Start and end with grace
Question: What’s the definition of a hot mess?
Answer: Trying to video chat while your three-year-old is in the room.
I’m not sure if the folks at Webster will agree with my definition, but I have a hunch that you will. Being a parent was already hard, but the coronavirus has made parenting more difficult than skiing a double-black-diamond course.
On one leg.
With an eye patch.
While humming NSync’s greatest hits.
From the endless cycle of shopping, cooking, and washing dishes to the impossible task of being productive while full-time parenting, many of us are facing a unique challenge in our lives as mothers and fathers.
Which is why we need a survival guide. For the next few days, I want to fuel up your soul by reminding you of God’s truth, especially his empowering promises to sustain his people, parents included.
Here’s my first encouragement—Start and end with grace.
There’s so much for parents to do. My wife, a wonderfully organized woman, has to-do lists for herself, to-do lists for our daughters, and even a to-do list to create other to-do lists! Because there’s always so much to do and always to-dos that we never get around to doing.
That’s why we’re in desperate need of what’s already been done.
Years ago, I noticed a pattern in the letters of the apostle Paul. He would both start and end his letters with “grace,” the undeserved love of God that finished our salvation on the cross. No matter how long the Christian living to-do list was in the middle, he sandwiched it with grace.
“Grace and peace to you. . . . The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (Romans 1:7; 16:20).
“Grace and peace to you. . . . The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you” (1 Corinthians 1:3; 16:23).
“Grace and peace to you. . . . May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all” (2 Corinthians 1:2; 13:14).
Get the point? If not, keep reading through the book Paul wrote. Go ahead, read all of them . . . unless there’s a toddler awake in your home!
Paul was radically and wonderfully committed to starting and ending his letters with grace, the love of Jesus that declares how he forgave and saved us. And, through the Word, this grace is God’s gift to you too.
There will be so much to do as a parent from sunup to sundown, but our souls find rest, not in a to-do list but in what Jesus has already done.
So when the alarm goes off and the to-do list is calling your name (or a kid is jumping on your bed!), remember grace. Through Jesus, you are loved, treasured, and holy in your Father’s eyes. And when you crash into bed at night with 16 boxes that didn’t get checked, remember that grace is still true. You are forgiven for every failure, flaw, and sin, even sins against your kids.
That’s how parents survive corona. In fact, that’s how parents survive every day.
May grace be with you today!
Remember you are not God
I used to be a pretty productive pastor.
As a creature of habit, I had nearly mastered a routine of working hard at church, spending quality (and quantity) time with my wife and daughters, and prioritizing time to keep my soul and body healthy.
Notice I began with the words used to. Because the coronavirus infected my routine and left it gasping for breath.
Can you relate?
As humans, our brains love what’s predicable. We don’t have to use up our limited brainpower when we know precisely what to do and when to do it, which is why we all have our own routines. Wake up the kids—check. Drop them off at school while eating breakfast in the car—check. Do work at home or the office—check. Pick up kids—check. Family time—check.
These days, however, our routines are on life support and our brains are exhausted. We seem to accomplish 50% as much and feel 150% as overwhelmed.
This is why I want to offer you my second encouragement—Remember that you are not God.
This passage wasn’t written about you: “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). Since you’re not God, you need to sleep. You need to eat. You need to move. Your brain can’t function 24/7, at least not for very long. You have limits. Your brain can’t process constant decisions without turning as mushy as morning oatmeal. Smart Christians accept and embrace those limits.
What exactly am I suggesting? That you honestly evaluate what you can’t do during this season of life. You might have pulled it off before, and you might be able to pull it off in the future, but now is not the time. The same hours at work, the same quality of cooking, the same speedy replies to email, the same attention to your appearance, the same commitment to your social media, the same ___________.
Because of corona, life is not the same. It’s okay to admit that. So decide right now—What will you stop doing? What, for the near future, needs to change so that you don’t burn out your brain? Take a moment to write your answer down. Share it with those who need to know. Ask for prayers to stick to it without feeling guilty for not being God.
Drop the Messiah complex. God can bless people, your kids and coworkers included, without your old routines (or without you entirely!). Celebrate that fact, and entrust those blessings to his perfect care.
Babies can’t high jump. New moms can’t do sit-ups after C-sections. And you might not be able to do what you did before. In time, perhaps, but not yet.
That’s okay. You’re not God. Thankfully, God still is.
Seek God’s kingdom first
Do you ever pay attention to the airline employees when they’re giving their classic pre-flight speech? You know, the one about how to buckle your seatbelt and use your seat cushion as a flotation device?
You should, especially if you’re a parent trying to survive the coronavirus.
According to the airline’s instructions, if the oxygen masks drop down, parents are ordered to put theirs on first, even before their children. That doesn’t feel like the right thing, since we would gladly sacrifice for the sake of our kids, but it is the right thing. Airlines know that oxygen-deprived parents will pass out and leave their little ones defenseless.
I think you should remember that these days, because the airplane people stole that wisdom from Jesus.
In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus was trying to convince his friends not to worry about life. Don’t feel anxious about food or clothing or anything else because you have a loving Father who knows exactly what you need. So instead of scrambling to fix everything, what did Jesus tell his friends to do? “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
That’s life-saving wisdom for parents. We’re so worried about our kids that we often “seek first” their kingdom. We fret so much over their reading skills, their piano lessons, their jump shots, their playdates, their sugar intake, and their test scores that we run out of time in our days. In the midst of the coronavirus, add to that our worries about social distancing, virtual learning, cancelled sports seasons, uncertain graduation plans, and a thousand other things.
The sad result of seeking our kids’ well-being first, however, is that we end up overwhelmed, stressed out, and snippy at our family. They don’t end up any better. Neither do we.
So take Jesus’ advice—Seek first God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom is the place where God is King. It’s where God uses all of his power and love to protect his people from their spiritual enemies. It’s where you can hide behind the well-guarded walls of the kingdom and breathe in peace. Practically, to seek God’s kingdom means to meditate on his truth, such as . . .
God is with me right now (Matthew 28:20).
God’s Son died so that I would always be loved (Romans 5:8).
God’s Spirit lives in my heart and empowers me to do what needs to get done (2 Timothy 1:7).
God has promised to listen to every prayer I pray in Jesus’ name (James 5:16).
God has plans for my life, even during the coronavirus (Jeremiah 29:11).
How do we seek that kingdom “first”? By putting on our spiritual oxygen masks before we worry about our kids. By spending time with our Father in his Word.
I know that’s not easy, especially if you have little ones at home. It may require an earlier start to the day to read your Bible, a prayer walk in the driveway to think about a promise from Jesus, or a night with less Amazon Prime so there’s more time for Paul’s letters. But those moments will fill you up, empower you, and equip you for another day of parenting those precious kids.
So seek first the kingdom of God, and you will have nothing to worry about.
And neither will your kids.
The perfect time to parent
As a parent, are you thankful for the coronavirus?
I’m tempted to answer with a definite No! Corona has infected/killed massive numbers of people and challenged us in countless ways, from unemployment to toilet paper shortages. Yet there has been a silver lining to the virus, especially for parents: It’s the perfect time to talk about Jesus.
Jesus once said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Matthew 9:12). In other words, people don’t care much about a good doctor unless they are desperately in need of one. In the same way, people might not care about a fear-defeating King unless there’s something to be afraid of.
And there’s so much to be afraid of!
We’re afraid of invisible germs that might leave us short of breath, feverish, and isolated. We’re afraid of layoffs, furloughs, and unemployment. We’re afraid of the unknown, afraid of what we can’t control, afraid this will keep going.
Our kids feel these fears too. They know this isn’t normal. They’ve overheard our worrisome conversations. Without grown-up logic, they might feel more fear than we do.
But that makes this the perfect time to be a Christian parent. The Bible is repetitive in its command—“do not fear”—for good reason. So let me suggest a few biblical answers to the fears that might sneak into your children’s rooms these days:
- If your child is afraid of getting sick, remind him . . . God rules. God is sovereign. That’s a fancy way of saying that God runs the show. From global superpowers to invisible germs, God is in control of everything. The same Jesus who proved his love at the cross rose up to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father where he works out everything for our good. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).
- If your child is afraid of dying, remind her . . . God lives. Jesus rose from the grave! The tomb is empty. That fills us with the hope that death cannot get the last word. Death is like falling asleep the night before your birthday, only to wake up and celebrate like never before! “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen” (Matthew 28:5,6).
- If your child is afraid of not seeing friends/family, remind him . . . God is here. It’s true that corona can affect who is “here” in the room with us. Our best friends and grandparents might not be here. Our cousins and neighbors might not be here. But nothing (and I mean that wonderfully exclusive word) can separate us from God being here. He is better than best friends. He is more comforting than cousins. He is God! And, because of Jesus, he is right here. “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
This time of the coronavirus is a hard time because it makes us afraid. But, for parents, it’s the perfect time to teach our kids about the fear-defeating promises of God.
So turn those worries into worship. God has called you to parent for such a time as this!
Give kids grace
Your kid has always been a sinner. Corona just gave him or her a better chance to prove it.
Recently, I invented this equation: The Amount of Sin = The Number of Kids x The Length of Time Together / The Square Footage of Your Home. There’s something scientific to that, isn’t there? 🙂
The coronavirus has increased our time together and limited our ability to get away from each other. If your child(ren) are anything like mine, that has led to some less than Jesus-like moments of anger, bickering, or quarreling over issues like who has the right to use the tablet right now or who gets the pink marker first during art time.
That’s why we parents give our kids grace.
Our children absolutely need clear rules and consistent discipline, especially during a new season of life. Kids thrive when they know what to expect and how home life works. But even more than the rules, they need the grace of our Lord Jesus. They need his forgiveness and undeserved love. Nothing comforts their souls or inspires them to change quite like the grace of God.
That might look like: “Buddy, you messed up today. You hit your brother, and that wasn’t what God wanted. But the Bible says that ‘Christ forgave you’ (Ephesians 4:32). Do you know what that means? That means that Jesus highlighted your bad choice and pushed the delete button. Isn’t that amazing?”
Or it might look like: “Sweetie, it makes me sad when you talk back like you did today. That’s not what Jesus wants. But do you remember what Jesus did? He died for us, even when we were sinners (Romans 5:8). He loves us that much. He loves me that much. And he loves you that much too.”
This is a challenging time for all of us, our kids included. The devil is looking for new ways to lead us into sin, and sadly he will succeed. But Christian parents always have an answer—Christ.
So, Mom and Dad, give those kids grace. Let them know they’re loved in Christ. Maybe right now is the perfect time to start.
And, while you’re at it, remind yourself that God’s love applies to you too.