I turned 62 this summer. Kimm and I also celebrated our 40th anniversary. Our oldest child is 35 years old, followed by another daughter and son. Our youngest child was 24 the day she passed away last Fall.
Six decades is not a long life. But still, it’s a lot of life… at least on the rollercoasters God wrote into our story.
The older I get, the more I admire believers who run strong into their seventies, eighties, and beyond. I think it’s because I’m learning that aging makes comfort a constant craving. This craving is one reason, I suppose, God has us raising our daughter’s two-year-old son. If “comfort-denial” were a superpower, my grandson could rule a multiverse before naptime. But he’s cute, so we jammy him up and snuggle him down. Then we take a nap.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about where we want to focus our attention in this second round of parenting. It’s funny, but our reflection so far has less to do with our grandson’s behavior. Don’t get me wrong; the food-throwing has got to stop soon, lest I drop the plasticware and join in! But I’m saying that our initial goals are developing less around what kind of child we want to rear and more around what kind of parents we want to be. I think I see more clearly that forming a child’s soul is first about shaping the parent’s heart—what dreams motivate our efforts? To what (or to whom) will we look as a source of authority? How will we respond when we feel sinned against or angry? By what measure will we define success? This orientation does not rule out the need for deep love and strong leadership. But it settles the priorities by reminding me that, like speaking, parenting flows from the abundance of our heart (Luke 6:45).
There is nothing new in what I’m telling you. I’m old enough to say that I was reading and trying to apply the Tripp brothers on parenting before people started saying, “Wait, Tedd Tripp is related to Paul?” But I think I see better that when the parenting-starts-with-my-heart perspective lands within the habitat of pastoral ministry, it can skew the parents towards a crushing sense of responsibility. It translates into parenting-is-all-about-me. We feel responsible for the church and to the church. Bible passages about leadership and family haunt us. Our family goes on display. Every lapse traces back to heart weaknesses or leadership weaknesses within the home. Effort becomes large. The gospel shrinks.
Maybe that’s just some of my struggles. But I sense that a lot of pastors feel the same way.
The last year has been a kind of listening tour for Kimm and me. We’ve been talking to younger parents to discover how they think about schedules, education, discipline, meal times—the life rhythms accompanying raising a toddler. We’re learning a lot. But, as an aside, if you have a disoriented 60+-year-old in your church raising a child, make sure you pour into them. We’re playing the long game, and to be honest, we need the help. And I’m grateful to see some of the wise adjustments younger parents have made towards parenting mistakes in boomer-believers. But I also see certain burdens they carry, burdens that, quite frankly, we are not picking up.
Now mind you, our situation has certain advantages. Our kids are all adults, and we’ve all been through a lot as a family. Our toddler enjoys the benefit of what we have learned from prior experience and no small number of blunders. We are also at an age where finances are not nearly as pressing as the day of our wedding when I walked the aisle as an unemployed man. And we’ve lost a child to addiction. Addicts humble parents by taking their best efforts and making it feel like utter folly. That’s not an advantage, per se, but it brings perspective on human effort’s limits. So there’s that too.
As I climb into the ring for this next round of parenting, I see things more simply. Here’s how it has taken shape, at least for right now:
- Godly parenting does not start with my ability but my inability.
- God can be counted upon to give grace for what we need.
- My impact will be more significant as I humbly identify my kid’s struggles with my weaknesses and similarities.
- The more I need emotional propping from the kids, the less I will serve them. The more I need it, the more I will seek not to serve but to be served by them.
- Success is not a reputation for raising well-behaved children who look good on earth. Success is being a loving, faithful, and honest gospel witness before your children regardless of how they look on earth.
I think there’s more to the list, but certainly no less. Maybe you can relate to what I’m seeing. Maybe not. I hope that as I seek to apply these ideas to myself, I may have more to say. But for now, my plate is full, and I’ve got plenty of stuff to do, like re-reading the Tripp brothers’ books on parenting.