It’s OK to Be an OK Parent

Matthew 19:13-15 13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. 14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

A typical week in the Zarling home is four to five weeknights of soccer practices and cross country meets. This is followed by a weekend of my wife and I doing the divide and conquer technique for soccer games and high school activities. Somewhere in there, we need to squeeze in violin practices, Homecoming pictures, and Shoreland football and soccer games.

What I’m describing as being typical for our family, is probably also typical for your family.

As parents, we have put this tremendous pressure upon ourselves to have our children in every activity possible. We want them in club sports, grade school and high school athletic activities, band, orchestra, etc. We fill up every minute of every day.

We feel that we should do all of this to be super-parents to our children. Our cape is hidden under our work clothes. Our superpower is our scheduling ability. Our hidden talent is being able to do more for our kids than our parents did for us.

My fellow parents, one of the best gifts we can give to our children is to stop trying to be perfect parents. You don’t have to be a superhero to your children. Throw away your capes. Embrace your failure to be a super-mom or a super-dad.

Earlier this year, Bunmi Laditan wrote about “How to Be a Mom in 2017.” She said, “Make sure your children’s academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, and social needs are met while being careful not to over stimulate, underestimate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect them in a screen free, processed foods free, plastic free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritative, nurturing but fostering of independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide-free two-story, multilingual home preferably in a cul-de-sac with a backyard and 1.5 siblings spaced at least two years apart for proper development also don’t forget the coconut oil.”

Then she added: “How to be a mom in literally every generation before ours: feed them sometimes.”

The post went viral. And with good reason.

Parents, we need to embrace our mediocrity. We need to rejoice in our mediocrity.

We can cut back on the club sports and the private lessons and the extra activities. And then just be … average.

And that’s OK.

You don’t have to be perfect. Jesus already is. Let your children know your flaws. Allow them to hear you repent of your failures to them. Demonstrate your repentance. Tell them how you have sinned against them and against God. Then ask for their forgiveness. Remind them that you have already been forgiven by Jesus. That’s when you bring them to Jesus. Tell them how Jesus has washed away your sins away in His holy blood.

That will give your children the confidence to come to you with their failures, their failings, and their sins. They can confess their sins to you, knowing that though you will be upset and disappointed, you aren’t going blow up at them. Instead, you will offer them your forgiveness surrounded by Jesus’ forgiveness.

One day, a group of parents were bringing their children to Jesus to have Him place His hands on them and bless them. As the children climbed all over Him, the disciples tried to shoo the children away. Their Master was too busy for little kids. Jesus was indignant. He told them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 

There is a sharpness in Jesus’ tone. There is great sin involved when we intentionally or unintentionally keep children away from Jesus. We heard in our Gospel lesson Jesus forcefully warn about the danger of causing the spiritual downfall of His children: “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me – it would be better for him if a heavy millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depth of the sea!” (Matthew 18:6) Jesus wants us to bring our children to Him for two reasons: 1) These children need Him. They are sinners. He is their Savior. 2) These children can believe in Him. God’s Word and Baptism can create and strengthen faith in little hearts, too.

Through faith in Jesus, they are a part of God’s kingdom. In fact, these children are examples to us as adults of the kind of faith we should have in Jesus. “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child—this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:3,4).

We should only have one fear – not bringing our children to Jesus. If we fail to bring them, then we can expect some heavy jewelry around our necks – a millstone.

Instead of a healthy, spiritual fear for the Lord, we allow earthly fears to dominate our parenting.

We often parent out of fear. We are afraid that our kids are going to make mistakes. So, we are hard in our discipline of them. Or, we are afraid that they won’t like us, so we are easy in our discipline of them. We are afraid that when they become teenagers, they are going to become moody and sullen and lock themselves in their bedroom. (They’re going to do all that anyhow.)

We fear that our kids are being left behind, so we confront their teacher. We fear that our kids are being left out, so we assume that there must be bullies in their class. We fear that our kids are not going to get a scholarship, so we put them in every activity possible.

Stop parenting out of fear. Give that fear to Jesus. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. … The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46: 1,2, 8).

When we parent out of fear, we inevitably end up teaching our children that only the extraordinary matters. That winning first place is what life is all about. That getting into the top school is of ultimate importance. That standing above the crowd is how we make ourselves worthy.

Rather, teach them that we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Teach them to fear – to have respect for – their heavenly Father who loved them so much that He gave His one and only Son to die in their place. Teach them to love their Savior who became a human child, just like them, to grow up to accept their punishment. He came to earth to become one of them, so that they can believe in Him and come to Him in heaven. Teach them to trust in the Holy Spirit who gives them the gift of faith through God’s Word and His Sacrament of Baptism. It is the Holy Spirit who continues to work in their souls through God’s Word and His Sacraments.

Parents, you need to bring your children to Jesus, just like those parents of old did. But, you also need to come to Jesus. You need Him just as much as they do.

Mom, I’m sure you feel guilty when your child is injured. The doctor might be able to console your guilt by saying, “So you accidentally pinched your kid’s fingers in the car door. He’ll be fine.” But, you had better never hear your pastor console your guilty conscience by saying, “No biggie. You’re doing the best you can.” Rather, you need your pastor to speak the words of Jesus back to you. Your guilt won’t disappear until you hear the words of Christ: “Take heart; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).

Your guilt of not being the perfect mother is removed when you receive Jesus’ perfection to cover your guilt. Your feelings of inadequacy can melt away when you are reminded that Jesus sufficiently paid for your inadequacies on the cross. Your regret at seeing your children mess up because you weren’t the perfect mother is expelled when you hear, “Dear imperfect Mom, Christ doesn’t need you to be a perfect mother to save your children. Jesus was perfect. He’s the One who can save both you and your children.”

Dad, it is primarily your job to raise your children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Bring your children to church with you. Every single week. Sunday after Sunday. Don’t sit at home watching TV or going to work while Mom brings the kids. God has given this parental responsibility primarily to you. If your wife has to do the majority of the homework with your children, make sure that you are the one who is tucking them in bed, reading them a Bible story or devotion and then praying with them. After they’ve gone to bed, join with your wife in praying for your children.

I know that many guys feel that the spiritual aspect of child-rearing is more the mom’s job. I want you to think of it this way. If a dangerous dog is growling at your child, you’ll step between that dog and your defenseless child. If someone breaks into your home, you’ll give your life protecting your wife and child from the burglar.

Real men protect their children. There is something far more dangerous than a growling dog coming after your children. The devil is a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Your wife and children are in constant peril, not from a strong man breaking into your home, but from the strong man of the devil breaking into your spiritual home.

Be a real man. Put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6). Take up the shield of faith. Swing the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s Word. Strap on the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, and shoes of the gospel of peace. Beat back the devil with God’s Word. Protect your family with the strength that only God provides.

Moms and Dads, together you protect your children from the filth and foulness in the world by bringing them closer and closer to Jesus Christ, their Good Shepherd. Your children are lambs in Christ’s flock. Christ is the Great Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep.

Parents, don’t concern yourself with giving your kids the very best. That’s the last thing they need. Feed them. Don’t let them out of the house naked. Make sure they wear shoes in the wintertime. Bring them to church and school. Love them, play with them, forgive them when they mess up and ask their forgiveness when you mess up.

Parenting is not rocket science; it’s not even science. It’s just doing ordinary stuff to make sure these little people under your care are, in fact, cared for. People have been doing this since, like, the dawn of time, amazingly without reading a single book about How to Be an Extraordinary Parent.

It is OK to be ordinary. God hides Himself in the ordinary. Jesus appeared ordinary. There was nothing to attract us to Him, nothing that we should desire Him (Isaiah 53:2). Yet, hidden under His ordinariness was the very Son of God. Hidden in human flesh and blood was our children’s Savior – and our Savior. Hidden upon a criminal hanging on a Roman cross was our soul’s salvation.

Jesus continues to hide Himself in the ordinary. He hides His salvation in the water of Baptism. He hides His body and blood in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. He hides his almighty power and divine strength in the written and spoken words in our Bibles. He hides His forgiveness in the audible sounds in the absolution of sins.

Parents, let the D.C. and Marvel characters wear their capes. They can be the superheroes. All you need to do is be ordinary. And let your children come to Jesus. They can find their extraordinary Savior hidden in the ordinary. You don’t have to be the perfect parent. Jesus was perfect so that you can be merely OK. Amen.