Grace, the Pinch Hitter

“We thought if we could just do this Christian life well, we wouldn’t have to depend on God’s grace all that much. Grace would just be our backup for the unusual days — for the curveballs.

Gretchen Ronnevik

When my husband Rob and I had our first three children in quick succession, I’ll admit, we didn’t think too deeply about parenting. Both raised in loving Christian homes, we figured we knew everything we wanted to do (or not do) already. However, adding a fourth child to our mix when we’d thought we were done caused us to reconsider. 

With eight little hands to hold and four little hearts to lead, we knew we’d need to become more intentional about our parenting. We were more than outnumbered; we were double-teamed by toddlers. What did we want our family to look like? How did we want to shape our children’s lives? What goals did we have for our children and ourselves as parents?

These questions led us down a path of deeply intentional parenting. Modeling Christian manhood wouldn’t be enough, my husband knew. So, he began direct instruction – on how to hold an ax, how to clean a toilet, and how to sacrificially serve your family. A former teacher, I concerned myself with shaping my children’s minds and hearts. We began homeschooling, and I dedicated hours to choosing and teaching curriculum that would delight their imaginations, provoke their curiosity, and challenge their intellects. We engaged as a family in consistent worship, even hosting a small house church in our home for two years, an experience that gave our children a front row seat to life in the Body of Christ.

In that first decade of our parenthood, we never would have said we were doing this work in our own strength. We acknowledged our imperfection. We knew our shortcomings. Still, more often than not, grace was a pinch hitter in our home – a closer, a player pulled up for big moments, an option accessed when we’d come to the end of ourselves. Which, it seemed on the outside, rarely happened. We were healthy, able in mind and spirit for the work of parenting. Other than the general grace of God bestowed upon all people, what more did we actually need to access? Unbeknownst to me, I was soon to learn.

An Opening on the Team

My husband’s sudden death in 2019 was not only a life-changing curveball, it became the most difficult parenting challenge I had ever faced. We’d plotted and planned, executed and enriched side by side for years. We’d been a team, but death had cut a player from the squad. A giant hole gaped in the space Rob left behind. Out of necessity and in divine providence, I realized I needed to fill that space. Though my heart clung to Jesus like never before, I still found grace a suspect contributor. If before Rob’s death, grace had been a luxury player on the team, now I could risk nothing. Could grace be the heavy hitter I needed to survive? I wasn’t sure. I doubted grace’s playing and staying power, previously untested. But I had nowhere else to turn.

When my daughter began struggling academically, I realized my efforts weren’t enough. Humility prompted me to adjust her schooling environment, and grace arrived in the form of a teacher who’d experienced loss and knew grief’s landscape well. When my sons felt the vacuum of strong male leadership, desperation compelled me to reach out to a dear friend for help. Grace arrived in the form of deep spiritual mentorship I never could have provided on my own. 

Over and over again, grace began to reveal itself to me not as a pinch hitter for days I was weary but the very lifeblood that would keep our family going. Grace both exposed and miraculously filled in all of the cracks in my broken life and feeble parenting. Grace was not ancillary to my parenting but the anchor that kept it from drifting toward self-sufficiency or running aground on the rocks of despair.

The Independence of Dependence

I once heard that on playgrounds with fences, children play all the way to the fence line. In contrast, on playgrounds without fences, children tend to clump their play around central structures like swing sets or jungle gyms. The presence of a boundary actually frees them to engage fully and with delight. I’ve found the same thing as I continue to learn what it looks like to co-parent with grace.

Each day that I choose to be hemmed in behind and before (Ps. 139:5) by grace, I discover freedom to parent in ways that bring life and joy. When grace sets the boundaries of my life, both my children and I can live more fully. We can truly flourish. 

What does this look like for us? I experience the freedom of grace whenever I acknowledge my parenting shortcomings quickly and ask for forgiveness from my children. I can “play to the fence lines” – try new parenting techniques, take risks in conversation, and make mistakes. My family’s health and success are not measured by my excellent parenting skills but by the fullness of God’s grace manifested in our lives. Grace covers my mistakes. Grace prompts confession and repentance. Grace reminds me that the very best parent for my children will always be their Heavenly Father.

Do I want my children to do well in school, develop social-emotional skills, and one day succeed as adults? Yes! Every day I’m parenting hard toward those goals. However, reliance on grace means that I continually offer all of these desires to the Lord in a healthy checks-and-balances system. If any of these things comes to be, it will be God’s grace, not my effort, that achieves them. Grace will keep my pride in check. And if none of them comes to be, it will be God’s grace that keeps me from self-condemnation. God’s grace reminds me that since they arrived small and helpless in my arms, my children have always been his work, not mine.

Over time I’ve learned that grace isn’t just for parenting crises or solo parent families. Rather, every kind of family must rely on grace because every person depends on God’s lovingkindness for life itself. Jesus’ cross reminds us that, in our flawed humanity, even our best efforts would never be enough – not enough to live a righteous life, to succeed in healthy relationships, or to raise the children he’s placed in our care. Our situation was so desperate that we needed Someone to step up to the plate and accomplish what we could never do. We could never boast in our own success, but, because of Jesus’ work on our behalf, we can boast in his (Gal. 6:14).

Today, I am remarried and blending a family. Every day, I must live by grace here, too. As my children grow and our family expands, I want to contribute as much as I can to its flourishing. I want to get really good at being a parent. Make no mistake about it, however. I’m continually reminded of my place on this team. The real MVP here will always and ever be grace.

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Clarissa Moll (MA, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is author of Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide to Living with Grief and Thriving after Loss. She is the host of Christianity Today’s “Surprised by Grief” podcast, and her writing has appeared at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, RELEVANT, Modern Loss and more. Clarissa engages with readers on Instagram (@mollclarissa) and at her website ( where she offers a monthly newsletter of support and encouragement for people experiencing bereavement.

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