I’ve been seeing comments and good reviews in the blogosphere about a recent Christian parenting book called Parenting is Your Highest Calling… and Eight Other Myths that Trap us into Worry and Guilt. So when I happened upon an article by the book’s author, Leslie Leylands Fields, called “The Myth of the Perfect Parent,” I read it with great interest. The sub-headings of the article were even more thought-provoking. Here are three: “Bad Parents of the Bible;” “Who’s in Control?” and “Faith rather than Formula.”
I liked the article and found many true and valuable nuggets to ponder. For example:
–“We are so focused on ourselves – on our own need for success and the success of our children – that we have come to view parenting as a performance or test.”
–“We need to quit asking ourselves, ‘Am I parenting successfully?’ And we most certainly need to quit asking, ‘Are others parenting successfully?’ Instead we need to ask, ‘Am I parenting faithfully?’ Faithfulness, after all, is God’s highest requirement of us.”
–“We are responsible to teach our children the fear of the Lord…. But we must be clear about our limits. We are not capable of producing perfect followers of Christ, as if we were perfect ourselves… We will parent imperfectly, our children will make their own choices, and God will mysteriously and wondrously use it all to advance his kingdom.”
–“Children are full human beings wondrously and fearfully made. Parenting, like all tasks under the sun, is intended as an endeavor of love, risk, perseverance, and, above all, faith. 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 will grow up to become.”
The article advocated consideration, intentionality, steadfastness and above all, faith and prayer in parenting; the author was by no means saying “There are no guarantees, so just roll with it.” But she was responding to a tendency she saw in Christian circles for parents to believe that their efforts could make their children turn out OK and more, become lovers of God. This, she rightly points out, is simply not something that can be certainly known.
It reminded me of a Mark Driscoll sermon I once heard on Proverbs in which he stated that parents frequently misapply Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” We read this as a promise or even a formula: if I train up, then my child will not depart. Not so, says Driscoll, because the proverbs aren’t promises but rather truisms. Training a child in a God-ward direction does set for them a course of life, but it doesn’t guarantee that they will become Christ-followers. A parent can do everything “right” and still end up with a wayward child. Ted Bundy was evidently raised in a loving Christian home and yet became a serial killer.
A couple weeks ago I was reflecting on the death of a child – sitting with the fact that our children are, quite simply, not actually our own. They’re made by God and the length of their days is in His hands, in the end, not in ours. The same goes with the content of their hearts and the course of their lives. These are ultimately between our children and God. As parents we have tremendous and likely unparalleled opportunity to deeply influence and mold our children through our love, example, training, and prayer. But God is sovereign and in control; we are not. This is as true in our childrearing as it is in every other facet of life. Fields is right – our call is to consistent and humble faithfulness in parenting, not to formulas. And so we must continue to release our children back to God, again and again, as part of the sanctifying work to which we’re called as mothers.