A wholehearted parent is what you and I want to be when we grow up. It’s either that or when we become like the little children Jesus talked about, because it’s this desire born from God’s Spirit in our lives. It’s a bit difficult to define or understand outside of that. It looks different from family to family by design. This is due to its nature—it’s not a thing that can be acquired. It is a gift of God, that can only be received with open hands, also known as “empty”.
To be empty is one of the most painful places to be in life and all at once, the very most important.
God’s mercy and understanding are so great. He knows our struggles and our fears. If you’ve been a parent for any period time I’m sure you’ve experienced both. The good news is that these things are not the enemy of being the parent God designed us to be, they are the vehicle.
I would love to write for you an article full of steps to “wholehearted parenting”, but I know only two.
One: Come as a beggar to God’s open door. He is this gift Giver, the only Source of all these things we want to characterize our parenting. Come with empty hands, and humble hearts.
Two: Do NOT give up. Keep our hand to the plow. Never stop pouring our heart out to the Father who is pleased to give us His kingdom, His heart, and His gifts.
He is said to lead gently those with young and I have found Him faithful. He brings rest to our turmoil in perfect and unique ways when we seek Him. And we need that because being empty can be dangerous. The sense of desperation that it stirs up leads us to buy into thoughts that, in a more rested state, we might otherwise kick to the curb. Thoughts of comparison, guilt or lack of hope for the future in the midst of a toddler tantrum or teenage immaturity. We wonder if we could do good enough, try hard enough, if we could keep it together long enough…But we fail. We all do. Don’t be afraid.
Some have strengths we don’t, productivity that we can’t obtain, but “having it all together” is an illusion. Being found and fought for by Grace Himself in the midst of daily life is REAL. We must hold onto this when we get that fire in our chests, because if you’re alive, it will come. Stress, anxiety, pain, discouragement or depression—here’s what I know: all of those things serve a purpose in God’s hands. The goal is to teach us to hear Him call our name, our truest selves, alive in God. Can you think of a better way to be a parent? Me either.
Choosing to believe that He can give us what it takes to be wholehearted in our parenting means walking through excruciating difficulty, but that’s where miracle is always waiting for us. He hears the cry of the broken-hearted.We need to know this truth like we need to know our address.
If we think about it for a moment I’d guess each of us reading this probably knows at least one (or more) parent who has thrown in the towel. If that is an action that is difficult for you to understand, I’d like to shed some light on the fact that it’s a place not so hard to get to. It just takes one essential ingredient chewed on long enough; believing we don’t have what it takes and we never will.
And here’s the truth, we don’t. But that’s not the end of the story. Being a wholehearted parent, reflecting the reality of God to our children, even a little, is a gift. It cannot be manufactured. It’s a gift and we’re built with the capacity to receive it. Strangely one of the more marvelous ways His gifts go on display in our life, that woos the children’s hearts to Himself, is through our failures and our willingness to admit them and begin again. This is God’s way, upside down, inside out. If we are willing to bring Him our emptiness, He’s willing to fill us up.
It is a gift like love, joy and peace are gifts; like patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness are gifts. And if you are tracking with me, that these things named are what the Bible calls “the fruit of the Spirit”, then you might remember two more belong in this list: gentleness and self control. Have you ever really wanted to be any of those things as a parent and felt as though it was entirely out of your reach? Of course you have. We all have.
God gave us all those words, all those virtues I named above. He also gave us the secret of how those come about in our ordinary, potty-training-toddlers, going-to-work, daily lives right in the middle of those words—but we often miss it, the same way I lose the keys to my car.
Here’s the secret: This way of living, is the fruit of His Spirit. It’s the result of His life breath in our life, His power filling in our gaps and weaknesses, our tragedies and losses. I know, I know, it’s not really a secret, but we live like it is. I live like it is.
I stress out and give up because even though I know these things in my mind I wake up in the morning and operate like I’m going to kindle a fire of passion in my kids hearts, clean the garage, pay the bills, look into everyone’s eyes when they talk to me oh and feed the poor—by noon. Insert muscular flexed arm emoji here.
I often don’t want to wait for the uncertainty of what a day of walking in His strength might look like. I have preferred to know where I am and where I’m going, measured and expected. It doesn’t feel as scary that way, acting like I’m in control. But it doesn’t feel like I’m living awake either.
Is it worth it? Is it worth it to act like this is all up to me and not pray continuously like my family’s life depends on it (because it does)? The mess I generally find myself in a little ways down the road would suggest I need a new way of doing things. When I see Scriptures talk about His Spirit and His power, I’m training myself to take a deep breath and relax, because what He’s trying to tell us is, “Look kids, here’s a gift!”
This is hard territory, and by that I think I am right to say, the very hardest. The reason for that is because this is where the most is at stake. But don’t take my word for it, I’m echoing the last chapter of the Old Testament where it pivots on this one need and this one miraculous possibility…Malachi 4:6…he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
Lots of people like to leave the last part of that verse out these days, but like I said, don’t take my word…
The truth about wholehearted parenting: it’s as important as we think it is. God will turn the world upside down through the discipleship of our children. The other part of that truth: It’s not as impossible as we often feel it is. This is a call to perseverance not perfection, remember? This is His gift.