Gospel Transformation (Moving Toward the Cross)
Last week I was with my daughter Sally and her two daughters. Sadie, the two-and-a-half-year-old, has had intense feelings of sibling rivalry toward her new little sister, Claire. She kept asking her parents to take Claire back after she was born. If Claire gets into Sadie’s toys, Sadie gets very angry. When I was there, Sadie had to be disciplined for hitting Claire. I sat in the dining room praying while Sally was in the living room with Sadie, talking to her afterwards. Sadie was weeping and telling Sally she was sorry.
Sally said, “Honey—you can’t help yourself. You feel angry with Claire. The only way that you will stop hitting her is if Jesus changes your heart and gives you love for her. I know—because I always have to ask Jesus to change my heart when I feel angry. Ask Him to help you.”
Suddenly Sadie lifted her arms toward heaven and cried out: Jesus, help me!
My heart melted at her poignant plea. I thought, That’s exactly what I need to do all day long. The gospel shows me how bad I am, because He was crucified for me, yet it also shows me how loved I am, for He was willing to die for me. He is just waiting for me to cry out to Him for help, and I need to keep my eyes on Him all day long.
I wish I had better understood the power of the gospel in parenting when I was a young mother. I love seeing young mothers here avail themselves of its power. Just last week Angela gave a testimony of how her daughter was becoming a “moralist” and she had to talk to her about her heart. Rebecca is diligently praying for the gospel to permeate her sons’ hearts. Cyndi is continually repenting in front of her children. Elizabeth has had so many gospel-centered discussions with her young daughter. And more! I realize so many of the things I did as a young mom restrained their outward behavior, but didn’t touch their hearts. I had sticker charts everywhere—they got stickers for being nice and for obeying—and so many stickers led to prizes! I think there is a place for rewarding good behavior, but we must always keep their hearts in mind. How are hearts changed?
Only by God. It is a miracle. You may actually do very well as a parent, and a heart may remain hard. Judas had the best teacher, but his heart remained hard. But, what God does call us to do is to walk in humility before our children, so they see us continually repenting. We must also PRAY and lift up Jesus in all of His splendor. Beware of training your child to be a “good Christian.” The last thing we want to do is be or to raise up “older brothers,” self-righteous moralists, who behave outwardly but who don’t really love God or anyone. Instead, keep lifting up Jesus—there are so many stories and ways you can help your children behold Him.
We are on this journey toward the cross, this journey to replace our idols with “a new affection,” with the love of God in our hearts. Every single one of us has failed, and every single one of us needs to cry out:
Help me, Jesus!
There is power here. As I traveled back to Kansas City I prayed for Sadie, knowing she is too young to fully understand the gospel, yet the seeds are there. And God can work in mysterious ways. I thought about how when Sally was eleven, we had adopted her sister Annie—a five-year-old orphan from Korea. Sally’s sibling rivalry was so intense it astonished me for I had been so overjoyed God had given Sally to us and we had adored her all of her eleven years. Probably too much! I thought, Doesn’t Sally know how loved she is? But then, helpless, we watched Sally slide into a severe depression: losing joy, losing sleep, losing weight. My husband was wise enough to recognize a clinical depression and we got her medical help—but still, that couldn’t touch her heart. Her anger was real. The Christian child psychiatrist tried to reason with her. He said: “Don’t you think your new little sister needs your parents’ love?”
Sally said, “WELL, SHE’S CERTAINLY GETTING IT!”
I did everything wrong. I was angry at Sally for being angry at Annie! I needed gospel powered grace just as much as she did. One night the girls were rough-housing and I heard Annie cry out in pain. I came running in, my anger bubbling up, and said to Sally, “What did you do now?”
Sally said, “Not only have I been rudely displaced, but now I am being unjustly accused.” (She has always been our “Anne of Green Gables.”)
It was my husband who was full of grace. He sat by Sally’s bed by the hour stroking her hair, praying for her. He listened to her–he told him she felt big, ugly, and had a mouth full of braces. Steve, full of the love of Christ, held her, loved her, wept over her, was Jesus to her.
In Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp says the main problem for children is their heart idols. Heart idols lie to us and hurt us. Sally felt like she had lost our love, and that was a lie. My anger didn’t help. But even our reassurances didn’t seem to be breaking the chains of those idols. We could restrain her outward behavior, we could get her medicine that would help her clinical depression, we could reassure her—but we needed the POWER of God to break those idols and change her heart.