My mentor always says parenting will test and grow our faith like little else can. Each year, as my daughter gets older, and the stakes inherently rise, I agree more and more. I, like today’s guest Robin Patchen, once thought if parents did A and B, C and D would necessarily occur. But then I began to encounter parents who’d done everything they knew to do, who lived incredibly godly lives, to have their children rebel against nearly everything they’d taught them. And suddenly, my black and white world was marbleized with all sorts of ugly grays.
Trusting God with My Children by guest blogger Robin Patchen
I have a confession to make: I have three teenagers, and all of them have rebelled to one degree or another. In fact, one rebelled so thoroughly, he spent what should have been his senior year of high school in rehab. I promise you, when he was a little baby, all smiles and giggles, I never imagined that. When I was reading Goodnight Moon to that boy for the thousandth time, you couldn’t have convinced me he’d ever struggle with addiction. When I homeschooled him, taught him to read, took him to church, rehab never entered my mind.
So what went wrong?
When my kids were preschoolers, my husband and I attended a parenting conference. A man I respected greatly taught one of the classes. He made a lot of points in that class, but one stuck with me.
He suggested that some of the “great” men in the Bible weren’t all that great as fathers. He mentioned Eli, whose sons were called “scoundrels” (1 Samuel 2:12). He talked about David. One of his sons, Amnon, raped his own sister (2 Samuel 13). Another of his sons, Absolom, started a revolution (2 Samuel 15). This Bible teacher’s point was clear: If your children misbehave, then you must be a bad parent.
Some evidence for that idea can be found in the Bible. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (NKJV).
Way back when I had preschool children, I savored that idea like I would the best Swiss chocolate. I believed I had that much power, that if I just did my job right, my children would obey me, walk with God, and be blessed. I was convinced that if I could just be good enough, then my kids could skip that pesky rebellious stage and slide effortlessly into adulthood.
What a nice thought, that great parenting plus solid Bible teaching equals perfect kids.
A decade later, I can testify to one thing—that’s a total crock.
Don’t get me wrong, friends. It’s essential that we parents do our very best. We must discipline our children consistently. We must teach them the Bible. We must expose them to truth and encourage them to do right. It’s essential that we love and spend time with them and guard their influences. There’s all that stuff, and there’s mountains more we need to do to ensure our children have the best chance in life.
But do our efforts guarantee results? If we do all of that, will we then have godly, obedient children?
Maybe. Maybe not.
If you read Proverbs 22:6 closely, you’ll see it doesn’t promise that your children will never depart from the way you taught them to go. It says that “when he is old, he will not depart.”
What about the time between today and “when he is old”? Will he not depart from the correct way at all, ever? How does that fit in with the idea that “all have sinned and fall short…?” (Romans 3:23) Other Scriptures warn us that children do rebel against their parents, even perfect parents.
“Listen, O heavens! Pay attention, earth!
This is what the Lord says:
‘The children I raised and cared for
have rebelled against me.’” Isaiah 2:1
If our perfect God doesn’t have perfect children, how can we, as imperfect as we are? And do we truly believe that our children are simply blank slates, or are they, like us, born with a sin nature? Why do we believe we can outsmart sin with rules and guidelines?
It’s a lovely idea. Or perhaps, it’s an insidiously evil idea. Because if I believe I can control my children’s futures with perfect parenting, where does God fit in? If I believe that Bible teaching and Scripture memorization will make my kids into perfect little Christian soldiers, what room have I left for grace? And when my children fail to be perfect—which they are guaranteed to do—who do I blame? Myself, for all the times I failed? God, whom I was trying so hard to obey? Or my children for not living up to my expectations?
I thank God that over the years of parenting, He taught me that, ultimately, I have very little control over their choices. The older they get, the less control I have and the more freedom they have to make good choices or to mess up their lives.
(Join us next Thursday for part 2 of this post where Robin will talk about trusting God with our kids.)
Let’s talk about this! For those of you with rebellious children, can I say, I’m sorry. That’s hard. I suspect there are times when you’re consumed with guilt, analyzing ever word you spoke or lesson you did or didn’t teach. I suspect there are times when you feel judged by the Christian community, because many of us tend to think in black and white, forgetting that life is incredibly complicated. And third, I suspect your heart is breaking as you watch your child, the one you love so intensely it hurts, self-destruct.
Again, I’m sorry. May we pray for you?
Some of you, who are or have parented prodigals, might have words of wisdom or encouragement to share. I encourage you to do so in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.
You may also find the following helpful:
Prodigals and Those Who Love Them: Words of Encouragement for Those Who Wait by Ruth Bell Graham
If time and money were no object, Robin would spend her life traveling. Her goal is to visit every place in the entire world–twice. She longs to meet everybody and see everything and spread the good news of Christ. Alas, time is short and money is scarce, and her husband and three teenagers don’t want to traipse all around the world with her, so Robin does the next best thing: she writes. In the tales she creates, she can illustrate the unending grace of God through the power and magic of story.
She thought they’d never find her. And then her daughter vanished.
Marisa Vega’s life as an adoptive mom in a tiny Mexican village isn’t what she’d dreamed while growing up in New York, but as the target of a man who’s convinced she stole millions of dollars from his financial firm, Marisa believes hiding is her only way to stay alive. When her daughter is snatched and held for ransom, Marisa must discover who really stole the money in order to rescue her.
Months after being kidnapped, tortured, and left with PTSD, Nate Boyle is ready to live a quiet life in rural New Hampshire. When the source of his breakout newspaper article—and the woman who haunts his dreams—begs for help, he gets pulled into a riddle that’s proved unsolvable for nearly a decade.
Can Nate and Marisa unravel the years-old mystery and bring her daughter home?