When we had our first child, I experienced the flood of emotions that I had heard parents talk about. Amazement. Wonder. Gratitude. The first two days in the hospital were wonderful, as we were surrounded by helpful nurses and encouraged by friendly visits. But I’ll never forget the feeling that gripped me as we drove away from the hospital with our two-day-old child in the back seat: “Do they really trust us with this child? What are we going to do without a button to summon nurses to help us?” In a word, I felt fear, apprehension, a deep sense of insufficiency.
God has been faithful; we relish the responsibility He’s now given to us of raising four beautiful daughters. But this fear on the part of parents doesn’t completely go away, does it? It morphs and takes on different forms as our kids grow. We begin to fear future years of rebellion from our kids: What if they reject the Christian faith? We fear their disrespect: What if they refuse to submit to us? We fear our own weakness: What if we make big mistakes in parenting? We feel what I felt as we left that hospital nine years ago: fear, apprehension, and a sense of our own insufficiency.
When we do what is right for our children, making them unhappy in the process, it is not their disapproval that should grip us, but the eternal approval that we have before God, in Christ.
Let me offer a few words from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that can help us push back on these all-too-common fears. First, we can parent our children without fear because of God’s sovereignty in salvation. The Apostle Paul does not mince words with regard to our state apart from Christ: we were “dead” in our sins (Eph. 2:1). Not wounded, partially broken, or gasping for air—dead. One of the glorious doctrines of the Christian faith is that of regeneration—the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit that makes dead hearts come alive to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Fellow parents, we can’t manufacture regeneration. It is a work of God the Holy Spirit, who alone can make something that is dead come alive. We can bear witness, daily, to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can teach our children God’s Word and the doctrines of the faith. We can live as obedient examples to Jesus Christ for our children to see. We can pray until we weep. But no parent ever accomplished regeneration in the heart of his or her children. So, go ahead and unburden yourself from that one. It’s God’s job.
Second, we can parent our children without fear, admitting our insufficiency and weakness. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that since our salvation is by grace alone, not by works, no Christian should “boast” of his or her approval before God (Eph. 2:9). What do we have to boast about, other than Jesus Christ our Savior? We were dead in sin; He raised us to life and gave us the gift of faith. So, parents, let’s be free to admit our own insufficiency and weakness in parenting—just as we admit our ultimate insufficiency and weakness before a holy God. We will absolutely make mistakes; we should not inordinately fear that. We will absolutely prove insufficient to save our children; we’ve already covered that. So, let us let go of the fear of failure in parenting. We’ll all fail. Let us pray for God to direct the hearts of our children—even through our imperfect guidance—toward a Savior who will never fail.
Third, we can parent our children without fear because of God’s eternal approval of us in Christ. Even now, during our children’s young years, I don’t enjoy it when they’re upset with me. I love being the “fun” dad—saying yes to everything I can and watching grateful expressions on young faces. I don’t like saying no. I don’t like being told that I’m “no fun.” If I’m honest, the reason I don’t like that is my own insecurity. I’m a grown man . . . and I crave approval from children. How silly is that? But, my guess is that this intensifies as kids grow older. Of course we want to be fun. Of course we want to give our kids things they want. But often we can’t. And when we do what is right for our children, making them unhappy in the process, it is not their disapproval that should grip us but the eternal approval that we have before God in Christ. Our heavenly Father “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4–5). It’s that eternal approval of a loving Father that strengthens us to deal with the angry (and hopefully temporary) disapproval of our children.
Dr. Jon Nielson is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Roselle, Ill. He is author of several books, including volumes in the Reformed Expository Bible Studies series.