Last week my friend Jen Wilkin wrote a good and wise post over at TGC titled How to Guard Sabbath for Your Children. I say it was good and wise, because it was. I know Jen enough to know that Jesus is her center and that she has a heart for parents to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. There’s a lot of kindred spiritedness between us. She is my sister in Christ and I respect her work and the role God has given her to play in the Church. I say all this so that it’s clear where I’m coming from. What I’m about to say has to do with my own heart, not with Jen. As a matter of fact, she’s getting a preview copy of this post.
Although I had many idols during the years I had gospel amnesia, one of my worst was “how to be a godly parent.” Another was the Sabbath. I struggled with Jen’s article last week not so much because of what she wrote but because she touched some areas in my soul that are still raw. They are areas that Jesus is still healing. They are areas that I specifically pray for balance in, desiring to kill any urge to pendulum swing.
I used to be a very strict Sabbatarian. As in if I had people over on Sunday and ran out of propane for the grill, my husband would go out to buy some, but only if we thought we could justify it with the “ox is in a ditch” rule (Matthew 12:11; Ex. 23:4,5; Deut. 22:4). We used to celebrate the Sabbath from sundown Saturday evenings to sundown Sunday evenings, with a Sabbath meal and all. I no longer hold to the law of the Sabbath theologically. One of the best books I read in 2012 is Tom Schreiner’s 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law. It set me free from my bondage and allowed me to see Christ for who he is, the fulfillment of the entire law. At some point I also went from identifying Sunday as the “Sabbath” to the “Lord’s day.” One day I hope to read From Sabbath to Lord’s Day: A Biblical, Historical, and Theological Investigation edited by D.A. Carson. I say this only to help the reader understand why my soul is still sensitive to Sabbath requirements, even though in reality we still keep Sunday as a day for church, rest, family and ministry. So although in practice we may look like Sabbatarians, our heart knows that when Christ said “it is finished” everything was finished. We don’t keep Sabbath anymore. Christ is our Sabbath. We get to spend our Sundays loving Jesus, loving each other, and loving our neighbors. We also don’t believe anymore that it’s a sin to go to the store, or to take the kids to In–n–Out.
Now, for the main point of this post: the idolatry of “how to be a godly parent.” Since I discuss it at length in Gospel Amnesia I will keep this to just a couple of points. One of my biggest idols was the desire to be a godly parent. I know it may sound paradoxical. After all, which Christian parent doesn’t want to be a “godly parent.” And besides, aren’t we commanded to be godly parents?
First, anything can be an idol. I flesh that out in Gospel Amnesia so I won’t take the time to do it here. Second, we are not commanded to be godly parents. We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and strength and to teach this love of God to our children. That is a huge philosophical shift from “be a godly parent.” These are two different religions! The first is Jesus’ direct command and has as its object God. We are to point our hearts to God and to teach our children how to point their hearts to God. The second has as its object ourselves and our children, seasoned with the adjective, “godly.” The object becomes how to rightly be a parent with the drive behind it as the welfare of our children, spiritual and otherwise. I spent years and years reading books and blog posts on how to be a more godly mom/parent. I can’t do it anymore, I just can’t. As a matter of fact I have no intention on buying not one more book on motherhood. The inspired Word of God which I open up every single day has been telling me for years what I need to do: Love Jesus and love my children. The issue is: Will my heart obey these commands from the Lord himself? I don’t need another motherhood book or blog post to tell me this.
So, this brings me back to Jen’s blog post. Jen’s post had wisdom which she was offering to other families. Wisdom is good. Brothers and sisters in Christ should be able to encourage one another with wisdom. I was a bit taken off guard by the way my heart responded to it. I bring this up because recovering legalists like me need to be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I want to be able to glean from discussions on parenthood without succumbing to extremes in either direction. There are people like me learning how to keep Jesus at center who are still tender in some areas. It’s not a matter of not wanting to be told what to do. It’s not a matter of whether or not I want to bake for my family and be wise about my children’s time. For me it’s about where my emphasis is. I spent way too many years overdosing on what I should be doing for my children. That’s what made me so anemic. My focus wasn’t Christ, my focus was my children and all the things those books and blog posts told me to do to be a godly mom. The only godly correction to this is Jesus. The correction is gospel-centeredness! That has to be the center of my thought life! Only internalizing the gospel will keep me from parochial extremes. Only by internalizing the gospel could I hope to be a parent that looks more and more like Jesus with each passing day.