Every Tuesday morning, I meet with a group of moms from my church for Bible study. We pay a babysitter to come watch our kids, though there always remains a few boisterous but really cute toddlers wandering around our feet during the study and prayer (we’ve learned to talk and pray fast and loud). We’re a bonded group, though always ready to welcome another battered mom to our midst. We crawl in each week, kids in arms, study, cry, and pray. And we walk out tall, renewed by the mutual love and support of our sisters in Christ equally battered by life as ourselves, reminded that our devotion to God is not in vain, ready to stay engaged with God in prayer and study as we face the storms of life.
We are reading through Paul Miller’s A Praying Life this quarter and anticipating studying Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff Vanvonderen in the fall. The Biblical truths that are foundational to each study are swirling together and complementing each other nicely.
“Learned desperation is at the heart of a praying life.” A Praying Life, p. 114
“Until you are convinced that you can’t change your child’s heart, you will not take prayer seriously.” A Praying Life, p. 167.
“It took me seventeen years to realize I couldn’t parent on my own. It was not a great spiritual insight, just a realistic observation. If I didn’t pray deliberately and reflectively for members of my family by name every morning, they’d kill one another. I was incapable of getting inside their hearts. … It didn’t take me long to realize I did my best parenting by prayer.” A Praying Life, p. 59
Vanvoderen’s opening salvo in the introduction to Families Where Grace is in Place struck me hard.
“When people spend their lives trying to transform their spouse and their kids, the natural result is tiredness, discouragement, and the desire to quit. Therefore, this book is more about learning the right job, and less about learning new techniques. … We must learn the simple difference between God’s job and ours.” p. 13-14
I have a lot of techniques and strategies. For the wrong job. I know how to manage a day. But I do not know how to transform a heart. I am learning that it’s quite reasonable that I don’t know how to change my boys’ hearts, because it’s not my job anyway. It’s still hard for me to believe with Miller that I do my best parenting on my knees. Yet, as I meditate on that idea more and more, I don’t just agree with it in terms of spiritual philosophy, but my day to day experience is reinforcing it practically as well. Sometimes it’s praying for my family by myself. Many times it’s praying for my boys with my boys about a specific issue we can’t work out any other way.
I’ll write more on this subject after I finish Vanvonderen’s book. But for now I’m thinking through what good techniques I’ve adopted for the wrong job, manipulation and control (which substitute for authentic transformation quite nicely in the short term). Their hearts might not transform, but at least they looked good on the outside! I know better. I really do. Yet, I default to control and manipulation with my children regularly, when I should be defaulting to prayer.
Certainly, there is value to management and thoughtful strategies in parenting. When I don’t plan ahead and prepare, I feel like I often set my kids up for failure. Yet, such planning and strategizing can distract me from my real job in my children’s life. The more I get a hold of the difference in my job and God’s job in my family’s life, the more I realize how desperately I need Him in prayer.
I linked to this message before, but my friend, Holly Stratton, speaks here on holding tight to gospel hope for our troubled children and the power of faithfully communicating it to them. This message really blessed me.