What’s a Parent to do?

In my early 20s, while still single, I envisioned marriage and family life with fairly idealistic goals.  I knew nothing could be perfect, but as much as possible, I would try to make things “just so”.  I’d keep us out of debt with the only exception being a mortgage.  I’d be a husband that spent time with my wife rather than with “the boys,” and I’d work really hard to give attention to my wife rather than the newspaper or TV. I’d play with the kids, help do dishes, give baths, and help with homework.  I’d make every dollar count, create memorable vacations, apologize when I wronged anyone, and teach my kids everything I knew.  I’d ensure that we’d have wonderful Christmas celebrations and family traditions.  I’d build us a nice home since I loved building . . . and the list could go on and on.

It’s good to have good goals, and some of the above things did come to be true, but others were a lot more challenging than I imagined.  I thought I was prepared to be a really good parent.  Now after parenting for nearly 30 years, I’ve discovered that my parenting “boat” had a lot more holes in it than I could notice or plug fast enough to keep things neat and dry.

I see signs, often at schools, saying things like: “You can be anything you want to be” or “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.”  I haven’t found those statements to be realistic for me.  Maybe I was just trying to be or achieve too many things all at once – – and yet all those things were important.  I find myself falling short of being all that I want to be as a person, let alone with even one other human being known as my wife. My own selfishness, pride, ignorance, or forgetfulness have also worked against my goals.

I’m not one, but I see some grandparents and great grandparents who appear to have chilled out when it comes to goals with kids.  Maybe they were like me when they were young, but now they seem content just to see their young relatives experiencing happiness.  Maybe that’s why so many grandparents and great grandparents say, “It’s my job to spoil them.”  Happiness is wonderful.  But with all the hurtful words, broken relationships, cheating, natural disasters, loss of loved ones, etc. happiness in this world – soul deep happiness – is elusive.

As a person and as a parent, I take comfort in a little phrase that Jesus once used when He was talking with two sisters.  He said, “…only one thing is needful.” 1  Life is so rich, at least in developed countries of the world.  It offers so much, and we are welcome to enjoy all legitimate pleasure.  But we have no guarantee of how long those pleasures will last.  Rather we have the guarantee that we will not last forever, and then the pleasures of this world won’t at all matter.  Life here will come to an end.

When my 23 year old son died, I was immediately struck with the reality that he would never finish the next chapter of the book he’d been working on for months.  He would never attend the commencement ceremony he was looking forward to and had studied so hard to earn.  He would not experience marriage, having kids, or seeing his sibling do those things.  “One thing needful.”   “One thing needful.”  What did Jesus mean?  Did I as a parent help my son to have that one thing?

It is so easy to embrace the idea that my main calling as a parent is to help my children enjoy and succeed in earthly life.  As wonderful as those things are to experience, they are not the “one thing needful.”  Jesus said, “This is eternal life – that people might know the one true God and Jesus Christ, the Son He sent to save them.” 2  That is the “one thing needful.”  We would think ourselves irresponsible parents if we didn’t see that our children got a good education.  How about if we don’t see that our children learn to know their Creator and Savior? – – and not just know about Him, but know Him with such confident joy and thankfulness that they keep their allegiance to Jesus in the midst of mocking and peer pressure.

I’m well aware that it is possible to cram “religion” down children’s throats, and that should not happen.  The Christian faith need not be crammed down throats, hoping the person will stomach it.  Jesus is not for the stomach, He‘s for the heart.  Christian faith, rightly understood, brings a joy and peace to the heart that can be found nowhere else. Homes and family relationships immersed in God’s joy and peace create a heart-felt longing for God Himself.  My own parents were careful to choose a church that emphasized Jesus’ love and forgiveness rather than rules.  And that God-centered love and forgiveness showed in how they taught and guided our family.  It was the focal-point of our home, and it was wonderfully contagious.

Someone once asked Jesus, “Are many going to be saved?”  He didn’t give a number, but He did say, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able”. 3    Jesus is the door.  Knowing Him as my Savior and the One who alone is worthy of my deepest allegiance – that is the “One thing needful.”

What’s a parent to do?  There are a lot of things – it just comes with the job.  But most importantly, there is one thing – leading my children to treasure and follow Jesus.  I’m so thankful that my parents knew that, prioritized it, and impressed it upon me and all my siblings.  And I’m grateful that, with God’s help and the help of my Christian fellowship, my son who died and all my other living children “know the one true God and Jesus Christ, the son He sent to save them”. 4

Nothing I do in this life is perfect.  What a huge blessing it is to know God forgives my failings as a parent.  I rejoice that He has called me to be one of His children, and that as His child He so often makes up for my weakness and lack — for God also promises to honor those who honor Him, including in how we parent.

I pray that you will see the eternal value of your God-given calling as a parent.  I pray that you will know God’s forgiveness for all your failings, and will seek whatever help you need to be a parent who will rejoice for all eternity with your children in the paradise that God has waiting for you – where He will parent us all with His own truly perfect care.

 – Tim Onnen, Heart-Song Leader

(1) Luke 10:42

(2) John 17:3

(3) Luke 13:23-24

(4) John 17:3