The other day I noticed one of my children acting selfishly toward his siblings. Concerned by his behavior, I ushered him into the next room and closed the door. I opened the access door to his internal control panel, and sure enough, just as I suspected, the “Selfishness” dial was turned all the way up. “No wonder we’ve been having trouble,” I thought. “Time for some adjustments.” I turned the dial back down. While I was at it, I turned up the “Love for God” and “Respect for Parents” dials.
“That should do it,” I said to myself as I closed the access door and sent our son back out to play.
Sure enough, the rest of the evening passed pleasantly as our son cheerfully shared his toys and obeyed our instructions instantly without complaint.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? If only it were that simple!
The truth, of course, is far more complicated.
As the parents of young children, my wife and I have seen our share of selfish squabbles. Recently, on a particularly rough day when selfishness seemed to be dominating our children’s interactions with each other, I decided to use our family Bible time that evening to look at the issue and do a little teaching. I read the passage in James 4 that answers the question of where “wars and fightings” come from. We read in James 1 about how our lusts are the source of our temptation and sin.
It was during all of this that I came face to face with a simple truth: I can’t make my children care about doing the right thing. It’s beyond my power. I don’t have the capacity to reach into their hearts and give them a desire to do what’s right.
That can be a hard truth to face.
We want our children to do well. We want them to love God, love each other, honor us as their parents, and have a genuine desire to do what’s right. We want them to exercise saving faith in Christ. We want them to choose a life of service to their Creator.
But we can’t choose any of that for them. We can’t force them to care about doing the right things for the right reasons.
Contrary to what we might wish, our children don’t come equipped with internal control panels with knobs and dials and switches that we can turn and twist and flip until they’re perfect examples of godliness.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that we don’t wield an enormous amount of influence in our children’s lives. Clearly we do. God gave us that influence and He tells us to teach our children diligently in His ways. That’s our responsibility and calling.
But even so, as vast as our influence is, it’s not unlimited. It’s not infinite. And at some point, we come face to face with those limitations.
What are we to do? Throw our hands up in despair because we can’t force our children’s hearts to be right? Because we can’t purge out their sin and selfishness and rebellion?
No. It’s the time to pray and trust God. Because although we can’t reach directly into their hearts, He can. It’s also the time to keep faithfully doing the job God has given us to do. It’s the time to keep using the influence He’s given us to impact our children for good.
In many areas of life, God gives us responsibilities to fulfill even while calling us to trust Him for the outcome. For instance, I’m called to work and provide for my family, even while I have to understand that it’s not ultimately my efforts but God’s provision that meets our needs.
The same is true in parenting. It would be a dereliction of duty to sit back, do nothing, and claim we’re trusting God to work in the lives of our kids. But it’s equally foolish to work and strive as if the outcome is entirely in our hands. We have to trust God in the process.
If you’re like me, trusting can be hard. It’s easy to get worried and anxious about the problems. It’s easy to see faults in our children’s lives, to recognize our own failings as parents, and to fret and worry that our kids will never turn out the way we hope and dream they will.
But God calls us to trust Him. He calls us to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us. He calls us to come boldly to the throne of grace. He calls us to ask Him for wisdom without doubting.
The God who loves me also loves my children. The God who sent His Son for me also sent Him for my children. The God who cares for me knows my heart, knows my weaknesses, knows my failings, and loves me anyway.
We can trust a God like that. We can trust His heart of love for us and our children.
We can go to Him in all our weakness, all our brokenness, all our failings, and trust His grace to work in and through and around all the mess to bring the good outcome He has planned.
Our trouble comes when we take on more responsibility than God gives us. He doesn’t give us responsibility for results, as if we can force anything to happen. He gives us responsibility for our own actions, but He takes responsibility for results.
I’m reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3:6. He planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. Don’t carry the burden of results that you don’t have the power to generate. Leave those in God’s hands.
And what if we’re having trouble trusting Him as we should? If we find ourselves fretting and worrying? We can take that to Him as well and ask Him for the grace to rest and believe as we should.
Let’s trust God with our children. Yes, let’s work hard and be faithful to our calling, but let’s never lose sight of the fact that our God is bigger than us, bigger than our children, bigger even than our biggest faults and failings.
We can trust Him.