_The two best pictures of God's love for us we can see everyday are marriage and parenting. Marriage describes His relationship with the Church, loving her, caring for her, providing for her, protecting her, serving her, interceding for her, and ultimately dying for her. Parenting, on the other hand, shows the unconditional love for us as individuals. A parent gives their time and energy, their blood, sweat, and tears, and their heart to someone who cannot help themselves. Our kids are born in sin (don't believe me? Volunteer for nursery duty!), are bent towards themselves, and constantly need something...like, always.
The call to parenthood really is a call to death to self, much like it does when we are called by Christ to follow Him and deny ourselves. When you become a parent, there really is nothing called "me time" anymore. Someone else is completely dependent on you, just like we are completely dependent on Christ. Stories like this one of part-time parents who still want to play show that the world's picture of parenthood is an accessory. But loving and serving and providing for a child like Jesus loves and serves and provides for us isn't as easy as adding a hobby. It requires a daily commitment to love unconditionally, to serve without anything in return, and to find yourself in the middle of a mess.
Sometimes that mess is what we had recently with a violent 12 hour stomach bug. Other times it is a wayward teenager who disappoints and finds themselves in trouble at school. Or it's a young adult child who found themselves on the wrong side of a payday loan or credit card scam or a positive pregnancy test. Whatever the mess is, God calls us to love, protect, and care for our children because He does the same thing when we find ourselves in a mess. And that's the heart of the Gospel, that the King dies not for His friends but for His enemies. Romans 5 reminds us that we have been justified by faith and are at peace with God through Christ, because at the right time He died for us in our sin. Jesus died for us in our mess, meeting us where we were and rescuing us from the pit. Cleaning off the vomit and scars and stains and death all around us, He makes us new and brings us to life. As a parent, you get to show your child the love of Christ when you clean up the mess, when you walk with them through the struggle, and when on the other side you embrace them and call them your own.
So parents, next time you're cleaning up vomit or crying with your spouse over a mistake your teenager makes, know that you're close to the heart of God, who is our Father. J.I. Packer goes as far to say that the Christian name for God is "Father," meaning we relate to God personally, lovingly, relationally, knowing we are His joy just like your children are your joy. What a lovely picture.
But when you're in the middle of the mess, remember that redemption is better than judgment, and that no mess is beyond repair. Parenting is a messy work, and it's not for the weak of heart. But for those God has blessed with children, He provides the strength and encouragement to press on. The Gospel is enough to carry us through those times, and to give our children a greater hope than anything they could find here.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.