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Parenting in Jesus’ Name (1 of 3)

I recently reread one of my favorite books on Leadership, In the Name of Jesus, by Henri Nouwen.   This time as I was reading it I was smacked in the head by the revelation of how helpful this message is to us parents.  Parenting, after all, may be the greatest expression of leadership.

In the book, Nouwen examines the three temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness and explores with his readers how the temptations come to bear on the life of the leader today and what we can done to overcome them.

One of the primary temptations we face as parents is to “do something useful to prove our worth.”  A fundamental and costly mistake many of us make is to believe that our identity is dependent upon performance.  Our natural tendency, especially when we are in the first half of our life, is to strive to be useful.  Our identity is wrapped up in our usefulness, our doing, our performance.  We end up acting like human doings rather than living like human beings.

This is not the way God designed us as persons. Our worthiness precedes our usefulness.  It is wrapped up in our being—who we are as persons created in the image of God.  We are declared by Him to be “very good” and “awesomely and wonderfully made.”

It is fundamental to our health and well-being that we keep our being and doing in proper order.  Our being is like roots of a tree sunk deep into the soil of God’s love.  Our being is like the fruit naturally produced. Our doing is designed to flow out of our being.  The trouble begins when we “forget” who we are (God’s very good, worthy, and loved child).  So often we feel the pressure to prove ourselves again and again.  We live and act as if our worth was dependent upon our usefulness.  If I do enough good things, then I am good.  If I raise good children, then I am a good parent.  If I make enough money, I must not be incompetent.  If I drive a nice car or wear nice clothes then I must be successful and not a failure.  We quickly find ourselves caught in the trap of needing to work for our worthiness.

Vulnerable ParentingAll of this has a profoundly negative impact on our children who need so much more from us than the useful things we do for them like provide food, clothing, toys, a car, or an education.  Children are not impressed by our doing; degrees, salary, titles, etc.  And to make matters worse our doing and performing becomes a mask, obscuring our authentic selves.  The irony is in the reality that it is the real you, which has been obscured by your performing, that your children long for.

Parenting in the name of Jesus asks us to stand before our children completely useless with nothing to offer them but our own vulnerable, beloved self.  Only then can we embody the message “that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because we are His.”  (Adapted from Nouwen)

The practice: Abiding prayer.

To love, one must first listen to love.  In order to love your children, you must first listen to the overtures of God’s love for you.  I call this practice abiding prayer. Jesus states emphatically, “As the Father has loved me, I have loved you, abide in my love.”

Situating yourself in a place where you can receive God’s love is the foundation of faithful parenting.  Imagine a baby in the arms of a loving mother with nothing to offer but its own naked and vulnerable self.  How does this mother feel as she beholds the child she holds tight to her chest?   Can you picture yourself as that baby being held by the God who loves you?   How does it feel to be loved even though you have nothing to offer?  How does it feel to know God looks upon you with pride and joy? This is what it feels like to have one’s identity deeply rooted in God’s love for me. 

I believe my most important parenting move is to start each day pondering God’s love for me.  Meditating on scripture has proved to be invaluable to this practice.  I invite you to consider sitting quietly for five minutes allowing God’s word of love to wash over you.   Not sure where to start?  Consider Isaiah 43:1-7, Eph. 5:1, 2 in the Message, John 15:1-12, or a favorite Psalm.  I have also found praying with Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son to be an amazing means of experiencing God’s grace.

Living in God’s love sets us free from needing to “hustle for our worthiness” and when it comes to parenting, this is extremely helpful in the following ways.  First, it keeps us from needing our children’s approval so we can make the hard decisions and stick with them.    Second it allows us to soothe the stress in our homes rather than add to it.  Being rooted in God’s love frees us to be a peaceful presence in the midst of anxiety without fear of losing ourselves.

When we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life and love, it will be possible to remain flexible without being wishy-washy, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses to God’s love without being manipulative.



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