Once I actually had kids, this was the picture: I explode in anger over a mild inconvenience; I am far more selfish than I thought; and for my precious child to scream, No! – or lie to my face – upsets me more than I thought possible. And who factored in the cooking, cleaning and laundry?So here I am with a parenting book!You see, in these twenty-some years of parenting, God has grown me up. He has softened the edge of my anger; he has made me less selfish; and He has brought me to an intimate and loving relationship not only with Him but with my children. We are not a perfect family, but we are a healthy family. (It is only after giving up the image of a perfect family is it possible to be a healthy family.) I have learned many things at His hand that I would like to share, that I hope will encourage you.
I grew up in a home where religion was ridiculed, and though I attended the occasional Sunday school class at a tender age, my parents were not Christian. The years after my mother died (I was nine) were marked by my father’s open hostility to anything religious. Despite my home of violence and abuse, God accepted me as His child. Three important truths have emerged for me from this background.
First, God seeks us out. I was very young when He drew me to Himself, giving me the desire to pray and read Psalms. God personally sought me out and revealed Himself to me. I knew that God loved me and that I could interact with Him authentically and unashamedly. I later learned from the Bible that we love because He first loved us, and while we were going out merry way, He way, He draws us – calling us by name and seeking a love relationship. Had He not been calling me those long and confusing years, I would not have stood a chance.
This leads to the second truth: nothing can thwart God’s plan. He will reveal Himself to us through our fallen lives – including a dysfunctional family. I might easily have fallen through the cracks, but God’s plan is not thwarted and, despite it all, He saved me. We can take courage in God’s great sovereignty over our children, and not be afraid for them. Whatever responsibility we have to our children, we are primarily responsible to hear God and follow Him. He is sovereign. What a relief!
The third vital truth is that the trappings of church are not the same as relationship with God. My own relationship with Jesus is not mixed with memories of sitting in pews, passing a plate or singing hymns. These are not wrong things, but they are not the same thing. Countless Christians the world over, throughout history, have known God intimately without any of this.
Once, as young Christians, my husband and I were rehearsing music with the young piano player from our church. He began playing an old hymn that we didn’t know. “You don’t know that?” he said. “What kind of church did you grow up in?!”
We didn’t grow up in church. Jesus lives outside church, too.
Christ is not the same as “Christianity.” I have learned to focus on the simplicity and centrality of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:3). While growing up in a non-Christian home carries grave dangers, knowing Him apart from the trappings of religion is an inestimable advantage. These truths have given me a heart-knowledge that wild horses could not drag out of me: Jesus is about the heart. Nowhere do we see Jesus focus on appearance, words, behavior, obedience or anything except as it issues from the heart. He does not focus on the fruit; He waters the tree and the fruit comes. Everything Jesus ever did shows us that the heart is what matters. He let a woman go who had been caught in adultery (John 8:11). But he lambasts a church leader for asking a question (Matthew 16:1-4). As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).
Jesus offers to restore our heart, give us a new heart, and indwell our heart. The more deeply I know Him, the more He shows me that all of life issues from the heart. When we know Him, He will set us free.
Our heart freed to love God, our redeemed selves, and those around us, make life worth the living. A heart freed in Christ brings maturity, joy, Christ-likeness. This journey in parenting is about our heart turned to our children and their hearts turned to God. “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). Parenting begins with the heart.