Last week, tilted back in the dentist’s chair, unable to speak, I listened to the technician praise my kids. “They are amazing. I wish every kid was like your kids. They’re so good.” I couldn’t argue with her or let her know the true reality since I couldn’t talk, so I decided to just bask in the moment. It kind of felt good. “Other kids run up and down the halls and yell and scream. It’s just unbelievable. And one little girl went out in the waiting room and pinched an older lady sitting there. A complete stranger! Can you believe it? No one will be surprised if she ends up a junior delinquent!”
Indeed, I mentally responded, quickly sorting my children’s sin files. I don’t think we’ve ever pinched a stranger. That is bad, and wow, my kids are pretty good. There’s good pride that acknowledges God as a giver of gifts and there’s ugly pride that credits myself with achievement and I had ugly pride going on as my angelic chicks marched out of the dentist’s office under the glow of the staff’s approval.
Too bad my youngest was in the process of committing his first theft, with an action figure carefully concealed and stuffed down his shorts.
At home, I saw him set the figure on the counter (a transformer? Superman on steroids? a blue batman?). “Where did you get that?” I asked.
Nonchalantly, he replied, “Oh, just up in my toy basket.” Something about his tone made me pause and look at his face. The whole story came out and I added another forty-five minutes to my day to process and deal with his admittedly small crime. On the drive back to the dentist’s office to right the wrong (where I would admit by my presence that my own kid could be the future delinquent) I heard a small voice from the back seat: “Mom, this is so embarrassing.”
Sin is embarrassing. Sin is always destructive. Sin robs, steals and destroys joy. And our kids are sinners. I’ve known these facts most of my life, but this summer as I read Paul David Tripp’s Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family, I was made aware that I, the parent, am a sinner, too. Of course, I knew this before, but most parenting books operate on the premise that you are good, your kids are bad, and you want to somehow move your children from point A (bad) to point B (good). Tripp argues that even the best parent is a sinner in need of grace and when we communicate anything other than that truth to our children, we are distorting the gospel; “we are more like our children than unlike them” is not a common parenting concept but it’s (uncomfortably) true.
And being good? Who can really be good? These are the mantras we repeat to our kids. Behave. Be good. Be nice. What do these statements even mean? Are they gospel? The prophet Isaiah said that our righteousness is like filthy rags; “like autumn leaves we wither and fall and our sins sweep us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6). Do I want my kids to be good so they don’t embarrass me in public or do I want much, much more for them ; do I want them to worship God with their imperfect lives, with humility and grace? Just when I think Paul Tripp’s 14 Gospel Principles are going to give me a fourteen step plan to beautiful, humble spirits in my children, he announces that I must stop trying to do for my children what only God can do.
“You can’t be good enough on your own.” I spoke this to my own child several months ago, following deep failure on his part. “Do you know that I can’t either? You see all of me, all the ugly, too. When I am the mom you want to have and when I am able to respond rightly to situations most of the time I am crying out to God to help me. Do you know that I can’t be good on my own at all? You can’t either and you need to ask for God’s help.” This shouldn’t be a new concept for me to explain to my kids but unfortunately, it is. Tripp’s book has reminded me of truth I already knew and encouraged me to share it with my children.
I read lots of parenting books. It is almost a hobby. I desperately want my children to be healthy and happy and loved and whole and I feel woefully inadequate as a mom. So I read books that give great help. Most of the things I do as a parent that work I learned from someone else or a book that explained a biblical principle. And for the massive ways I fail. . . well, I read books about how to improve.
Greg, of Diary of a Wimpy Kid fame, has a mom who is always reading a parenting book and my kids laugh at me and say that’s me. It is. Because I read such volumes on one subject, it doesn’t take long to tell the difference between glossy fluff and deep wisdom. For years my favorite parenting book has been Tim Kimmel’s Grace-Based Parenting. It is dog-eared and marked up and currently loaned out. Gloria Furman’s books are deep wisdom. Another great old one (with a nondescript cover and nothing flashy about it) is Seven Habits of a Healthy Home by Bill Carmichael. In one summer, Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles edged out ahead of all of my long time favorites and made the top of my personal list.
Here are five reasons why Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles is the best book on raising children I’ve read to date.
1. Tripp never wastes your time.
If you read even one paragraph, there will be something that makes you think hard for the rest of the day. He is one of the most efficient writers I’ve read and I appreciate that my time is valued and I don’t have to wade through miles of English posturing to get to the point.
2. Parenting was interesting enough that my kids wanted to read it.
Each chapter begins with about a dozen short real life scenarios and my son loved reading these aloud to me and discussing the situations. We have had some great conversations together in the van with my eleven-year-old reading Tripp aloud to me.
3. Tripp has a surprising application of biblical principles.
Deeply biblical, deeply gospel, you won’t be surprised by the 14 principles. But it may be a new concept to you, like it was to me, to apply some of these principles to parenting. This is the beauty of the book. Do you know the great commission? Of course! “Go into all the world and preach the gospel. . .and I am with you. . .”(Matthew 28:19-20) Have you thought about that verse in the context of parenting? I hadn’t.
4. Tripp is pretty quotable.
I have marked up, quoted paragraphs, and read aloud from this book all summer to my husband, friends, and sisters. You will probably be tempted to do the same. How about this:
“Little moments are the addresses where our parenting lives.”
“Every sin is vertical. Every sin is a desire to remove God from his throne and sit there yourself.”
“Every day, God will give you theological opportunities, moments to help your children see the one thing they desperately need to see: [the glory of God].”
Or this. . . . wait, I have to finish this article. See? It’s just so quotable.
5. Parenting is filled with hope.
Books are just fibers and ink. But when words motivate you, fill you, bring hope to inadequate situations, they become very valuable. I’m warning you, it takes a long time to get through this book; more than just another psychology spiel, 14 Gospel Principles motivates you to leave the book on the coffee table and go do what God has called you to do.
Covering topics like identity, control, mercy, inability, rest and false gods, we are reminded over and over again that the problems that face our children are the same ones we face and it’s our job to walk alongside our children and point them (and ourselves) away from the traps of sin to Christ and to demonstrate–not just preach–the joy of living a life that brings glory to God.
I thought about grace and truth while driving my son back to the dentist’s office to return the pilfered action figure. “This is so embarrassing, Mom.”
Yes, it is, because sin is embarrassing. But no, it’s not, because I am being given an opportunity to confess my own sin (pride) and humble my heart before God and others. It’s only embarrassing when I (falsely) operate on the assumption that my child is inherently good. He is not. He is a sinner and God has given him parents to help him identify his sin and his need for forgiveness and God’s grace.
We walked into the office, two sinners, one laying her pride down and one laying his action figure down. Forgiveness was swift and wrong was made right. Gospel for both of us.
Photography: JenniMarie Photography