This is a guest post by Paul Tripp, best-selling author and founder of the Parenting conference. This has been adapted from a longer blog post and edited for readability.
Luella and I had planned a special day for our family at an amusement park. We loved our children and wanted to give them fun experiences they would remember. Being the naive father that I was, I assumed that my kids would recognize our generosity and return the favor with good behavior.
This sounds silly looking back, but I really did expect my children to parent themselves that afternoon. I had no intention of lovingly enforcing a command, graciously intervening in a sibling argument, gently confronting a selfish decision, or patiently explaining a biblical principle for the hundredth time.
In ways I didn’t recognize, I had actually made that amusement park trip about me. In my mind, I saw my young kids hugging me, telling me how much they appreciated me, and running off into the summer sun for hours of unsupervised familial bliss. And, if God threw in a wife who only had intentions to serve me that afternoon, that would only sweeten the deal!
The Last Soda
It didn’t take long for my parental delusion to be exposed. We arrived in the parking lot, and before my kids even got out of the van, one of them asked, “Dad, can I have a drink before we go into the park?” It didn’t seem like a dangerous request, but it was about to get ugly. I opened the cooler, filled with soft drinks and sandwiches and snacks, and simultaneously all of my children sighted the lone chocolate soda I had packed.
What happened next could only be described as global nuclear war. My kids start pushing and shoving, grabbing hair and slapping hands, throwing around as many nasty comments as ice cubes. I couldn’t believe it; we weren’t even inside the turnstile of the amusement park and my day was ruined! Because I had already concluded that this day would be hassle-free, I started yelling: “Do you want to fight? We don’t have to pay all this money for you to fight! I’ll take you home, put a cooler in the backyard with one can of soda in it, and you can fight forever!”
My tactic worked, or so I thought. Our kids quickly stopped fighting over the last soda, but not because they felt convicted by the Holy Spirit after my loving rebuke. In fact, just the opposite—my children were embarrassed by the crowd of people that had stopped to watch me lose it in the parking lot of that theme park!
Difficulty or Opportunity?
Let’s analyze what happened that afternoon. First—the parking lot. God was taking a mundane moment of daily family life and allowing it to be used as something wonderful for my children, and for me. What’s so wonderful about sibling arguments?
God exposes the condition of the child’s heart to the parent to produce awareness, concern, and a desire to see lasting change. All kids are sinners, but they struggle with sin in different ways. These moments are opportunities for you to gain awareness: Where specifically does my child need help? Then, if you love your child and want what’s best for them, these sinful tendencies that have been exposed should concern you, because you know the legacy of damage sin can have.
Finally, because you’ve seen their sin and it concerns you, you’ll develop the desire to be used by God to be an instrument of change in their lives. That’s what should happen, at least. But it doesn’t always. Why? Because of the second thing that’s happening, which occurs in my heart.
You see, our children aren’t the only ones who deal with indwelling sin. Parents do as well. And because our sinful tendencies desire comfort, control, and predictability, we view these moments of opportunity as moments of difficulty. Sibling arguments aren’t beautiful to us; they’re a hassle, and we’ll do whatever we can to quickly end them.
Are you beginning to see why I responded the way I did? I wanted comfort, control, and predictability, and that argument in the parking lot threatened all of my idols. In response, I took the fastest course of squashing the argument I could think of: I yelled.
Let me break it down further, with a step-by-step explanation of what I think we do as parents:
1. We turn moments of ministry into moments of anger.
This is the first thing we do. This parking lot argument was a God-given opportunity for ministry, not a hassle. But I responded in anger because my idols were threatened. What I thought would bring me joy was under attack, so I attacked back. What I didn’t see was that God was actually graciously providing an opportunity for more joy.
2. We personalize what isn’t personal.
Another reason we respond in anger is because we personalize what isn’t personal. My children didn’t stay up late the night before, staging this argument in an attempt to personally discourage me. They were simply acting as sinful and selfish children do. But I took it as a personal attack on my character: “I do all of this for you, and this is the response I get?”
3. We become adversarial
Because I personalized what wasn’t personal, I became adversarial in my response. When I feel personally attacked, I’m going to at least defend myself, and more than likely lash back with personal attacks of my own. The entire situation has now escalated, and someone is guaranteed to be wounded by a hurtful comment.
4. We attempt to make the situation go away.
Finally, now that the entire situation had escalated, I did what I could to make it quickly disappear. In the case of parenting, because adults are bigger and stronger and louder, we can usually make it disappear with a shout or a threat. But nothing has changed; the solution is temporary and has probably left more unseen damage than we realize.
A Better Way
Here’s the biblical reality of parenting: if your eyes ever see or your ears ever hear the sin, weakness, rebellion, or failure of your children, it’s never an imposition, an interruption, or a hassle. It’s always grace. God loves your children. In his sovereignty, he’s placed them in a family of faith, and in relentless grace, he’ll reveal their need to you again and again so you can be his tool of awareness, conviction, repentance, faith, and change.
And because in these moments he asks you to forsake your little kingdom for his bigger kingdom, this opportunity of grace isn’t just for your children—it’s for you as well. Don’t be afraid. Scripture gives you the wisdom you need, and your always-present Messiah gives you the grace you need to be ready to respond to the 10,000 little moments of parental opportunity he’ll send your way.
Join Paul Tripp for a video conference where he walks through four gospel principles that will change the way you raise your children. Parenting: Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family will stream live August 3 from 7:00–10:00 p.m. CT and Saturday, August 4 from 9:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. CT. Or watch later with unlimited, on-demand replay through November 30, 2018.
Dr. Paul David Tripp is a pastor, international event speaker, and award-winning and best-selling author. With more than 30 books and video series on Christian living, Paul’s driving passion is to connect the transforming power of Jesus Christ to everyday life.