Parents: you do not have ultimate control over the spiritual state of your children’s souls. Does this statement bring you a sense of joy and peace or fear and worry?
I heard someone say once that our greatest comfort as parents is that the two things we worry about most– our children’s physical and spiritual well-being – are not ultimately under our control. After an ER visit and countless close calls in the last five years, I have experienced how true that first half is. It’s good to know that God is in control of the health and safety of my children because try as I might to protect them, there are a thousand potentially harmful situations out there that I am unable to account for.
As Christians though, my husband and my greatest desire for our children is not that they would live long healthy lives, our deepest prayer is that they would love God and live lives that bring him pleasure. We want them to know God personally, to trust him with their whole hearts, to taste the sweetness of being in relationship with him, and to count everything else as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. We want them to be driven by a passion for his glory and to commit their lives to the cause of the gospel. And we want more than anything for this to come out of a heart that is made new by God because it is impossible otherwise.
As I have grown in my understanding of the gospel over the years, I have been made undone over and over again with gratitude for God’s sovereign choice to make me, once spiritually dead, alive. I know experientially in the depths of my being that as the Scriptures say, had God not opened my eyes to see and value him, I would not do so— and I tremble with awe at the thought. The knowledge of the sovereign will of God in initiating and bringing about salvation has been a source of great joy and humility in my life, but I found that after my first daughter was born, somehow it became a subtle source of fear.
The question lurking in my mind was this: What if God doesn’t choose to save my children? The Bible has many stories of godly parents whose children rejected God. What’s to say that it would be any different in our case? And so, the truth of sovereign grace that brought me joyful gratitude in relation to my own soul started to wear away and burden me as a mom. That is, it did until I was brought low in my own eyes that God’s mercy may be lifted up.
It had been a week of God stripping away my pride in my ability to parent and one night, with clarity I saw that I was doing many of the things I never wanted to as a mom. I was comparing, speaking out of irritation, being overly concerned about others’ opinions, being inconsistent, and other things that, if left unchanged, meant we were going down the road toward being a family full of fear, bitterness, ungratefulness, and hurt. In the midst of feeling the weight of my sin and failure, anxious and unable to sleep, the thought came clearly to me:
Do I want my children to be at the mercy of my parenting, or at the mercy of God?
That was the turning point for me from anxious grief to joyful trust and rest (and with that, thankfully, sleep.) This was it, the question that cast a light on my prideful fears about the salvation of my children and offered me a chance to step into grateful, humble trust. Do I want my children to be at the mercy of my parenting, or at the mercy of God? In other words: Do I want their futures– namely the state of their hearts, whether or not they love Jesus, and where they will be for eternity– to be at the mercy of my ability to be the right kind of godly mom? Me, inconsistent at best, and love them as I may, still sinful, selfish, and foolish at times? Or do I want them to be at the mercy of God who is abounding in love and mercy, unchanging, able, and willing to save?
My fear and dread over God’s sovereign choice and our need for him to change my children’s hearts revealed a prideful trust in myself: I’d rather be told that if I did the right things and was the right kind of mom, I’d be guaranteed God-fearing children. Here, my prideful heart rejects its absolute dependence on God and says, “What?? I could do everything right and my kids still could reject God? How scary and unfair.”
But with a realistic taste of my own self and a picture painted of what my family would really look like were it all up to my performance, God’s sovereign mercy and grace brings about a completely different reaction. It’s, “What? I can do everything wrong and my kids still have a chance of loving God? Thank God, there is hope!” Like the parable of the workers, I begin to see myself as one of those who have worked much less in the day but still have been paid more than I deserve, and I walk away in awe of mercy given at the free will of the owner of the field.
Reading through the Bible about families used to scare me. There were all these godly people having evil children, seen especially starkly in the lines of the kings. And yet, maybe that’s because I was thinking of myself as the wrong kind of king. Elisabeth Elliot quotes Thomas Fullerin in her book, Gateway To Joy (italics mine):
Lord, I find the genealogy of my Savior strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations. (1) Reheboam begat Abijah; that is, a bad father begat a bad son. (2) Abijah begat Asa; that is, a bad father begat a good son. (3) Asa begat Jehosaphat; that is, a good father a good son. (4) Jehoshaphat begat Joram; that is, a good father a bad son. I see, Lord, from hence that my father’s piety cannot be entailed; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son.
In spite of the failures of their mother, by the grace of God, my children may still grow up to love and serve the true and living God. This is good news for them indeed.
It’s not that we can do whatever we want as parents and it doesn’t matter because, hey, God is in control! We trust that God would work through our imperfect parenting to draw our children to himself. And we as individuals will answer to God one day for everything we do and say, so we want to do what’s right in his sight. But we need to repent of ways we want to rely on our own merit, trusting our family’s standards or hoping in parenting methods and advice, instead of falling on the mercy of our exceedingly compassionate, gracious, and sovereign God.
So we plead. We pray that we would see the fruit of obedience in our children’s lives stemming from new, Holy Spirit wrought hearts. We ask for souls that are awakened by God to put faith in the saving work of Christ and to do and desire things that dead hearts never could. We put kindling around them– teaching, loving, disciplining, instructing, repenting– and we pray, pray, pray for the Holy Spirit to send fire. Yet we do all this not in dreadful fear of God’s sovereignty, but in faith and with gratitude because being at his mercy means there is hope for them and peace for us.