Parenting is by far the easiest job in the world to get. You need no qualifications, no training, no ability and some even have no interest in being a parent, but end up becoming one because the only choice they needed to make was inherently self-serving. But the moment that new life comes into the world, you are faced with what is arguably the hardest job in the world to do well and it’s a job that lasts for the rest of your life.
In ages past when there were extended families who were close and often living under the same roof, new parents had their parents to help them, train them and support them in this monumental task. Nobody parented alone and yet still it was a tough job. Today, especially in the western world, the fragmentation of the family unit and the ugly rise of individualism has seen so many parents face this incredible challenge alone, with little or no support.
But it doesn’t end there – what about when your children have grown up? What is the role of parents when their children move into adult life and leave the nest? Surely it gets better then when we no longer have the day-to-day responsibility for another life? Well in some ways it does get better when your children are making the choices you used to make for them, but very often the pain is actually worse because we are no longer able to protect them and shelter them from the dangers they will face as broken humans in a broken world. The greatest pain I have felt as a parent was not in those challenging, formative years – it was when my adult children found themselves in a devastating situation either of their own making or one that was forced upon them.
As a Pastor I have sat with many Christian parents over many years and felt their pain as they share stories of their children’s tragic circumstances which include broken marriages, drug and alcohol addiction, getting caught up in criminal activity and the worst of all, the tragic death of a child or grandchild through illness, accident, crime or suicide. Increasingly today Christian parents are struggling with the lifestyle choices and moral decisions of their children. They did the best they could to raise them in a Christian environment only to see their precious offspring reject the faith of their parents and make choices which are a long way from God’s creative purposes for the them. How do you continue to love your children unconditionally when they have chosen such a different path than the one you believe God has laid out for them and for all of us?
In these modern and supposedly ‘enlightened’ times, one of the toughest issues confronting parents today is the sexuality choices of their children. I know a number of committed Christian parents who have had to come to terms with a child who has embraced a homosexual relationship and lifestyle. When their children eventually rattle off the mantra of today, “this is just the way God made me,” the parents know in their heart that this is a lie. God’s creative purposes for His children never includes a homosexual relationship.
So how are parents meant to push through their own pain and their assurance that this is not God’s highest purpose for their child and still love them unconditionally and be there for them without judging them or condemning them? How can we still be their loving mum or dad whilst holding a very different view to them on an issue which is obviously a huge part of their life now? This can be the most painful part of a parent’s journey with their children and none of us feel prepared to cope with these challenges. Where do we find help?
Of course the first place we should always go is Jesus. You might think that there’s nothing recorded in Scripture where Jesus faced a situation like this. He wasn’t even married and had no children, so how could Jesus understand a parent’s pain? Such a conclusion makes sense in the earthly kingdom of this world. But in God’s kingdom, Jesus is the Creator and sustainer of the universe; the Author and Finisher of our faith; the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; the supreme authority in everything to do with our lives; the Source of the greatest wisdom known to man. So what does that Jesus have to say to parents in pain as they try to love a child they believe has made some bad choices and messed up their lives?
That question is answered powerfully in chapter 8 of the Gospel of John where we encounter a woman who was caught in adultery cowering before an angry mob who are about to stone her to death – a fitting and just punishment in that day for such a sin. Jesus enters that picture and turns the spotlight back on her accusers. Jesus said, “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone.” Within a few moments, it’s only Jesus and the woman left – everyone else has dropped their stones and walked away because nobody could say they were without sin. Now I’m sure most of them still went away thinking or saying, “Yes, but my sin is not as bad as her sin!”
What they failed to understand is that our individual sins are only the symptoms or the fruit of a far deeper issue: we are born into sin. We are broken from birth. We are under the curse of sin and death and have no way of changing that with our righteous behaviour or religious performance. We are spiritually dead in our sin and we all stand on level ground with that woman caught in adultery and, but for the grace of God, we all deserve the same punishment: death.
At no point did Jesus condone this woman’s sin but He demonstrated a powerful theological truth in this one encounter with the woman and the angry mob. He said, “Where are your accusers now? Neither do I accuse you. Go and sin no more.” This is the Gospel in action. This is grace at its best. Grace doesn’t ignore sin or downplay sin. Grace rises above sin and recognizes that our problem is not our individual choices and sins, as bad as some of those may be, our problem is we were born broken. Sin is part of our human DNA. Without the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in someone’s heart, they will continue to make bad choices and God will continue to love them unconditionally and open His arms to receive them home when they finally accept that Jesus is their Saviour and never their condemner.
So to those parents out there who are crippled with pain over a child may be reaping what they have sown and really struggling in life, understand that what they need from you right now is the same as what that broken woman needed from Jesus. She left that encounter knowing two things beyond doubt. She knew that both Jesus and the mob understood her choices to be sinful, but she also left that encounter knowing that Jesus saved her from the consequences of her sin. He didn’t rub her face in her sin or allow her poor choices to alter His love for her. His unconditional love and grace empowered her to make different choices.
When we are struggling with the sin or bad choices of someone we love, the first thing we have to understand is that our sin is no different to their sin in God’s kingdom. We are all dead at the starting gate of life and without the saving grace of God we will remain in that condition. Of course there is a great variety of consequences in this life flowing from our bad choices. Telling a lie will bring very different consequences to murdering someone – and rightly so. However, both actions are the result of something far deeper, something that only God can fix and that’s exactly what God did through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So please keep praying for your children and don’t give up – but never forget that only God can change a human heart, and that includes yours.