Parenting my three kids provides some of the greatest joys of my life, and also some of the deepest frustrations. I love jumping on the trampoline with them, wrestling, tickling, cuddling, seeing them score a goal, or bringing home a great grade. I feel honored to console them when they are sad, encourage them when they are down, and tell them I love them as they drift off to sleep.
Yet it sometimes feels like for every one of these idyllic times, there are 10 moments of “You’d better watch your tone, mister,” “Don’t you dare talk to your mother that way, young lady,” or “No more screens for the rest of your life!” How many times have I been so proud of myself for taking them on some adventure, only to end up furious after a brawl breaks out in the backseat?
Perhaps it’s not really 10 to 1, but it seems the hard moments have more gravitational pull than the wonderful moments have buoyancy. As those moments stack up, I feel defeated, discouraged, and demoralized. I don’t want to win the moment by shouting louder, but sometimes it seems that’s all I’ve got in the toolbox. Afterward I feel terrible, and the win wasn’t a win at all. And if my emotions are threadbare, I may snap at my wife, my one great ally. That doesn’t help.
The cumulative effect of these discouraging episodes is that I can feel utterly isolated. As a pastor, I’ve talked with many parents whose stories suggest I am not alone in this cycle of parental struggle.
Question is, what do we do with our sense of defeat, our sense of helplessness, our anger and frustration? There is a refuge—maybe even a solution—and it isn’t found over ice in a highball glass.
As parents, our great refuge is in sound doctrine. Specifically, we need to preach to ourselves repeatedly that by God’s grace, we have been united to Jesus Christ.
Union with Christ is an often overlooked doctrine, but it’s critical to Paul’s teaching. It’s also critical for a Christian parent’s sanity. Far more than (but certainly not less than) forgiveness of sins and a personal relationship, union with Christ says we are bound to Jesus by his death and resurrected life such that his glory becomes ours. Romans 6 describes it well:
For if we have been united with him in a death like his [through baptism], we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him. . . . So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:4–6)
Paul is saying you and I are so thoroughly bound to Christ that our sinful selves died in his death, and we live in freedom through his resurrection. We are so united to Christ by faith that when God the Father looks at you, he sees God the Son. He sees the miracles, he sees the messianic generosity and kindness, he sees the perfect obedience and manifest wisdom, he sees the cross and the empty tomb.
We must see ourselves this way, too.
Bryan Chapell describes our union with Christ this way:
I gain the benefits of his being, his reputation, his standing with God, and the credit for his righteousness. Because Christ lives in me, I, who was dead apart from him, live. His life is mine. I do not (and should not) claim to be God, but he grants me the privilege of his son’s status by virtue of my union with Christ. . . . His righteousness is mine because Christ’s life is in me. He supplies my identity because God has made him my life.
Your defiant teenager doesn’t change that status. Your anger with your lying tweenager hasn’t washed it away. The subsequent strain on your marriage hasn’t disqualified you.
For Christians, Jesus is our identity. He is who we are. You get to relax a little, because you are not identified by your teenager’s behavior. You can take a breath, because you are not the sum of the positives and negatives during this season of family life. Sure, you need to attend to these things responsibly. But you need not despair because, if you are in Christ, you are in the grip of a good and sovereign God who loves you and loves your children more than you do.
An amazing thing often happens within our families when we take our union with Christ seriously. When we begin to rest in this truth about ourselves, we take some of the burden from our kids. When we trust we already have all we need in Jesus, we shed our existential need for them to get their act together. This lifts a great weight our children’s shoulders and gives them the space they need to get their act together. We also become quicker to treat them with compassion than with control.
Disciplinary consequences often become more about formation and less about retaliation. When they blow it—when they grow scales and horns and fangs, when they take your loving heart out of your chest and stomp on it—you have the undying assurance of your Savior’s abiding grace. Remember, the one to whom you’re intimately and eternally united was also treated terribly by the ones who should’ve loved him.
With, For, In—Forever
So take heart, dear parent. Marinate in passages like John 15:1–11, Romans 6, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 2:12, and 2 Corinthians 5:17–21.
Above all, trust that Jesus Christ is with you, that he is in you, that he is for you, and that his victory over sin and death is the truest thing about you, because you are united to him—no matter what your crazy kid does.