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I’m increasingly convinced that there are only two ways of living: (1) trusting God and living in submission to His will and His rule, or (2) trying to be God. There’s little in between. As sinners, we seem to be better at the latter than we are at the former. This spiritual dynamic hits right at the heart of parenting and marriage.

Parenting

Successful parenting is about rightful, God-ordained loss of control. The goal of parenting is to raise children who were once totally dependent on us to be independent, mature people who, with reliance on God and proper connectedness to the Christian community, are able to stand on their own two feet.

In the early years of parenting, we’re in control of everything, and although we complain about the stress of it all, we like having the power. There’s little that infants and very young children choose to do. We choose their food, times of rest, manner of physical exercise, what they see and hear, where they go, who their friends are—the list could go on and on.

However, the truth is that from day one, our children are growing independent. The baby who once was unable to roll over without assistance can now crawl into the bathroom without our permission and unravel an entire roll of toilet paper. This same child will soon be driving away from the house to places well out of our parental reach.

How many parents have struggled with the friends that their children have chosen? Yes, the choice of companions is a very serious matter, but it’s also a place where we surrender control to a maturing child. The goal of parenting is not to retain tightfisted control over our children in an attempt to guarantee their safety and our sanity. Only God is able to exercise that kind of control. Instead, the goal is to be used of Him to instill in our children an ever-maturing self-control through the principles of the Word and to allow them to exercise ever-widening circles of choice, control, and independence.

God is with us, and He’s working so that these difficult things will result in good things in and through us.

As a counselor and pastor, I regularly worked with parents who wanted to turn back the clock. They thought that the only hope was to go back to the former days of total control. They tried to treat their teenager like a little child. They ended up more like jailers than parents, and they forgot to minister the gospel that was the only hope in those crucial moments of struggle.

It’s vital that we remember three truths of the gospel as it pertains to these parenting struggles:

1. There’s no situation that isn’t under control, because Christ rules over all things for the sake of the church (Eph. 1:22).

2. Not only is the situation under control, but God is at work in it doing the good that He has promised to do (Rom. 8:28). So I don’t need to control my maturing child’s every desire, thought, and action. In each situation, he or she is under the sovereign control of Christ, who is accomplishing what I cannot.

3. The goal of my parenting isn’t to conform my children to my image, but to work so that they’re conformed to the image of Christ. My goal isn’t to clone my tastes, opinions, and habits within my kids. I’m not looking for my image in them; I long to see Christ’s.

We cannot consider parenting without looking honestly at what we, as parents, bring to the struggle. If our hearts are ruled by success, appreciation, and control, we’ll unwittingly hunger for our kids to meet our expectations instead of ministering to their spiritual needs. Instead of seeing moments of struggle as God-given doors of opportunity, we’ll view them as frustrating, disappointing irritants, and we’ll experience growing anger against the very children to whom we’ve been called to minister.

Marriage

The same is true of marriage. Our marriages live in the middle of a world that does not function as God intended. Somehow, some way, our marriages are touched every day by the brokenness of the world. Maybe it simply has to do with the necessity of living with the low-grade hassles of a broken world, or maybe we’re facing major issues that have altered the course of our lives and marriages. But there’s one thing for sure: we will not escape the environment God has chosen for us to live in.

It’s not an accident that we’re conducting our marriages in this broken world. It’s not an accident that we have to deal with the things we do. None of this is fate, chance, or luck. It’s all a part of God’s redemptive plan. Acts 17 says that He determines the exact place where we live and the exact length of our lives.


God knows where we live, and He’s not surprised at what we’re facing. Even though we face things that make no sense to us, there’s meaning and purpose to everything we face. I’m convinced that understanding our fallen world and God’s purpose for keeping us in it is foundational to building marriages of unity, understanding, and love.

You see, most of us have a personal happiness paradigm. Now, it’s not wrong to want to be happy, and it’s not wrong to work toward marital happiness. God has given us the capacity for enjoyment and placed wonderful things around us to enjoy. The problem isn’t that this is a wrong goal, but that it’s way too small of a goal. God is working on something deep, necessary, and eternal.

God has a personal holiness paradigm. Don’t be put off by the language here. The words mean that God is working through our daily circumstances to change us. In His love, He knows that we’re not all we were created to be. Even though it may be hard to admit, there’s still sin inside of us, and that sin gets in the way of what we’re meant to be and designed to do (and, by the way, that sin is the biggest obstacle of all to a marriage of unity, understanding, and love).

God is using the difficulties of the here and now to transform us, that is, to rescue us from us. And because He loves us, He will willingly interrupt or compromise our momentary happiness in order to accomplish one more step in the process of rescue and transformation, to which He is unshakably committed.

When we begin to accept God’s paradigm, life makes more sense—the things we face aren’t irrational trouble but transforming tools. And there’s hope for us and our marriages, because God is in the middle of our circumstances, and He’s using them to mold us into what He created us to be. As He does this, we not only respond to life better, but we become better people to live with, which results in better marriages.

So, somehow, some way, this fallen world and what it contains will enter our doors, but we don’t have to be afraid. God is with us, and He’s working so that these difficult things will result in good things in and through us.

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From the October 2018 Issue
Oct 2018 Issue