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There Is Grace in Your Limitations

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My life profoundly changed after becoming a father. After Daphne, Zane, and Scout were born, every decision in my mostly self-centered life suddenly included asking, “What about the kids?” And I soon developed a new worry: am I failing as a father?

My wife and I take our vocations of motherhood and fatherhood very seriously. We want to be good parents and often wonder how we can do better. But that can often turn obsessive, as we worry about many things:

  • Do we have the right balance between discipline and reward?
  • Are the kids enrolled in the right school with the best curriculum?
  • Do they have enough after-school activities?
  • Are they playing enough sports? Other families pay to be on special “select” teams. Should we?
  • Do they have enough play time?
  • Do they have enough friends? And are they the right sort of friends?
  • Are they reading enough? Are we reading enough to them?
  • Are we ruining our kids' lives???

We second guess ourselves all the time and wonder: are we failing as parents?

We often get frustrated with the kids. I think the root of our frustration is a desire for control. We think we can make the best decisions for them, and, of course, they disagree!

I see an all-too-familiar cycle—Abby and I tell the kids to do something. They don’t obey right away. We resolve to be patient and ask again. The kids resist. We calmly repeat the command but through gritted teeth. No change. Then we get frustrated, and so do the kids. Voices get raised. There’s yelling. We get angry and react. Wooden spoons come out. The kids cry. Afterward, we feel guilty and make new resolutions to do better, only to fail again. And we worry: are we failing as parents?

What does grace have to say to parents who fear failing their children?

In his autobiography, Drawn by the Light, Arthur Roberts made this comment about the limits of parenthood: 

“All sensitive couples anguish about their parenting—is it effective? All are amateurs. All try variations of stick-and-carrot discipline. We first thought our Christian faith would make us nearly 100 percent effective, and if we asked for wisdom God would readily and plainly give it. We finally had to acknowledge that we remain finite even though faithful and that children entrusted to our care are responsible individuals in their own right. We could guide them but could not choose for them” (Roberts, Drawn by the Light, p. 144, emphasis added).

I love the line “we remain finite.” Isn’t that a hard truth to admit about yourself? You can love and guide your kids, but you don’t have the power to control them, no matter how much you may try. 

You have limits—finitude.

You want to be both God and Savior to your kids—that’s what it amounts to!—and you’re frustrated that you’re neither.

But here’s a thought: your finitude is key to appreciating some very good news. 

Hear what Paul said:

I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:39, emphasis added).

You are limited, finite, and creaturely, which may cause you to be worried and frustrated with yourself and your parenting. But that can be a good thing. It’s good to be reminded that you’re not God, that you’re not in control, and that you were never meant to be. 

Your finitude means if you’re looking to find ultimate security and hope for yourself and your kids in your own resources, forget about it. You’ll have to place your trust elsewhere—in something that comes from outside of you. The fact that you are limited means you must depend for ultimate security on something or someone who is unlimited.

And when the finite calls out to the infinite, God answers with a reassuring promise: no created thing can sever you from His love!

You’re secure in His love, not because you are a worthy parent or an obedient child, but because He is a gracious Father.

Thought for the day: However much you may fail your children, your Heavenly Father’s love will never fail you.

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