Feb

22

2013

Brent Bounds|12:01 AM CT

Parenthood: The Lab of Gospel Growth

The gospel changes everything. Everything. And our relationships help us understand how.

In addition to marriage, parenthood has been God's sharpest scalpel for the necessary surgery on my heart. The gospel provides the framework for how I need to parent my children. And parenthood is the laboratory that deepens my understanding of the gospel.

"You are more evil than you could possibly imagine."

I often tell dating or engaged couples I'm counseling that I never really knew that I was selfish until I got married. And I never really knew the depths of my selfishness until I had children. The early stages of marriage began to slowly create new awareness in me: "Uh, this is not so much about just me anymore." Then with the arrival of children and their absolute disregard for my needs or my time, I was shocked to realize just how much it was truly not about me. The depth of my selfishness, desire for comfort, and concern about others' approval has been unearthed as a result of my journey into fatherhood. Periodically I have moments of devastation when I'm confronted with the evil roots in my heart as they are exposed in my failures as a parent.

I will never forget the potty-training process with my first son. Although he caught on fairly quickly, he had a habit of willful resistance that often resulted in physical pain for him. While I had my moments of empathy as he writhed in the pain of constipation, my frustration grew as I expected him to see that he was the cause of his own pain. Our battle finally culminated one afternoon in the second floor bathroom of my in-laws' house. My son was sitting on the toilet in obvious pain, clinging to the resistance and fear that prevented him from seeing that he had the power to change his circumstances. I was perched on the edge of the bathtub directly across from him, shelling out advice/coaching/admonitions, when he finally had enough. He leaned forward, looked directly into my eyes, and let out a yell of desperation and frustration that truly came from the depths of his being. I, being the mature one, responded in like manner, with a similar sound of exasperation. Time froze for a moment as we sat stupefied by what we had just witnessed from the other. It was almost as though we were both asking the question, "Did you really just do that?"

Then, as if a wave of grace washed over us, not of our own doing, we both began to cry. I moved from my perch to sitting on the floor, he climbed off the toilet, reached for me, and crawled onto my lap. We held each other and sat weeping on the bathroom floor. Looking back on this low moment in my parenting journey, I was overcome by my selfishness, lack of patience, and desire for control. After seeing the ravages of my heart exposed in such a raw manner, particularly to someone for whom I would give my life, I wondered in that moment if I could ever recover. And yet I now recall that day as one of the most intimate experiences with my son. We both reached the end of ourselves, we both responded by laying bare the true nature of our hearts, and we both embraced each other in a strength that only the gospel of grace could have given.

God has taken this unsettling realization that it's not about me and transformed its sting into a soothing comfort. Though you might be initially disconcerted, you'll eventually realize by the grace of God that this most freeing truth brings the greatest relief.

"You are more loved than you ever dared to hope."

In a recent conversation with a young man who struggles with worry about God's view of him, he expressed a pervasive fear that he is not in a right relationship with God and therefore feels compelled to constantly confess. He said that he has to frequently "check in" with God to make sure that they are on good terms. Listening to him describe his exhausting dilemma, I wondered how God must experience this man's anxiety and doubt of his identity in Christ. I thought about my own feelings if my children related to me in the same way. How would I react if my child constantly came to me asking if we were okay, doubting my unconditional love for him and questioning the stability of his identity as my son? I would be devastated and deeply saddened if I thought my son was never able to truly rest in my love and his place in our family.

Discipline has resulted in some of my most meaningful moments as a parent. While discipline is painful both for myself and for my children, I have to remember why I do it. My love for them compels me to address struggles that I see in their hearts and behavior. And at some point, I would hope that my boys realize that discipline actually confirms their identity as my children. While behavior from other children may concern me, I am not invested in them. They are not mine. However, my actions of affection as well as admonishment communicate an identity to my children. Even in times of tension or disconnect in our relationship, my children know I love them and know that they are mine. Their identity and their place in our family is secure; it isn't threatened by their behavior or the relative closeness or distance we may experience from day to day.

These experiences in parenting have educated me in the depth and beauty of the gospel. Reaching the end of myself, confronted with my sin and brokenness and yet resting in the love and identity I have in Christ, parenting teaches me the love of Christ . . . if only I will listen.

Brent Bounds (PhD, Fordham) is a psychologist and director of family ministries at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.

Categories: Sanctification
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  • http://www.discipleforging.com Greg

    "You are more evil than you could possibly imagine."
    "You are more loved than you ever dared to hope."

    Amen.

    Thanks for the post -it's good to hear. I have recently been reflecting on how marriage and parenting keep revealing another layer of my depraved state, which has lead to the even further unveiling of the love of the Father: http://goo.gl/EHAV0

  • Missy Wymer

    This is great, and so good to hear coming from a father! I guest posted (first time ever!) a post similar to this yesterday on BJ Bungard's blog ( http://www.bjbungard.com )- titled "Playing The Gospel" :)

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  • http://www.sacredoutfitter.blogspot.com Jeff Baxter

    So so True... Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.therootedblog.blogspot.com Cameron Cole

    What a great article, Brent. I say that I theoretically knew I was depraved before I had children and I firmly see and own that I'm depraved after having kids. It's been humbling and dark at times.

  • Jenny Neeley

    Thank you, Brent, for your perspective as a father and disciple. This truth rings true in our home, for sure! Isn't it interesting how God uses humility between both children and parents - it DOES help us grow together in family and in the Lord. Praise the LORD for His system, which is so contrary to the world's system.

  • Michael Hedrick

    Thank you, Brent, for this article!

    First of all, it's very encouraging to see that Redeemer has hired a trained psychologist! As an MDiv student and the proud husband of a wonderfully-gifted clinical psychologist, I'm always praying that the church continues to expanda and develop its appreciation for, and use of, gifted and professionally-trained mental health professionals. How wonderful, Brent, that your gifts and training are being put to good use serving Jesus' church.

    Secondly, what a great point you make in the first part of the article. Being put in a position of serving others (a spouse, a child) really does provide a wonderful (and challenging!) counter to our selfish tendencies. It also helps me to more fully appreciate God's amazing selflessness for us, his rebellious and difficult children. As I meditate on this, I can't help but worship our perfect, good, and gracious Heavenly Father!

    Thirdly, a bit of constructive critique. I felt that the second part of the article didn't do what you wanted it to do. I agree with your heading: "You are more loved than you ever dared to hope," but I don't think that what follows effectively supports that statement. (Clarification: I'm not saying that what follows is factually incorrect, simply that it doesn't seem to be the best way to argue for the statement contained in the bolded section header).

    The story of the young man struggling with insecurity about God's love for him, and his standing in God's family, ended on an unresolved note and felt more discouraging than encouraging. In light of the initial story of the young man, the following paragraph discussing discipline felt misplaced. To clarify, I agree that God's disciplining of his children is a key indicator of his love for us. At the same time, it seems unwise and unhelpful to use this as the primary lens for communicating God's love to someone (like the doubting man in the anecdote) who questions their standing with the Lord and who fears rejection, reprisal, punishment, etc. If my child told me he questioned my relationship with him and my love for him, I wouldn't respond by telling him that I was saddened and grieved by him. And I certainly wouldn't try to make him meditate on all the times I have disciplined him. While it would be true that my discipline of him is an indicator of my love for him, I wouldn't expect him to be able to understand and process that sort of rational argument while struggling with irrational feelings of insecurity and fear. Instead, I would be especially careful to encourage him and build him up, and I would try to avoid saying things that might convey a sense of disappointment, which could confirm some (or all) of his fears and further exacerbate his struggles.

    I realize that much of my critique is subjective, and that there is room for disagreement. Hopefully, my thoughts helpfully contribute to discussion. If not, my apologies. Thanks again, Brent, for your continued service to the church and for your work on this article!

  • m

    "You are more loved than you ever dared to hope."
    I needed to see that today; thank you for the insightful
    article, Brent.
    Michelle

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  • Kris Habacon

    I was disappointed in the article. Ironically, it is very self-centered to turn parenting into a gospel of self-discovery. That was probably not your intention but that is the way it came across to me. "The depth of my selfishness, desire for comfort, and concern about others' approval has been unearthed as a result of my journey into fatherhood". No. My three sons aren't here to show me how much I need Jesus. It is supposed to be the other way around.

    • guest post

      He said, Parenting teaches him the love of Christ. I'm not sure how you flipped that around. I'm also wondering how you were arrogant enough to criticize someone, for writing an article, intending to paint a beautiful example of how Christ uses all experiences to reveal himself to us. Please do not comment if you are going to let the words of the enemy influence you.

  • April Moreton

    Wow. And to think I once shared an office with such a great thinker! Your potty training story brought tears to my eyes. Thanks, Brent.

  • davina sinclair

    Thank you for your article. Parenting is the most challenging thing I have experienced. I have been shocked at my lack of patience and downright temper tantrums - yes me not the kids! The image of resting in God was so helpful. Thankyou

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