Parenting Kids in the Gospel--Looking to Jesus more than laying down the law

The other day our two girls were eating lunch in the kitchen. We promised them that once they were done, they could watch something on television. Abbie, age 7, finishes first and Annabelle, age 4, still has a little ways to go to finish her hot dog.

All of a sudden, perhaps a minute later, Annabelle also walks out. Abbie runs over and whispers, “Annabelle threw away her food!” Walking into the kitchen, we see hot dog pieces in the recycling bin (she’s not smart enough yet to flush it down the toilet as I used to do or even throw it in the trash and cover up the evidence).

Caught red-handed, she bursts out bawling and crying. Here was a Gospel moment. 

Someone once told me, “You don’t raise kids. You grow up.” Parenting offers you great teachable moments for our children, but even more for ourselves. If you are a Christian parent, how do we grow them to deeply believe the Gospel? I’m no expert and the way we do it at our house is not flawless, but I know like me, my kids are sheep and sheep cannot be driven, but must be led gently. How?

Address the root, not just the fruit of the sin

It’s not about the hot dogs! I think of the late pastor Jack Miller’s famous quote:

“Cheer up! You are a worse sinner than you ever imagined.” Cheer up! You are more loved than you ever dared hope.”

I don’t directly say that to her, but cradled in my arms, I say it in a way she understands, “Why did you throw away this food? We gave you food because we love you. When you throw food away, you are throwing away our love.” She’s crying even more. It’s not just about hot dogs here. Sin is not just breaking God’s rules, but breaking God’s heart. Don't spend too much time here (though I want to!). 

Join them in our need of a Savior

I also said,  “You know what. I do the same thing, honey. I waste a lot of what Jesus gives me in love. I waste the time He gives me when I spend too much time on my computer or looking at my phone and not enough time with you or with Mama.” She nods in agreement. Gee, thanks!

But I know I am worse than that. I am greedy with my personal time and not making time for others. I am stingy and selective with who I choose to talk to. I am often stingy with my forgiveness when someone hurts me. I add, “And you know what? Both of us deserve to be thrown away too for being so greedy, wasteful and stingy. We are great sinners, but… do you want to hear Good News? He is a greater Savior for both of us!”

Celebrate the Savior who has come  

He won’t throw us away. Why? Jesus Christ was already thrown away, "discarded" because of our sin (crucified “outside the city” the Bible says---Outside the city means by the garbage dump). He was treated like trash. Why would the treasure of Heaven, Jesus Christ, do something like that for such greedy, wasteful, stingy people like us? He is the treasure of Heaven. He had everything. All approval. All love. All Heaven. But one thing He didn’t have: us. And we, being greedy and wasteful, had thrown Him out of our lives. But the treasure of Heaven became bankrupt to make us His treasure! That is, on the cross, He took what we deserve from God. Again, I try, though awkwardly, to share this truth in a way she can understand. And by the end, both my daughter and I are at the foot of that cross looking, gazing, wondering at this amazing love. A small sparkle gleams in her eye. A slightly bigger sparkle in mine. 

Apply consequences, but restore in love

“You are my daughter and I will always love you and we will provide food for you in love. So please don’t throw away food, but just tell us if you don’t want it.” We pray together and I tell her how much I love her. I don’t remember what consequences we gave when she did this, but I do remember our tears drying up quickly (hers I mean, I was wiping my eyes only because it was dusty) and she walked away with a smile.

Does she get all of this? Probably not. But neither do I. Not enough. Not ever enough. By giving our kids Jesus and not just laying down the law, is ultimately what they need and isn't that what we need as well? Give them Jesus. You may do it awkwardly and clumsily. But give them Jesus as He was given for you.