An article in the January Christianity Today is a good read for parents everywhere who struggle with the question, “I’ve done all I know to do, all that God asked of me, but my child just isn’t following what I have taught them. What more could I have done?” It points out how we as Christian parents may have misunderstood our role of parenting – as being much more powerful than it really is, leaving out the sovereignty and grace of God in the process. There is definitely a trend in modern Christianity to ignore the fact that God is the One who will do the mighty work. We lean way to much on our own faulty abilities and understanding, thinking if we “do it right,” all be well. If we believe it is all up to us, then where does God figure in? Yes, my parents’ role did influence and teach me toward God, but in the end, God called me and I answered. When that happened, all my parents could do was hope and pray. They were not part of that equation when it was just God and me, alone in that moment. They cannot get the glory in my life, only God can. They will be rewarded for their faithfulness, obviously, but not because I grew up to serve God, but because they fulfilled their role – to be faithful. They will enjoy the fruit of their labor, but God still gets the credit – all the glory for whatever He has done through me.
Who’s In Control?
We must assume, then, that there is serious error in our beliefs about parenting. We have made far too much of ourselves and far too little of God, reflecting our sinful bent to see ourselves as more essential and in control than we actually are. It’s also our heritage as good Americans, psychologist Harriet Lerner observed in her 1998 book, The Mother Dance: We believe that we can fix every problem, that we are masters over our fate. The root of much of our pain in parenting, she writes, is “the belief that we should have control over our children when it is hard enough to have control over ourselves.”
The reflex to judge ourselves by our children, and to judge others by their children, has further implications: It reveals a faulty view of spiritual formation. We often expect that the children of believing parents, whether the children claim Christ yet or not, will show the same kind of spiritually mature attitudes and behavior we hope to see in each other: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, and obedience, as a beginning list.
When we engage in spiritual determinism and a human view of spiritual formation, we can easily fall into judging others. Jeanine, a friend of mine for years, told me that her sixth-grade daughter, Julia, who was struggling with her identity and making friends, was labeled “demon-possessed” by another family in the church. “Some people—even in church—have already written her off. And she’s only 11 years old,” Jeanine told me. The judgment was not only on her daughter’s spiritual condition but also on her own.