by Brandon Dean
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
Ask my girls, (they are both fine, young, millennial women now, trying to discover God’s plan and purpose for their lives) and they will tell you that growing up it was rare that they could watch a television show, a movie, or have a book read to them without Daddy hitting pause and leading them in some kind of discussion about how it all relates back to Jesus. I just couldn’t help myself – the world today seems bound and determined to preach false truth to my kids, and I was not content to just sit idly by and let their voices be louder than mine.
This began with a defining moment in my life as a parent. My oldest was struggling in fourth grade, and despite all our best efforts (and even some of our worst) our ordinarily bright and obedient daughter just could not improve. I felt like a failure. I worried about her future. I was embarrassed. One day, when it seemed there was no hope left that she wasn’t going to fail, I lamented to my pastor about the whole situation. It felt like a confession! Like a dirty secret was coming to light. But he told me something that stayed with me for the rest of my life. “I know Halle, and she loves Jesus and is so kind. Is it more important to you that she is a good student or that she follows Christ and has good character?”
In that moment, I realized that my priorities as a parent were all backwards. Turning to Scripture, I found nothing about raising independent people. Instead I discovered the concept of interdependence within the body of Christ. There was nothing about getting into a good college or finding the perfect career. Instead there was learning to discern and follow the calling and the will of God. Strangely, there was nothing about perfect behavior – except for several clear statements that it wasn’t possible. There was only reliance upon the perfect righteousness of our Savior and a life characterized by repentance and ongoing sanctification.
A great burden was lifted off my shoulders that afternoon. I realized for the first time that I could not control every (or really any) aspect of my children’s lives. Like all human beings, they were going to struggle; they were going to be great at some things and not-so-great at others. My role as a father was not to somehow maintain perfection, but to keep pointing them to Jesus in the midst of whatever the circumstances, and to help them form the disciplines that would lead to obedience in their Christian walk. From that day forward, I just tried to put Deuteronomy 6 into action; I began having an ongoing conversation with my kids – everything was a lesson about Jesus.
Everything turned out okay, but not everything turned out perfectly, at least not by the world’s standards. By some standards, I did a great job: Neither of my girls make a living taking their clothes off, neither do drugs, and they both go to church. But by other standards, I’m a complete flop: Neither has a successful career, neither went to college, one is in therapy, and the other still lives with me. (I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself if I’m even qualified to be writing an article giving parenting advice.) But here’s the thing: we continue to have that conversation about Jesus to this day (sometimes they are the ones starting them) and by the grace of God, they both love Jesus. The reality is, they grew up to be wonderful people that I love being around.
My prayer for you, young parents, is that you will find the rest that comes with laying down the worldly standards of success as a parent. It’s okay to have goals, but don’t forget your primary role: always be talking about Jesus.