our daily lives are the very things he came to clean up. It is brokenness that comes before completeness, sickness before healing, hunger before being filled, and death before life.

I want my son to learn that he can come before God just as he is. I want him to come confidently to the throne dirty and ragged, be drenched by the gospel, and leave wearing the righteousness of Christ. I want him to know that the path from sin to freedom goes right through the muck and mire of life, and that he can leave a trail of dirty foot prints all the way to the base of the cross.

This has since become our nightly routine. We pray through the day, giving God all the messes my son has made. We pray through the gospel and cover ourselves with the cleansing truth of our Savior’s perfect life and death for us. And we close with an “amen” that announces the gospel’s work has been done in our heart.

My son will continue to battle sin. I will continue to fail in my parenting. But the gospel is effective to not only save us for eternity but also cleanse us each and every day. It is my prayer that the more my son experiences gospel cleansing, the more he will seek after it. And may each of his days end in a resounding amen!