In one of the Bible’s most significant understatements, God said to the first mom: “In pain you shall bring forth children.” Surely no one who has ever been a parent would argue with it. Of course, it’s not referring merely to the physical pain of labor and delivery. At that point, the pain is just getting started. It’s the pain of broken bones and broken hearts and broken dreams. It’s the pain of arguments and addictions. It’s the pain of birthing a child and raising a child in a world that’s been corrupted by sin.
There’s simply no epidural powerful enough to overcome the pain involved in parenting.
Modeling Gospel Hope
Fortunately, however, Scripture’s first word about parenting isn’t the last word. Something amazing happened right there in the Garden. In the midst of devastating judgment, Adam and Eve heard an announcement of hope. God promised that one of their descendants would crush the head of the evil serpent who had brought so much pain into the world.
And Adam and Eve believed it. Adam named his wife Eve, which means “mother of all the living,” demonstrating their hope in God’s promised grace. Ever since, countless moms and dads have found hope in gospel grace amid the pain of parenting.
I have to admit, however, that I haven’t always been one of those parents. In fact, I’ve spent a lot of my parenting years with a profound misunderstanding of what it means to take hold of the gospel as a parent. I’ve often operated as if my child is more in need of the gospel than I am.
Gospel-centered parenting used to mean to me: How am I going to get my kid to believe the gospel, live for Christ, stay out of trouble, and be really involved at church? But it has come to mean something different to me. Now it means: How am I going to live in front of my child like I have put all of my hope in the gospel?
If we really believe the gospel, then we’ll be free to name and confess our sin in front of our children in age-appropriate ways. We won’t be so afraid of ruining our credibility that we never allow our children to see our failures. Instead, we’ll be more afraid of doing harm to their grasp of the gospel by giving them the idea that the Christian life is about striving for perfect behavior, rather than receiving the forgiveness available in Christ.
If we really believe the gospel, we’ll put our faith in God rather than in our personal example, our manipulation tactics, or our ability to worry our kids into the kingdom. We’ll trust God to call, woo, convict, regenerate, save, and sanctify. We’ll recognize that these things aren’t up to us, and simply aren’t in our power. And when we really believe that, we’ll be saved from being crushed by a mountain of guilt and regret when we don’t see these things happening in our children’s lives. Rather than giving in to hopelessness when we can’t see God at work, or when progress is slower than we might want, we will trust God to do his work in his timing.
Gospel-centered parenting helps us to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing is our child’s connectedness to Christ. It’s not that other things won’t bother us or will never keep us up at night; it’s that our confidence in Christ will shape our perspective about everything else. A string of bad grades, or a surprise tattoo, or an undesirable date won’t have the power to throw us off kilter. When our child moves in with someone rather than get married, or gets divorced, or gets arrested, or gets fired, we’ll be able to keep the central issue at the center of our responses and at the center of our prayers: whether our child is spiritually dead or spiritually alive. Everything else flows out of that; everything else is built on that.
As parents, we love to fix things. When we see a problem in our child’s life, we dig into our parenting toolkit and start fishing around for a fresh parenting strategy, some good advice, a stash of behind-the-scenes interventions, a new set of rules—whatever we can find that will do the job. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of these tools. It’s just that our quick reliance on these methods effectively takes the needs of our child into our own hands rather than entrusting them into God’s. If all of our hope is in him, instead of despairing, strategizing, and worrying, we will pray. Really pray.
- We’ll pray that our children will know Christ in a genuine and life-altering way.
- We’ll pray that our children will open up God’s Word on their own.
- We’ll pray that God will give our children companions in the pursuit of godliness.
- We’ll pray that God will give our children the grace for singleness or for marriage.
- We’ll pray that God will convict our children of sin and provide the power to forsake it.
And we’ll keep on praying that he who began a good work in our child will be faithful to complete it on the day of Christ Jesus. We can be sure that on that day, the pain in parenting will finally be gone for good.