Sitting in an oral surgeon’s office, the doctor talked kindly of my daughter undergoing anesthesia. I anxiously listened with only a bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse to keep the toddler occupied. My hands repeatedly squeezed drop after drop into the little one’s palms. She furiously rubbed it in…drop after drop…over and over again. That’s what you do when you forget the diaper bag. Anything in your purse becomes a toy. The doctor’s eyes lit up when he asked about our other children and found out there were six. One would think birthing six children might make someone an expert. Not so. The more you have the more you realize how absolutely so very little you really know.
“I’m a new dad. What advice can you give me?” I stared at him blankly. Advice? My toddler was sanitizing herself to death, what advice could I possibly offer? If only he had known. I was in the middle of a text argument with one (heaven forbid we actually have the conversation in person), another had been left at home throwing a ridiculous “you are way too old for this” tantrum, one was waiting for the discipline sentence to be issued after being caught in a hefty lie (if lies could be weighed,) and my husband and I were in disagreement about a situation and having to hash it out in the garage because there are SO MANY EARS inside our home. Seriously, Doc, I’m the one needing advice.
The wisdom in him to even ask. His humility caused me to pause before speaking. With careful words, I submitted, “I used to have a lot of advice on parenting. But now, every child of mine has blown my last piece of advice out of the water, so I’m sorta left with nothing wise to offer you right now.”He replied, “All of our friends with a baby and a toddler have all sorts of helpful hints to give us. My wife and I are trying to figure all this out.”
“Yeah, well, I have teenagers now…there’s something about teenagers that is silencing me.”A missed opportunity to witness to a young family. Overwhelmed by my own feelings of inadequacy and shortsighted failures, I offered no hope---WHEN I HAVE HOPE---to this new dad. I’ve thought about that conversation often in the last months. Why didn’t I give him the only advice that has transcended every stage, every issue, every attitude, every fad, every disappointment, every struggle, every argument, and every sin? Why didn’t I tell him what my only lasting hope has been?
Recently, a lovely woman from our church had a baby shower and we were asked to fill out a card with advice for this mom. Again, I stared at the card blankly. I had arrived at the shower trying to over-control my teenager’s plans for the weekend (he had gently nudged, “You don’t have to control this, Mom.”)I had thrown an adult “you’re way too old for this” tantrum in response to another child’s minor offense , and the toddler had been drinking cream soda all morning from a sippy cup and I had no recollection if I was the one who put it in there.PRAY.
That’s all I could write on the advice card for the baby shower.PRAY.
I wish I had told that to the young doctor with the new baby. Pray for your children. Earthly advice on child-raising changes with the times. Pray for your children. Pray for their hearts to be changed. Pray that they will meet Jesus face to face and be broken. Absolutely broken by their own sin. Pray their brokenness will lead them to grace and in that moment of amazing grace that they will fall madly in love with the God who knows everything about them…EVERYTHING…and loves them PERFECTLY.We can lead them to scripture…take them to church…encourage wise friends…discipline disobedience…push them to study…teach them to pray…sign them up for youth activities…give them good books…make them to be kind…tell them our stories in hopes they won’t repeat our mistakes…
But, we cannot bring about the one thing we want most…we cannot change their hearts. Only God can take a heart that is inclined toward selfishness and sin, and turn it toward Him. So, we pray continually, giving thanks, that God has the power to do the work that we cannot do.In a few hours, my oldest son will drive to school for the last time as a junior. He’ll sit through an assembly, clean out his locker, pay his lunch bill, and turn in a final assignment. The bell will ring and he will stroll out of those school doors as a senior. He’ll spend the summer visiting colleges, working at a fast food restaurant, going to church camp, and training for his last school year of sports. He’s fairly kind, knows scripture, and has a “life plan.” None of that matters at this point, if he doesn’t truly know Jesus.
So, we pray.
We pray for God to bring about the thing we want most. Ezekiel 11:19 “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.”
There’s great relief in leaning into the Lord to do this work. Great relief. If it was up to us to save our children, we would most definitely screw it up. But in God’s grace, He has taken it upon Himself to do the saving…to change the hardest of all hearts. I've always wondered why God would entrust sinful parents with the job of raising sinful children. It seems like a plan doomed to fail from the beginning. Sinners raising sinners. Yet, as my oldest son nears days when he is no longer under our roof, I'm resting in the great comfort that God did not entrust the act of saving to us. He has perfectly completed that act Himself. Praise God it's not up to us!
All of my tendencies to hide in my failures as a parent or even to boast in any momentary successes are quieted by the transcending hope that the God who saved me is the only one with the power to save my children. God kept the impossible job for Himself knowing that we were perfectly incapable of doing it ourselves. So, we step back, pray, and ask God to do His amazing work of changing a heart.
And then we wait...