Ephesians 2:8 says, "For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."
This verse is an old favorite around this goofy blog. You'll find it neatly "tucked in" to various posts.
Today, as I read it again in my Bible, I remembered that salvation is a gift only given from God. It is not a gift my husband and I can give to our children. If it were, they would have it unwrapped and comfortably sitting smack dab in the middle of their hearts. Most every other Christian parent would do the same with their own children, I imagine.
Being an avid reader of biographies and autobiographies, I must admit that I have never, ever read about a devout Christian hero of the faith attributing their salvation to their parents. Never have I listened to a moving testimony only to hear the confession that the born again Christian turned to Jesus because of his or her parents. And in my own life, the moment of rebirth happened completely apart from my parents, they were probably not even a passing thought at the time. (Sorry, Mom and Dad, but that's the truth!)
So, then, why do we as parents burden ourselves with the lie that it is our job to save our own children?
Many years ago, I was a camp counselor at a Christian high school summer camp. We were under the strict orders to always encourage children to wait for their parents to pick them up before they made any commitment to Jesus Christ! Although I understand a parent's desire to be instrumental during this monumental moment in their child's life, I speak as a former teenager when I say, what a way to rain on that parade! Does God truly need a group of controlling parents to save His chosen ones? Is He really that small?
But I, too, have fallen under this deception. Every time I think that I can change my kids spiritually, I move into a controlling mode of parenting. My ammunition is vast - manipulation, coercion, shame, provocation, nagging, impatience... Sometimes, these methods do appear to work, and the child seems to "see the light." But deep down, if I have not asked heart-probing questions and sought to gently guide towards the Author of all faith, in essence, if I have not chosen to abide in Christ at that moment (John 15:5), any outward performance by my child is just that - an outward performance. In Christ's words, these are "like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead peoples' bones." (Matthew 23:27, NLT) As I mentioned last time, there is nothing wrong with outward performance...when it's about getting your children to brush their teeth or get their homework done...when it's about producing "Christian" fruit by their own effort (or yours!), it's nothing but stinky corpses.
I love that Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, doesn't end with saying that salvation is by faith, a gift from God. He adds that this gift of God, salvation, is "not of works, lest anyone should boast." Though I know the context suggests this is for the saved person specifically, perhaps this might also be a gentle nudge from Paul to Christian parents. We cannot save our children, not by our own works (and they can be many in the religious realm today). Their choices are their own, "lest anyone should boast," including any "successful" parents.
This begs the question, then. What is our role as Christian parents? Those of you patient enough to still be reading this have probably been asking this question for the last twelve paragraphs...
Hooray for Paul who tells us!
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10)
Spirit-filled parents have a huge job: to walk in the good works God has prepared for them. In some areas, this will look similar for all of us. We are to not provoke our children, but to "bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). No matter what our situation, all Christian parents will have this same "good work" to do. In other areas, usually what I would term non-Biblical issues, different Christian families may have different "god works" to do which will fit with our spiritual gifts and God-given passions. You may be called to homeschool your children, or to adopt, to be very politically active or to go to another country as a missionary family. These are where our God-given passions and spiritual gifts come in, and we get to walk in them as God prepares the way.
Such rest in this! YOU are specifically called to parent your child. I know this because you have been given your child and no one else has. THAT is a calling! And God prepares your good works beforehand that you should walk in them.
If you are struggling with knowing the exact ways to walk in these good works...welcome to the club! But might I suggest that we all look at the perfect parent, God the Father, for some direction: He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him. (Psalm 103:10-13, my emphasis)
Peace, like a lazy morning mist, has melted into our home as we allow Him to prepare the works of the day. That moment-by-moment faith allows us to be Spirit-filled, obedient, and compassionate to our children. It has also allowed us to let go of undue guilt or defensiveness as we listen to all of the questions - Why are you doing AWANA? Why are you not doing AWANA? Are they always this loud/quiet/energetic/lethargic? I find myself just smiling and nodding, shrugging my shoulders and just wanting to hug Gil and the children a lot.
I loved this quote by Leslie Leyland Fields in a recent Christianity Today article: It is faith rather than formula, grace rather than guarantees, steadfastness rather than success that bridges the gap between our own parenting efforts and what, by God's grace, our children grow up to become."
As safe as formulas, guarantees, and the idea of "success" may be to us all, we are called to faith, grace, and steadfastness, both in life and in parenting. There is much less predictability this way, and perhaps even a bit more agony, but abiding in Christ is never without reward (and controlling wiles are never without their damage).
As my dear mother-in-law said to me only last week, "I do not want to change things...but I want things to change."
May this be true of us all as we parent our children. When we see areas of the heart that need addressing in our children, may we desire and even seek change, but may we also rest in the Only One who does the actual changing.
Imagine me with my right hand up. I do solemnly swear to make this more practical. I do solemnly swear to throw the soapbox into the attic at least until next week.
Resting in His Power to Change (even if it's me, not the kids He changes!),