I first came to Jesus with my parenting dilemmas about four years ago, when we were struggling to manage an emotional two-and-a-half year old and a newborn. I was an anxious, sleep-deprived mess, desperate for guidance. But as I turned the pages of the gospels, my day-to-day questions became overshadowed by the bigger, more searching questions that Jesus was asking me. I wanted to know about my parenting, but Jesus wanted to know about my discipleship.
Are you sitting down?
Life with children is noisy and busy. So when we need advice, we google ‘how to…’ while simultaneously cooking dinner and supervising homework.
When Jesus visited the home of his friend, Martha, she too was busy and “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made”. But her sister, Mary, “sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said”. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).
If we want to find out what Jesus says about life and parenting, we need to sit down and listen. We need to let Jesus’ words cut through the cacophony of other voices we hear. Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). What we modern parents need is not more information, but more wisdom for building our families on the teaching of Jesus.
Tip #1: Take the time to sit down and listen to Jesus. In my case, that means a new rule: no social media for the day until I have read the Bible.
Are you a childlike parent?
I used to believe that we could be perfect parents, providing the perfect childhood to our perfect children. But six years on, that façade is cracked and crumbling.
Jesus said to ‘grown ups’ like us, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). We become ‘childlike’ by admitting that we desperately need God’s forgiveness and help.
Jesus likened God to a Father, who stands ready to take us, the spiritually helpless, into his arms and call us his children (Luke 15:11-32). Our heavenly Father knows us, listens to us and provides what we need (Matthew 6:5-34).
Parents who are God’s children do not need to worry about things that are out of their control. Jesus said, “the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:32-34).
Tip #2: Stop pretending you can ‘have it all together’ and run into the arms of your heavenly Father. Entrust your life and your children into his care.
Who do you love more?
Jesus revolutionised the concept of family by teaching that God’s children belong first and foremost to their new spiritual family. On one occasion, “a woman in the crowd called out, ‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ He replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it’” (Luke 11:27-28). According to Jesus, following him takes precedence over family relationships (see also Matthew 19:10-12).
Jesus warned that our family may not support our decision to follow Jesus. He said, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:37). Jesus himself had to put God’s mission before his family loyalties at times (Mark 3:20-35, John 7:1-9).
Jesus promised that, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30). God provides the family of faith to care for those who lack family support.
Jesus prioritised discipleship over family loyalties. But he still called his disciples to love their earthly families. He called husbands and wives to be relentlessly faithful (Matthew 5:27-32) and children to honour their parents (Matthew 15:1-6). God’s enduring ideal for families is that parents will share in the lifelong commitment of marriage and exercise a loving authority over their children. Do our daily interactions support or undermine this vision?
Even though Jesus was God’s Son, he honoured and cared for the parents who raised him (Luke 2:41-52, John 19:26-27). Eventually, many members of Jesus’ own family did join the family of faith (see Acts 1:13-14).
Tip #3: Don’t live for your kids, but for Jesus. Let nothing stop you from being part of a wider family of faith (ideally, together with your family). In your marriage, strive to be united and in charge.
Are you swallowing camels?
Parents are the primary spiritual leaders of their children. So we should take note of Jesus’ rebuke to the spiritual leaders of his day: “You hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices ... But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness ... You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:23-24).
Are we so busy sifting through the small details of our children’s lives that we fail to model and teach the more important values of our heavenly Father? I know how easy it is to get swept along by the currents of our era and put our children’s comfort and success before their discipleship.
The mother of two disciples did this when she asked Jesus to grant her sons places of honour in his Kingdom (Matthew 20:20-23). Jesus had to remind his disciples about God’s counter-cultural values: “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).
By contrast, other parents included their children in their own ‘childlike’ discipleship. Whole families followed Jesus around Lake Galilee on foot, listening to his teaching and depending on his miraculous provision (Matthew 14:13-21, John 6:1-15). Other parents sought blessing for their children by bringing them to Jesus (Matthew 17:14-20, 19:13-15, Mark 5:21-43).
Tip #4: Keep your focus on what really matters: the big values of God.
Jesus challenges us to see our parenting as an outworking of our discipleship. Jesus seeks followers who will listen to him and humbly depend on God. True disciples will not let their family or worldly concerns lead them away from Jesus and his church. Along with our spouse, our job is simply to say to our children, ‘Follow me as I follow Jesus’.
Harriet Connor lives on the Central Coast of NSW with her husband and three sons. She loves thinking hard about how the Bible shapes our approach to parenting and is just about to finish a book on that topic.