This fall I watched my little boy grab his backpack full of thick textbooks, his lunchbox, and his trombone and walk into his first day of 9th grade. He’s a thoughtful boy, and he comforts me by wrapping his arms around my shoulders in a hug. (Did I mention he’s taller than me?) I have a high-schooler. And I’m terrified.
He’s been a delightful child and teenager so far. But it feels like the final exam of motherhood looms ahead, and I’ll soon find out if my parenting has been stellar or a disaster. It feels like the stakes are high, and my failures could impact the rest of his life. A verdict is coming on how well I’ve performed my most important task, and I’m hoping for a perfect report card: an A+ child, an A+ reputation, and an A+ motherhood GPA. Nothing less is acceptable to my anxious heart.
But when I look at my son as a final exam to ace rather than a fellow sinner being sanctified, I’ve forgotten the gospel. My fear stems from unbelief.
Maybe you’re right there with me, stepping out onto the swinging bridge between childhood and adulthood with your teen, worried that your identity and godliness hangs in the balance of your child’s choices. Maybe you’re wiping little noses and bottoms, but you’re already looking ahead nervously to the day your child will go make his or her own choices. Maybe your children are grown, and you look back at the teenage years and wonder what you could have done differently.
Wherever you’re at, take heart because the gospel changes the way we parent our teens.
Wanting an A+ Child
I’m terrified of the mistakes my teen will make. I dread the difficult conversations and disappointing consequences. But those who believe they’re healthy have no need of a doctor; those who believe they’re sinless don’t get to embrace Jesus. When our teens come face-to-face with their sin, God’s gospel of grace shines.
No one wants a child like the younger brother in the parable of the prodigal son. I don’t want my child to be broke and broken, sitting in a pigsty because he’s made a mess of his life. I pray my son will escape the ensnarement of sin, but I know his inevitable failures will be part of his sanctification. He won’t be perfect, and I hope his love for Christ grows as he sees his need for a Savior.
Wanting an A+ Reputation
If I’m honest, I worry most about the failures others will see. I’m tempted to think I’ve crafted a great reputation for our family, and this kid better not ruin it. I’m not only concerned about how my son’s choices will impact him; I’m concerned about how they will reflect on me.
But which would best display the glory of God: a strong family who seemingly has it all together or a weak family who loves and depends on a strong God? I want to say with the apostle Paul, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor. 12:9b, ESV).
I pray our family’s choices bring glory to God, but I know our failures can also be used by the Lord to put his strength on display. We won’t be perfect, and I hope our love for Christ grows as we run to him in our weakness.
Wanting an A+ Motherhood GPA
I desperately want to ace motherhood. I often tell younger moms, “God is sovereign over your mistakes,” but I’m not sure I believe my own words. I’m eager to prove myself worthy to the Lord and others by my efforts, and I want to be the mom who nails every assignment.
The truth is God loves my son even more than I do. He proved his love by sending his Son to reconcile us to himself. Our heavenly Father also has the power to work all things together for my son’s good and his growth in Christ.
I pray my parenting choices bear fruit in my son’s life, but I know nothing can thwart God’s purposes for my little boy. I won’t be perfect, and I hope my love for Christ grows as I rest in his grace for me and his sovereignty over our family.
When my unbelief says, “Your teen must be perfect,” the gospel says, “Your teen has a perfect Savior.”
When my unbelief says, “You better impress others with your righteousness,” the gospel says, “Let your life point others to the righteous one.”
When my unbelief says, “I hope you got this right as a mom,” the gospel says, “You’ve made mistakes, but his heavenly Father is sovereign over all.”
When our fear meets the gospel each day, God’s grace gives us the confidence for the high school years. We can stop putting our faith in perfection. Instead, we can pray that our children will grow in dependence on and devotion to the one who was perfect for them, who clothes them in grace-given righteousness, and who can set them apart for God’s glory.
Marissa Henley, author of Loving Your Friend through Cancer, is a writer, speaker, and cancer survivor who lives Northwest Arkansas. Most days, you’ll find her drinking a latte while shuttling her three kids around town, wondering if the dog will ever learn to stay and if she’ll ever love cooking as much as her husband loves eating. She would love to connect with you on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter; or at www.marissahenley.com or www.lovingyourfriendthroughcancer.com.