Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love. Psalm 51:1
The gospel, if you accept it, is truly life-altering. It’s not a spiritual exercise. It’s not a mental experiment. And it’s not a political ideology. It’s a chance to be honest about yourself — like you’ve never been before — and be loved and accepted as a result.
Even as a “veteran” Christian, I still have significant problems with letting the gospel change my life. Just the other day was an example. My children were testing their limits; they were in rare form. As the day dragged on, I became more and more impatient with them. After my daughter’s entire dinner ended up on the floor — the last inconvenient development of the day — I reached the end of myself. Three children, all wanting their own way was just too much for me. I became prickly and sharp. They had spent the entire day disobeying and making everything so difficult — they did not deserve to do anything they wanted to do for the rest of the day.
There are no conspiracies
In my offended, angry state, I was disregarding several concepts that I have written about on this blog at length. The first is the idea that events in this world often have little to do with me.
I think this is a gospel issue, and the more I accept the truth of the gospel, the more I will internalize this truth, and the way in which I react to my children will change. The idea comes from John 9, when Jesus told his disciples that the blind man’s blindness was not a result of his family’s sin — rather, the man was blind “so that the works of God could be revealed.”
When my children disobey and disrespect me, I see it as a result of their sin, but when they continually so so I usually go a few steps further — I see it as a direct affront to me as their parent. It’s a conspiracy to deride everything I say and do as a figure of authority in their lives. They are shaking their fists at me.
You see, if this is true, then it opens up a long line of supposedly justifiable emotions inside of me. I have not only been disobeyed, I am also personally offended. I have been marginalized. I have been robbed of dignity. And what makes it worse is that two objects of my love have purposefully decided to do all this. They have conspired against me. Betrayal. Injustice. A little part of the world is against me, and exists to cause me pain.
Now that I’ve dissected my own thought processes, it’s hopefully easy to see how I am wrong. My children’s disobedience is not a part of some great conspiracy against me — it actually has little to do with me personally. Rather, it is a situation orchestrated so that the works of God may be revealed. Their actions are not directed at me — they are simply living the desires of their hearts. Just like me, they want to do only the things that bring them pleasure in this moment. But it’s not about me — it’s simply about them doing what they want to do.
If their actions are not primarily against me, then all of the betrayal narrative I described above on my part is out of line. I am no longer justified in behaving as if I’ve been marginalized, betrayed, and conspired against.
Instead, I get to take part in the works of God being revealed in their lives. Discipline cannot be an attempt to put them in their place or give them what they deserve. Instead, it’s a conversation, an object lesson, that will hopefully allow them not to see how they’ve angered me, but how God wants them to act differently.
Getting in God’s way
Did you catch that? If my objective is to communicate to my kids how much they’ve angered me, then I obscure what God wants them to see. I will injure them if they walk away from me with the idea that life’s purpose is to please their dad.
If we look at things with the end in mind, it puts our present actions into perspective very quickly. What am I trying to do, in raising my kids? If I am trying to participate in the production of well-adjusted, independent, mature adults, then the vast majority of what happens in our home has very little to do with me indeed.
If I am concerned with following God and seeing him work, then I ought to want to help them see him as well. They are in need of his mercy and grace, just like me. And if I see that as the root of their disobedience — not some plot to cause me pain — then I have a better shot at getting out of the way and letting them see the works that God wants to reveal in their lives.