I don’t know if anything has ever touched me as much as when my oldest daughter returned from her first year of college and explained how she got through some lonely moments. She told me she’d go into the bookstore (it was a Christian college), find one of my books, look at my picture on the back, read a few paragraphs, and walk out. “It always made me feel better,” she explained. A classic introvert (like her dad), Allison sometimes felt like an outcast in her dorm or classroom; but that picture reminded her of where she was from, who loved her, accepted her, and affirmed her. From that foundation, she could return to a sometimes lonely world.
Few things my kids have said have ever touched me more than that one conversation. Don’t all of us want it to be the case that when our kids think of home, they remember it as a place of grace, acceptance, and affirmation rather than yet another list of the many places where they feel they don’t quite measure up?
Lisa and I have been in so many small groups, and each time when personal stories come out, we are reminded of how messed up every one of us is.
The woman seated across from me seemed to me unusually pure, with light radiating from her face. As she recounted her life story, however, we all learned how she had debased herself (in her own words) to capture the interest of many men whose names she could now barely remember.
The thirty-something man two people over seemed so solid, someone you could count on in the worst of crises which made it all the more surprising to learn of the secret sin that he has been struggling with his entire life.
At the end of these exercises, one always senses awe at the pain everyone has felt and oftentimes caused—yet joy at God’s redeeming, accepting love: “God proved His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Yet some parents still manage to seem genuinely surprised when sin and “common weaknesses” manifest themselves in our children. Spouses seem shocked when a partner stumbles in any number of ways. Though a world population that now exceeds 7 billion people proves to all of us that no one other than Jesus has ever reached moral perfection—that, in fact, few could even claim to reach moral excellence—we still are tempted to resent each other for falling short of perfection and even begin to define each other by our sin.
This stops family celebration cold.
Many Christian homes become places of judgment, accusation, and pronounced disappointment. The standard is perfection, so anything less is one giant disappointment.
Here’s the stark reality: If you can’t love, celebrate, and enjoy raising a sinful kid, then you can’t love, celebrate, and enjoy any child. If you can’t love and play with a sinful spouse, then you’ll never be able to take pleasure in any spouse, for the simple reason that you can’t find any sinless kids or spouses.
Let’s not allow sin and our universal brokenness to impair our ability to take pleasure in the company of each other. Parenting books stress the need to raise responsible kids, to teach them discipline, respect, self-denial, faith, and self-control—all good things. But families begin to break down when parents see kids only as projects to be improved rather than real people to be enjoyed, to laugh with, to play with, to relate to; when kids see their parents primarily as providers and disappointments; when family life offers little laughter but much criticism, plentiful stress but almost no play, a pressure-cooker of activities and obligations but no pleasure; then few families will survive, much less thrive, in such an oppressive atmosphere.
Can your children ever relax in your presence? Does your spouse ever get the luxury of having a bad day, without you immediately calling him/her on it? Do your family members feel as though they receive constant correction, constant teaching, and constant rebukes? If so, then don’t be surprised if your kids eventually seem perpetually eager to get away with their friends or your spouse finds a dozen other places to return to than home.
Who wants to hang around a place where they never quite measure up?
What strikes me as so amazing about God’s love is that I never feel like a project or even a disappointment. Since God sees all, He has plenty of raw materials with which He can judge me and make me feel like a failure. Yet even when He convicts me, it’s somehow an affirming, intimacy-inducing spiritual hug.
The one thing that marks every Christian family should be the same thing that marks each one of us as God’s sons and daughters: acceptance and affirmation, bathed in grace and truth.