The conversation took place almost a decade ago, but I can still remember it. “If either of you ever have any doubts,” this man told me and my best friend, “you need to know you’ve got two really good boys.”
The man speaking to us was our sons’ high school principal. He’s the kind of school administrator parents dream about—involved with students, present on campus, wise and empathetic. The three of us met weekly in a Christian accountability group so we often got the “inside scoop” as parents in regards to what was going on at the school.
From his vantage point as a principal, our friend saw everything. And he wanted both of us to appreciate the positive impact our sons were making at their school.
It can be scary raising children because you want them to turn out well. You know the stakes, and you hope your kids are among the “good ones.” But you also see every imperfection. For Christians it’s even more intense because, admittedly, we have other standards as well, caring about things like faith, prayer, and thirst for God and His word. It’s not enough that our kids aren’t into drugs. We won’t be happy unless they’re also into Jesus.
Because we care so much it’s only natural (but still a dangerous temptation) to look at our kids and see primarily what needs to change. And if we’re not careful it’s easy to define our children by what needs to change rather than affirm them with what they are already doing and who they already are that honors and glorifies God.
We need far more of the attitude displayed by the apostle Paul. He dealt with churches that had every kind of evil imaginable: sexual sin, infighting, laziness, self-indulgence, heretical teachers, you name it. Yet in all his letters he comes off as an encourager who notices the good.
Consider his words to the Romans:
“And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another.” Romans 15:14
Didn’t he just warn them, “Do not be arrogant!”(11:18)
Didn’t he just tell the “strong” to lighten up on the “weak,” and the “weak” not to judge the “strong?” (chap. 14). Didn’t he have to admonish them, “Who are you to judge the servant of another?” (14:4) Didn’t he have to lecture them to “accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God?” (15:7)
Throughout his letters, Paul exercises the grace to call out someone’s good in Christ even in the face of their weaknesses.
For marriage and parenting, we need the eyes of Paul, always thankful for the good we see wrapped up in lives of imperfection.
Paul doesn’t allow any weakness to define the church at Rome; instead, he defines them by the grace of God. He chooses to see the goodness God squeezes out of their limitations: “I am convinced you are full of goodness.”
After having to patiently set them straight on fundamental issues like faith, the law, circumcision and the Sabbath (where it’s clear they’re dangerously close to veering off course), he then tells them how confident he is that they can “admonish” (teach) one another. He schools them, but then says, “you’re ready to be teachers.”
Paul was brilliant at calling people further forward while commending what God has already done and will do. He speaks as if obedience is already done because he’s so confident in God’s presence and empowerment. He may well be the most brilliant motivator the church has ever known, and the book of Romans proves it.
Can you, like Paul, learn to respect an imperfect husband who occasionally stumbles or gives way to pride? (I’m not talking about accepting physical or verbal abuse, dangerous addictive behavior, or the like.) Can you love an imperfect wife who gives in to a critical or negative spirit? Even after witnessing these weaknesses are you bold enough to say, “I am convinced you are full of goodness?”
Anybody could love a perfect husband or wife, a perfect son or daughter. It’s no credit to you if your love is conditioned upon godly behavior. Christian community—beginning with the family—calls us to love, accept and affirm the less than perfect, as we view everyone through the lens of grace—the same lens through which God views us.
My son’s principal encouraged two dads because he understood while no student is perfect, he could clearly see the evidences of God’s grace in both our sons’ lives, and he didn’t want us to miss it. He didn’t want us to do anything less than encourage our sons and affirm their maturity and growth. He had the heart of Paul, the same heart all of us should seek as we live in grace-based families.
Can you rise from prayer, knowing your spouse and kids are still struggling with several weaknesses, yet put your trust in God confidently enough to state, “I am convinced you are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another?”
If so, you know that grace has visited your soul.
It comes down to this: what will be the song our family members hear us sing most often?
Will it be songs of God’s promise or songs of each other’s failings?
Paul looked at what God was doing over and above what those in his care were doing. When we look through those eyes—the eyes that see God’s provision, God’s empowerment and God’s grace—we can’t help but respond with hope, encouragement, and affirmation.