My husband and I once shared a moment with our son so astonishing that it still seems surreal fifteen years later. He was a middle schooler and had just returned one evening from the birthday celebration of a friend. He pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket. Or rather, the pieces of his now-destroyed Motorola Razr phone. My husband and I were appalled and asked the obvious questions: What on earth happened? Did someone break your phone on purpose?
Yes, he said. And after a few moments in which he probably saw his very life flash before his eyes, he confessed: He had broken it. On purpose.
Remember the scene in Christmas Vacation where Clark describes his reaction to the arrival of Cousin Eddie by saying “If I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now?”
That’s how we felt when our son admitted he deliberately destroyed his expensive phone. Only after the shock wore off, we weren’t pasting on a polite but pained smile a la Clark Griswold. We were incredulous. And furious. And asking ourselves “Who is this child? What have we done wrong here? Because clearly, something is wrong!”
I wish I could tell you how we masterfully handled this parenting challenge. I wish I could give a bit of sage parenting advice in case you’re ever confronted with your teen’s completely inexplicable destructive behavior. But I can’t do that, because we didn’t handle the situation masterfully. We didn’t know what to do. Without going into too much embarrassing detail, I can tell you it was not our finest parenting moment.
This episode is just one of many in which we felt like we were parenting in the dark. If you’re parenting older kids or teenagers, you probably long ago reached the conclusion that advice from parenting experts may be helpful, but it’s definitely not infallible. As much as we would love a set of iron-clad rules about being a parent, such a thing doesn’t exist. Thankfully, though, we serve a God whose gospel truths from the Scriptures guide us in every situation. If we keep this truth in the forefront of our parenting efforts, we can find the confidence to keep pushing forward – even when we can’t see exactly where we’re going. Two particular truths from Scripture gave me great comfort when easy answers about raising my kids were hard to find.
God wants our obedience in parenting. When it comes to our kids, we are under tremendous pressure to “raise them right.” If we are to be parents who honor God we must remember a foundational truth of parenting: God wants our obedience first. When Samuel scolds a wayward and willful King Saul by saying, “To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams,” he leaves no doubt that God considers obedience of prime importance. (1 Samuel 15:22)
Are we obeying God in our own spiritual lives? Are we devoting time to prayer, studying the Scriptures, serving those in need? These actions and attitudes may seem incidental to godly parenting, but they are not. Committing ourselves to be obedient to God’s commands personally gives us a firm platform on which to fight the inevitable battles that come with raising our kids.
God is working in our parenting in ways we can’t yet see. Ephesians 3:20 tells us we serve a God who can do more than we can imagine. Even better, that verse goes on to tell us that he does this by his power that is working through us. As parents, we may often feel like we are completely winging it, and we may be – but God is not. As we pray for wisdom to shepherd our kids, as we search the Scriptures when we need reminders of God’s promises of provision and presence, and as we seek guidance and encouragement from Christ-following counselors—whether they be professionals or simply other moms and dads who’ve been where we are— God will work through our parenting. This doesn’t mean that we will always understand how God is doing this work. In fact, it may at times feel like our attempts at faithful parenting are all for naught. We must trust that the God who began a good work in us will not abandon it as we are faithful to persevere when the going gets tough with our kids.
God works through even the messiest situations, taking our mistakes and our feeble attempts at obedience and turning them into more than we could ever do on our own. In the situation with my son and the Razr phone, we each became aware of how we had been disobedient: our son in his thoughtless destructiveness, my husband and I in reactions borne out of anger— and our subsequent attempts to rationalize them. When the temperature of the situation cooled down, we each had learned valuable truths. As parents, we understood a bit better how God’s grace through Jesus covers us when we make mistakes, and we were given an opportunity to extend a bit of that grace to our son. Our son now works in a ministry with high school and junior high boys and can empathize with guys who might come to him, head down, and mumble, “I don’t know why I did it.”
One way God works beyond what we can imagine is by transforming our efforts into more than we can do on our own. David makes this request in Psalm 141:2: “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” Through God’s steadfast love and incredible power, our fumbling prayers for our kids become a pleasing, heady aroma. Our obedience to worship when we are filled with doubts or anxieties about our kids becomes a sacrifice wholly pleasing to God.
No parent gets it right all the time. We make mistakes. We get angry and frustrated. And yes, sometimes we might even feel like the teen with the broken phone or dented fender or failing grade is a stranger we’ve never met before. But we have a God who is the perfect Father: loving, filled with grace and mercy, and showing us through his Word that in him we have everything we need to parent our kids.