An old friend likes to say, “I was the perfect parent–until I started having children.”
You know the story. The idealistic 20-something sees children acting up in the grocery store and thinks to herself, “I will never let my children act like that.” And then, as if to mock her own words, her children became THOSE children.
The one guarantee I can share with you is that there is no guarantee–no manual for raising the perfect child. It does not exist. Why? Because the perfect child does not exist. He’s just a myth.
I read them: Those books about raising children. Meant to give you the formula for The Perfect Child, those books only deepen the guilt.
I read them, looked at my own children, and the guilt deepened. I must be doing it all wrong. My children not only opposed those perfect parenting formulas, they stomped, shredded, chewed, hit one another with, and tore into little bits those guilt-inducing instructional books.
And my guilt grew exponentially. This is all my fault. What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I do this better? Make me a solid list of rules I can follow so these children can become perfect (and so I, by association, can become the Perfect Parent). No such list ever appeared. But boy, the publishing houses have tried!
And then I encountered grace. While I was so bent on following the law, I failed to see the truth of grace: that I could never do it right. That they would never become perfect. That every day, in every way, we all fail. And at that moment of realization, law in all its sternness became balanced with grace in all its sweetness.
That I can never match up to the obligations of the law is abundantly clear. In his essay “The Chronicle of an Undeception,” Michael Bauman says, “The tragic vision of life arises from the fact that we are flawed—deeply, desperately, tragically flawed—and we cannot be trusted. We are broken at the soul; our defect is life wide and heart deep.” I am in desperate need of One whose perfection can fill all those empty places of failure.
And what I so desperately needed to teach my children was that they, too, were flawed and needed the sweet sacrifice of a Savior to cancel all that. Once I–and my children–can learn, really internalize, that truth, then redemption can take place.
You see, I was trying to impose a set of laws on myself and on my family, and by sheer force of will make them abide by these rules, these formulas.
But what all those parenting books never told me was the ugly truth. Sets of rules imposed upon sinners won’t save them from their sins. The rules (or laws) only deepen the sense of failure, as the book of Romans so beautifully tells us.
What I need, and what my children need, is the truth of the gospel, taught daily. Only then can we be free from the guilt, the shame, the failure.
Did I then become the Perfect Parent? Not at all. I still fail, and I continue to fail, and so do my children. But at least now I know why I have failed and how to address it. I rest my failures at the foot of the cross, thank my Savior for covering me with His redeeming grace, and live to fail another day. Where that thought may have discouraged me mightily 10, 15, 20 years ago, now I can smile, because I know I am forgiven, covered, and guilt-free.
Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! (See Romans 7: 1-25)
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