September 7, 2023

Parenting in a Scary World

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Whether you’re parenting toddlers, teens, or both, today’s sexual climate probably concerns you. I once heard parenting described as walking around with your heart outside your body [1]; that feels accurate. Parents face intense vulnerability as we strive to keep our dear children safe. Now that I have a teen and a ten-year-old, keeping my boys safe looks much different than when they were babies and toddlers. I’m no longer worried about them catapulting out of their crib or flinging themselves into a pool.

But the dangers they face as they grow older are even scarier. Will they cling to Christ amid an antagonistic culture? Will they continue to know who they are as boys—growing into men—made in God’s image to glorify him? Will they resist the dehumanizing and addictive lure of pornography? If they marry, will they commit to women who fear the Lord? Of course, I care about their physical well-being. But will their souls be safe?

More than anything, I long to rejoice in eternal glory with my sons as my brothers.

God Uses Means

It’s easy to look around at the world and let fear shrivel our hearts. According to a recent Barna survey, 73% of Christian parents are “concerned about their children’s spiritual development.” This concern isn’t groundless; our children are under attack (see 1 Peter 5:8). As Mark Sanders highlighted, so many of our youth are deceived and seeking purpose in identifying as LGBTQ+. What can we do to make sure our kids will be okay?

Being not sovereign, not omniscient, and not omnipotent, we can’t guarantee anything. Our parenting can’t secure any particular outcome for our children. Faithful Christian parents might, heartbreakingly, watch their children turn away from the Lord.

Yet God works through means. In his providence, godly parents are a gift to their children and instruments in the Lord’s hands. How can we parent our kids from a place of confidence in the Lord rather than fear? Here are some thoughts and practices I’ve observed in wise Christian parents that my husband and I seek, by God’s grace, to follow.

  1. Trusting the Lord

Exhausted and defeated when my newborn wasn’t sleeping despite my having read, underlined, and applied all the baby book instructions, I agonized over what I was doing wrong. Don’t we all like a clear “do this, get that” sequence? But children are not programmable robots and only sometimes do what we expect.

Just as we’re saved only by God’s grace in Christ, not by our works, he is the only one we can rely on in all aspects of raising our kids. If they resist LGBTQ+ ideology and other sexual sins, it will be by God’s grace. This shatters my pride and gives me hope. If our children stand firm, praise Jesus—it’s his work alone. If they turn away, God is still good and accomplishing his plan in their lives and ours. I am finite and less good than God, the author of my children’s story as well as my own.

I am finite and less good than God, the author of my children’s story as well as my own.

The Judge of all the earth shall do what is just (Gen. 18:25) and calls himself “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex. 34:6b). This truth soaks comfort into a believer’s soul, helping us entrust our precious children to the everlastingly faithful Father. We can’t guarantee anything, and we certainly can’t save them—and this is good news, because we make terrible saviors. The hopeful reality is that they’re in the hands of the triune Creator, who is justice, mercy, and love.

  1. Prayer

I’m happily convinced that praying for and with our kids is the best thing we can ever do for them. It’s better than all the discipline, school choices, family times, and device limits in the world.

Praying for Our Children

In Christ, frail humans are united to the One who spoke the universe into existence and keeps our breath circulating each moment. Prayer acknowledges that we are God’s, his way is best, and he is mighty. Before stating that “children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward” (v. 3), Psalm 127 begins with a foundational truth: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (vv. 1–2). We can rest (“he gives to his beloved sleep”) because God is the builder and the watchman (v. 2).

Yet here lies one of Scripture’s great paradoxes: the almighty Lord chooses to work through the prayers of his people. Our prayers are part of God accomplishing his plan for our children. Let’s earnestly plead for them—for their salvation, their preservation, their delight in Jesus, their Kingdom usefulness, their eternal joy.

Praying with Our Children

Praying together establishes the family as a team, united in seeking the good of unbelievers for God’s glory. It lifts our gaze up and away from ourselves, opening our eyes to a world that needs the gospel and increasing our compassion for the lost. You most likely know a young person experiencing gender dysphoria—as a family, bring him or her before the throne of grace.

Praying with our children also models how believers can respond to intense emotions. In Christ, none of us must bear life’s weight alone. What a gift this is! We’re introducing them to our lifeline—a replenishing stream of communication with the living Lord who welcomes us in our sin, confusion, weakness, and fear. In prayer, directed by God’s Word, our children can run to Jesus with the deep troubles of their hearts instead of looking for hope in sexual sin and misplaced identity. We teach our kids to call 911 in an emergency; how much more to run to Jesus in prayer.

  1. Christ-Centered Marriage

Marriage in the Lord is holistically beneficial. Instituted by God for his glory and our joy, marriage between one man and one woman leads to whole-family flourishing that ripples out into the church and wider community. The radiating warmth of a godly marriage undermines today’s cultural idea that traditional marriage is oppressive. It’s so good for children to experience the loving stability of a home where their parents’ marriage is anchored in the Lord.

However, families face the reality of sin daily, and sometimes grievously. Your marriage may not be a haven; it may be broken. I’m sorry if you’re carrying this heavy burden.

Marriage, as great as it is, is not a final destination. It exists to illuminate the eternal spiritual reality of Christ and his bride, and, in the church, we bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Being part of a local church also provides the opportunity to see healthy families in action. My husband’s dad had an affair with the neighbor’s wife when my husband was only two years old. Later, his stepfather physically and emotionally abused him. Yet in the church, he saw husbands and wives loving one another and children happy in their security; he began to learn what it means to follow Jesus as a husband and father.

  1. Christian Community

I’ve learned much from families who are consistently involved in their local church, pursuing the means of grace despite physical obstacles and pain. This communicates to our kids that meeting with God’s people, under the preached Word, is not optional but essential. Taking communion, singing, praying together in the Lord—this is oxygen to believers living in a carbon-monoxide world.

And in the family of God, our children get to experience a truly gracious community. A desire for belonging may often drive young people toward an LGBTQ+ lifestyle. But the church offers a far richer, more diverse, beautifully hopeful community where every individual matters not for how they self-actualize, but because God says they are innately precious image-bearers.

  1. Hospitality

We need not hide from the world, afraid of being infected by its cultural agenda. Exercising wisdom is not the same thing as letting fear guide the way we interact with unbelievers.

Hospitality has always been central to following Jesus, and following Jesus leaves no room for fear, snobbery, or judgment. We were not saved by a superior understanding of male and female chromosomes or because our sexual preferences align with the Bible’s teaching, but by God’s welcoming mercy. We who call Jesus “Lord” were welcomed by him when we were deceived and hopeless. The bedrock of Christian hope is that the triune God loved us when we were still sinners and made us alive together in Christ when we were dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:4–9, my emphasis).

In a culture saturated by an anemic, clichéd understanding of love—where “love is love” and “love wins”—the biblical assurance is this: God is love and Jesus wins.

When we extend hospitality, our children get to be exposed to a variety of people, lifestyles, and personalities. They see that the transforming love of Christ causes us to love others, even those who are different from us. Especially in our partisan world, this is a powerful apologetic for the gospel. I’m inspired by families who demonstrate their theological convictions through gospel-motivated and Spirit-sustained hospitality.

  1. Communication

To begin teaching your kids about sexuality, one friend says, just read the Old Testament during family worship. It will provoke all sorts of questions. She’s joking but also serious—God’s Word doesn’t shelter us from the ugliness of human depravity. It’s right to explain to our kids (age-appropriately) what’s going on and how it points to our Redeemer.

The temptation to avoid uncomfortable topics is real, but if we don’t speak with our kids about sexuality, we can rest assured the world will. Let’s resist any hint of shame culture that would cause embarrassment about the bodies and functions God created. Individual families need to decide when they’ll introduce things like biologically correct anatomical terms, the reproductive cycle, puberty, pornography, LGBTQ+ ideology, and other sexual developments and sins our children will face. But we must own our responsibility to teach them. I pray my boys know that they can come to their father and me with any—any—question and receive a truthful answer.

Our Hope: Jesus Alone

In a culture saturated by an anemic, clichéd understanding of love—where “love is love” and “love wins”—the biblical assurance is this: God is love and Jesus wins. Hopefully these aims encourage you in your parenting. Raising children in a world increasingly hostile to Christianity is scary. But—perhaps you’re feeling this, too—my sin scares me even more than the sin “out there.”

Inconsistency, irritability, distractibility, preoccupation with other things—these are some of the dangers my children face from a mom who claims to follow Jesus yet so often doesn’t live like it. Will they know I love them when I’m half paying attention and half trying to figure out my next task? Will they still see the beauty of Christ when they see me grumbling about chores or restless in discontent?

My hope as a weak and fallible mother rests in Christ alone. His children are clothed in his righteousness, and he will finish the work he started in us (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful; he is powerful; he is enough. Parents: with our confidence rooted in our Savior’s character and victory, we have every reason to press on, courageously raising our kids amid a threatening world.

1] As yet, I’m unable to pin down the source for this quote. It’s commonly attributed to Elizabeth Stone, but I’ve also seen it attributed to Ellen Cantarow. If anyone knows, please contact Harvest USA and fill me in!

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